Our disasters often come with world-rocking circumstances, reshaping life as we once knew it. These may continue indefinitely, bringing change that lasts a lifetime. We may never be the same.
And, though we start bravely, anxiety sneaks in at some point, multiplying in our minds after one mishap too many, tormenting us during yet another sleepless night or lonely day. We worry about what might happen or our emotions respond according to what already has happened, a type of PTSD setting us up for more fear and anxiety.
Like Jacob, we wrestle with God, seeking his blessing as we face this fearful and anxiety-producing obstacle, this “wronged brother” who may kill us or rob us of all that is precious, irreplaceable, and hard won. At the core of this fearful battle is terror that God won’t keep his promises.
In this battle, even when we persevere and grab hold of God with all our strength, still we are human. We emerge with a lifetime limp, a mark of the battle, and a needed reminder that he is always with us, even in our frailty.Even when we persevere and grab hold of God with all our strength, still we are human. We emerge with a lifetime limp, a mark of the battle, and a needed reminder that he is always with us, even in our frailty. Click To Tweet
Terror is a feature of calamity, for we are not in control. Life used to seem simple and carefree, but now we are intimately acquainted with more possibilities of what can go wrong, what can be lost, and how it feels when it continues day after day.
How can we live like this? How do we wrestle with God?
Jacob had received promise after promise from God – family, prosperity, protection, covenant, and a safe return home. Having seen the first three promises fulfilled over the course of twenty years, still he doubted that God could fulfill the final two.
Esau headed his way with an army large enough to destroy them all. On the night before meeting his brother, Jacob sent his family across the river, remaining behind for a dark night of the soul. Would God prove himself to truly be God by fulfilling all he had promised?
At some point, we all come to this place.
We may think this has something to do with our emotions. Do we feel as if we trust God? At that point, Jacob certainly didn’t feel it, though God had proven faithful.
In reality, faith hinges upon what we do. Faith without works is dead, after all. No matter how we feel, how our knees quake, or our emotions roil, what will we do? Will we continue to follow this God? Will we engage in the wrestling match?Faith hinges upon what we do. Faith without works is dead, after all. No matter how we feel, how our knees quake, or our emotions roil, what will we do? Will we continue to follow this God? Will we engage in the wrestling match? Click To Tweet
Jacob prayed: “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted’” (Genesis 32:9-12 NIV).
Nothing hidden from God, Jacob states his fear openly, acknowledges his unworthiness, begs God for protection, and twice reminds God of his promises, knowing full well that God never forgets.
Then, the crux of the matter. His heart. “But you have said . . .” is a reminder when all hope is gone, when life is out of control, and all is falling apart around us. We remind ourselves, and we remind God. I remember your promises, God, do you?
In faith, though he still feels fear, Jacob walks out into the darkness alone and grasps hold of God until God blesses him. He is given the name Israel, which means “he strives with God.” His actions demonstrate his faith:
I will hold on to you. I will grapple with you, for “You have said…”
Jacob limps away from the encounter. We usually do.
Sometimes, we need a sign, a reminder, a thorn in the flesh, a new name. A lifelong injury, illness, or condition can be a constant reminder that God is with us.
Your circumstance or continuing catastrophe may be that reminder of God’s faithfulness to you. For he is with you in it. Your “dislocated hip” may be the daily call to strive with God, to hold on tight to him, to converse with him, to walk with him through it, regardless of the circumstances.
Do you see him there? Feel his breath upon your cheek. Look into his face. For, he holds you tightly in his grasp, and he will never forsake you.
Now, return his embrace! Never let go.