"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
Wrestling With God’s Purpose
Genesis 32:22-32 (NKJV)
And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
27 So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob.”
28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.
Have you ever found yourself wrestling with God, His purpose, or His will for your life? You may ask, well what do you mean? To explain, we need to look no further than the Word of God. As many of us know, the patriarch Jacob wrestled with God, but few understand what this Scripture really means. This wrestling match that got the best of Jacob was not only important, it was essential to God’s will for Jacob. This match should be dubbed as the most famous in history. It is written in the most bought book across the globe as part of the Holy Bible. More than any Smackdown WWE episode or late night pay-per-view wrestling sessions, this match will always be remembered. Without this event happening perhaps God would not have such a perfect opportunity to give Jacob the new name Israel. Reading about this particular fascinating story in Scripture, I wondered to myself, what makes this event so significant? This event was significant because it highlights the process by which God blesses us when we struggle and wrestle with His will in our life. Many times the path that God sends us down isn’t always clear. It is equivalent to being led down a foggy road. We can’t see all that far ahead, but we know that we are safe as long as we stay in the lines that God has provided for us both personally and within His Word. In this story, Jacob seemed to be at a curve in the road. Visibility for him was low, but He knew God was directing his path and sending him into a new place. Jacob had just gotten through a rough patch and conflict with a person who was once a very significant influence in his life in Laban, but now God was calling him to a new place. This moment of unambiguity can be seen through not only his paranoia of seeing his brother who he had previously schemed out of his blessing and birthright, but also by the questions which he asked the “man” in the Scripture.
Wrestling in high school for me was a sport I honestly have no idea why I go into at the time. Maybe it was because the coach called me up on the telephone and recruited me. He knew I was a basketball tryout flop who was searching for a new place in life as I thought basketball was surely my sport. I had just finished football season and he was able to assure me that wrestling would not only help me with football, but improve me in many other areas of my life. The coach explained how I would be wrestling in my own weight class and many of those guys were some of the same players on the opposite football team as well. If I could somehow figure out how to handle guys my size on the mat, surely I could handle them on the field. I agreed that those benefits would help me in the long run and I went out for the team against my mother’s wishes and my own conscious when I realized how hard the practices were. We ran distances of 4-6 miles, jump roped, spun on top of each other’s backs, carried one another like a fireman, and even drug each other across the mat for conditioning. Those were the toughest practices I had ever been through in my life. The end result was that I was not the best wrestler that ever graced the mat with my presence; however the sport taught me valuable lessons in life that not even football could teach. This was a sport that truly turned boys into men.
When reading this story about Jacob, I can’t help but remember a few of those valuable lessons I learned during my sweat drenched days of wrestling practice. The first was to never sit. Coach had a saying. It was rather inappropriate for the content of a ministry or pulpit, so I will tell you it had to do with saying that if you sit, you “do a number two.” It wasn’t pretty, but it was surely an easy way to remember it as no one wanted to do a number two on the mat and no one wanted to allow themselves to be pinned. The thing about sitting is that if you were caught sitting your body was in a horrible position that made it very easy to be pinned, not to mention that if you were sitting; your center of gravity was not in the appropriate position to be on the offensive. It is sort of like being on your heels in American football. If you’re on your heels, you can be easily knocked over. It was surely against the rules for any of us to be caught sitting on the mat during practice. Another rule was that we must never lie on our backs. Pinning your opponent on his back was the main purpose of the sport, so why would anyone want to place themselves in pinning position for their opponent. Our goal should be the complete opposite. However, time and time again I watched other matches as guys constantly placed their own backs on the mat. Many times this would happen when the wrestler on top was attempting a complicated pinning move that required him to lean back. In the process their backs would sometimes touch the mat and the referee would call a pin, but not for the wrestler in control, but rather the one in the process of being pinned because the man in control placed his own back in pinning position and held it there long enough to be called.
The greatest lesson I was ever taught throughout my time in wrestling was to never let up or hesitate. I remember one particular match where I was wrestling well above my own weight. The guy I was wrestling was much taller and heavier than me. Even though I was strong, strength could not outmaneuver the weight of this large man. I realized this as I was attempting to pick him up to slam him back on the floor. As I picked up, he used his long legs to lean forward and carry us both across the mat. As he did this, I slipped with my arms around his legs. As one of his legs came loose it popped out and kicked me right in the mouth. I was stunned for a moment and was hoping the ref would stop the match as I was sure it was bleeding and the kick was not legal. Unfortunately he did not stop the match and the opponent escaped with enough time to spin around grab hold of me. He then used this positioning to his advantage and was able to pin me. I remember feeling cheated and frustrated. By the end, I was tired and out of breath and I gave up. After realizing what had happened and how disappointed I was with myself for giving up, I was determined that I would never give up like that again just because I got “hit in the mouth.”
