Jeremiah 24:7– I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Little boys love to wrestle with their daddies. It’s this sweet, sometimes rough (but fun) bonding that is inbred in some boys. Many of them start out at a young age wanting to tackle everybody. My son Joel would do this all the time with my husband.
There’s also another kind of wrestling that we experience. In our walk with God we go through our own seasons of wrestling. We wrestle with our faith, we wrestle with unanswered prayers, we wrestle for God to show Himself, or perhaps we wrestle through pain- to find meaning in it. Each of us at some point in our lives will be called to wrestle.
Let’s look at a few heroes of the faith who experienced their own wrestling.
Job, in the Old Testament, was a man who was blameless and devoted to God. Job was a blessed man, who loved his family and lived righteously. Job went through a season where the Lord removed His protection (read the story in more detail in the book of Job). He lost all 10 of his children and all of his wealth. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was also afflicted with a horrible skin disease. Job had shown honor to God in response to his suffering. In Job’s heart God was his most precious treasure, even more precious than his health. What’s interesting is that God didn’t answer all of Jobs pleas for help right away. As a matter of fact, Job suffered a great deal. The Bible is unclear on the exact amount of time Job suffered. We know it was less than a year but that it lasted at least several months. I can only concede that it must have felt like forever. God didn’t restore everything right away. Job, knowing the nature and character of God, wrestled with the whys, yet he still told God he would worship Him no matter what. After many months of loneliness, sadness, and loss Job came out of his wrestling with these words, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes– Job 42:5. Before wrestling with his suffering, he knew about God, but after the wrestling He knew God and felt a closer intimacy with Him. He was a changed man. He had seen God.
Our wrestling with God serves a purpose. It causes our own faith and walk with the Lord to be grounded and personal. It changes us.
Another hero of the faith that wrestled was Moses. The story is found in Exodus chapters 3 and 4. Moses wrestled with God’s calling on his life. Moses was called to lead the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He told God that He must have the wrong guy. Moses felt very under-qualified. But God knew what He was doing. Moses wasn’t confident in speaking and leading. You would think that if God spoke to you from a burning bush that that would be enough confirmation (Exodus 3:4). But no. Moses had to wrestle through his own fears and insecurities. Listen to some of the things Moses said and you can hear Him wrestle with his calling: “But who am I, how do you expect me to lead, they won’t believe me, they won’t do what I tell them to do, I’m not a good speaker, I’m clumsy with words.” Moses had to wrestle through what he thought he could do compared to what God could actually do through him. Once he began to obey God and step out into his calling, God performed many miracles through him. If there were any doubts in the beginning, Moses was able to witness and experience firsthand the faithfulness of God.
There is only one person in the Bible who actually ‘physically’ wrestled and that was Jacob. Jacob’s life up to this point had been one of many struggles. Although God had promised to make many nations from Jacob, he, like Moses, was a man filled with many fears. We pick up his story in Genesis 32. He had fled from his father-in-law Laban because of the awful treatment he received only to encounter his bitter brother Esau who wanted to kill him. In Genesis 32:6 we learn that Esau was on his way with an army of 400 men. Genesis 32:7-8- 7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups,and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group,the group that is left may escape.” Genesis 32:20b- for he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”
During the night he took his wives, servants, and sons and crossed the Jabbok River. And then he sent over all his possessions. This put Jacob in an interesting position. At this point he was completely exhausted, had nothing left to give, and felt like he had no fight left in him. He sent ahead those things in which represented his riches and he was left all alone in the wilderness. Genesis 32:24- So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. It is believed to be an angel of God that wrestled with Jacob that night. Jacob and the angel struggled throughout the night until the angel could not overpower him. When the man (the angel) asked Jacob to let him go, Jacob said he would not let go without a blessing. Jacob would never forget this wrestle because not only did the angel bless him, but he also knocked his hip out of his socket and Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
What’s the point of wrestling with God? Surely there is purpose and meaning in and through it. When Jacob came out of that experience of wrestling with God, he was a changed man. He was no longer the same person that he was before he entered the ring. To further demonstrate that he was no longer the same man, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Gen. 32:28
The King James Bible Commentary says this: “The conflict brought to a head the battling and groping of a lifetime, and Jacob’s desperate embrace vividly expressed his ambivalent attitude to God, of love and enmity, defiance and dependence. It was against Him, not Esau or Laban, that he had been pitting his strength, as he now discovered; yet the initiative had been God’s as it was this night, to chasten his pride and challenge his tenacity. The crippling and the naming show that God’s ends were still the same: He would have all of Jacob’s will to win, to attain and obtain, yet purged of self-sufficiency and redirected to the proper object of man’s love, God Himself.”
Our wrestling breaks us down to realize that without God we are nothing. It’s about wiping away all of who we think we are, our self-sufficiency, and putting us in a place where we have to hash out all those things we don’t really want to face- our insecurities, our anger at something that’s happened, our questions about our own faith, and all of our fears.
When you wrestle with God, you come out changed. There is something about struggling and wrestling through that solidifies your relationship with the Lord. You enter in with so many questions, and you come out knowing that He is real and that regardless of how things turn out, He is for you, and that He desires a close relationship with you. When you come out of your wrestle you might not have all of your questions answered, but you get to a place of trust, where your desire to be close to Him is greater than your desire for all of the answers.
What about you? Have you been in a place of wrestling with some things? Are you wrestling for your faith? Are you feeling discouraged? Are you in a place like Job where you’re wrestling with suffering? Or do you relate more to Moses where you are wrestling with your fears and insecurities? Or perhaps your wrestle is more like Jacob, where God is initiating a wrestle with you and you think your frustration is about all these other things, when really God is fighting for you heart?
I want to encourage you this week to get alone with God- seek after Him. Write out your questions and frustrations. Give Him your pain. God can handle our questions. As a matter of fact, He already knows them. But He’s waiting to hear from you personally. Spend time in the scriptures. Cry out to Him in that secret place. And just like Jacob, you will be touched, you will be changed, and you will be blessed.
Jeremiah 29:12-13 (ESV) 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
This article was originally posted in print form (in Spanish) from World Missions Outreach.