Life is like that sometimes. It can surely hit you right in the mouth both literally and figuratively. I can only imagine after wrestling from night until daybreak, that Jacob must have felt the same way in this particular situation. He could have easily given up on his purpose and God’s will for his life. He had recently been in conflict just before this situation came about and had resolved that with peace and compromise. He now faced a brother who he had not seen in some time and wondered what type of animosity that Esau might have for him. Jacob was surely in a sticky situation all together. However, Jacob did not give up. Regardless of what mistakes might have been made in the process, he continued on his purpose, even when confronted with a wrestling match in which his opponent was God himself (Jacob confesses this in verse 30). God in the form of a man did not lack the power or strength to overcome Jacob, rather verse 25 insinuates that He was able to see resolve, strength, and passion in Jacob, therefore allowing the wrestling to cease and the blessing to come forth. There are quite a few lessons for us today that we can get out of this famous match. The lessons can be found in the actions of both God and Jacob in this story.
During Jacob’s struggle with God, he never hesitated or appeared to “sit.” This was important, because there was no time to waste as God’s perfect timing was in play. There is no place in this world for hesitating to act on God’s will and purpose for our lives. On average we only get a few decades of life on this planet and there are a few of them where our productivity is less than what it would be or what it was before (childhood and elder years). Jacob also never once allowed himself to be on his back. He never placed the enemy in a place to defeat him. He never appeared to be in a place of defeat. Some of us need to learn from that example today. We must never place ourselves into a position of defeat for the enemy. There will be times when we are frustrated to the point of wanting to give up, however we should never allow the opponent of evil to coax us into laying down ourselves in defeat. Another lesson we can benefit from in this story is that Jacob never took his eyes off God. It says they wrestled until “daybreak.” When I was wrestling, we were never to allow an opponent to run what they call a half or full-Nelson and continue looking in that direction. This move is performed while on the opponents back and running the hand up underneath the arm pit and placing your hand around the back of that person’s neck. In theory, you should be able to spin on their back into the direction of whichever arm you are using and flip them onto their back, allowing them to be pinned. However, if you could look in the opposite direction and press the arm on that side down on the opponents arm to force it away from around your neck you could possibly break away from their grasp.
My friends, we are to do the exact same thing to the enemy when he comes in between us and God. If the enemy is attempting to “pin you on your back” and stop you from receiving what God has for you, get face-to-face with God. Turn your face away from the enemy, away from the things that can get you off track. Focus on what God has given you, the purpose He has set out before you. Get in your prayer closet, plead the blood of Jesus over your life, and take action on God’s will in your life. Of course as was the case with Jacob, God always leaves his mark on those who look upon His face. The Word tells us that God “touched the socket of his hip.” From that point on, Jacob walked with a limp. By looking deep in the translation from Hebrew, you will find that he was touched on the tendon and for this reason; orthodox Jews do not eat the tendon connecting the hip bone and muscle to this day. Where I am from, sometimes young men walk like this to look cool or as they say, “walk with swag,” however Jacob was walking this way because he had come face-to-face with the Master of all creation. Surely, if we seek to get face-to-face with God, He will surely leave His mark on us as well. This may not be a literal limp and thank God, but it will surely be visible to both the children of God and even those of a carnal nature. Have you ever noticed someone who wasn’t religious, but you could tell this person walked in the presence and grace of God daily? That is a mark of God on their life. Whatever the mark He leaves upon you, know that others will surely be able to tell. Spend enough time in the presence of God and you may even smell of his sweet fragrance, not from the mistress down the street, but the genuine sweet smell of God Almighty! Notice that this blessing did not happen until Jacob refused to let go of God. We must be like Jacob and cling to God in order to ensure our resolve has been made clear, in that we are purposed for His will and we only want what He wants for us.
When life gives us fog and you can’t see the road in front of you, trust in the Lord and pursue His purpose in life. The Lord’s Word and presence will provide us with the guidance we need to stay in His will. You will know you have reached your given destination and victory when the blessings of God begin to pour out upon you. When we persevere in our purpose, the promises of God will be showered down upon us in heaps. When we seek the face of God, his will shall be revealed to us and obstacles will be removed from our paths. Sometimes we will have to spend quite a while, proving ourselves to Him. We must show that we are here to stay; we are committed to His will, and possess the tenacity to see it through to the end. We must always finish what we start and if we begin to serve God, we must finish this race of life with God’s purpose as our own. While I was never the wrestler college recruiters drooled over, I learned some great lessons about life on those mats. Those lessons continue to follow me in nearly every aspect of my life today. I urge you to have a conversation with God today and see what He has in store for you. Who knows, it just may leave a permanent mark on your life!