Many of you know I fought a head cold last week. So, after worship, I just wanted rest. Got home and melted into the couch. The kids had brought out all these board games and were playing them. Very soon Clara asked me to play Chutes ‘n Ladders. I did not to play; I wanted rest. So, I said, “We’ll play after supper, ok?” She agreed and went back to playing.
Supper came. Ate. Finished. Sunk into the La-z-Boy. Felt a pretty good nap coming on. Suddenly out of nowhere, Clara’s standing right in front of me, board game in hand. “Do you want to play?” “No, not now. I’m tired.” What she said next was probably the wisest and the most hurtful of words, the kind of words that just nail parents. “But you said you would play after supper.”
She’s right. I said those words. I had every intention playing the game, but I broke my word. She told me that. She reminded me to do what I said I would do. She even came back with my word in hand. She wanted to play, so she persistently asked. She relied on my promise. She trusted that in the future my actions would match my words. I proved myself unreliable.
If I, like so many, cannot keep my word, then what a privilege you (and I) have in approaching an always-reliable God for anything, anytime, anywhere. Do you? God invites you (and me) to Wrestle with God in Prayer! As you do, you uncover three key truths: You (1) Confront your own limitations. You discover what you are and are not capable of doing. You (2) Take hold of God’s powerful might and see what God is capable of doing. This wrestling match always produces good results. You will (3) Prevail with God’s blessings.
Consider how that wrestling match changes Jacob’s confidence. Here stands a man who always schemes to get what he wants. His older brother, Esau, stood first in line for the family birthright. (That ‘birthright’ is the line of Jesus; God would come through this person’s family tree and be the blessing for the world! [Genesis 12:1-3]). Yet, Jacob wants the birthright. So, he schemes. He watches Esau take off hunting— off into the wilderness, without much food or water, shelter or safety. Jacob knows that. So he cooks this thick, hearty stew. When Esau barges in exhausted, hungry, he demands a helping. Jacob gives some— only if Esau trades his birthright first. Esau quickly agrees and Jacob remembers (Genesis 25:29-34). When his blind, elderly father, Isaac, prepares to pass down the birthright, Jacob goes back to work. While Esau works out in the fields, Jacob steals his identity. He puts on Esau’s smelly clothes. Hair covers Esau and so Jacob wears animal pelts. He even brings Esau’s signature stew to Isaac— and Isaac buys the lie! Jacob tricks his handicapped father! (27:1-30) It finally looks like Jacob meets his match in his uncle Laban. Laban lets Jacob work for him in exchange for his daughter. Jacob completes his service; Laban marries off his daughter— the wrong one. So, Laban agrees to marry away the right daughter if Jacob works longer. So Jacob works— and schemes. He works this time, not for women, but for sheep. Laban would keep the solid-colored and Jacob the spotted. Since Jacob worked the flocks, he only bred the spotted— and not Laban’s flock. Jacob’s herd flourishes and Laban’s struggles. Before Laban could catch the trick, Jacob runs away (30:31-43).
For his entire life Jacob could scheme his way out of any situation— except this one here: Esau found Jacob. He marches with 400-men (32:7). Jacob’s trapped. No sly, smooth-talking can get him out of this dilemma. He cannot flee under the cover of dark. Every passing second hammers home the dreadful reality that he cannot escape. So, he took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. Jacob was left alone, confronting his own limitations. He stands absolutely powerless to control Esau, to mold the future, to guarantee personal safety.
That is not a truth we care to admit. You (and I) tend to think we control many aspects of life, but we do not. You cannot make someone love you. You can buy her flowers, you can make him food, you can be nice to the group, but you cannot force hearts to love you. You cannot puppeteer the future. You cannot make that university accept you. You cannot make classmates worship you. You cannot make co-workers be kind to you or receive that dollar-figure salary on the perfect day each month. You cannot even control you. You have a body, but you cannot flush the flu away. You cannot cure cancer by thinking real hard. You cannot even hold back a cough or a sneeze. When you (and I) reflect on relationships, finances and health, goals and dreams, you realize how little you do control.
That leaves an impact. You (and I) get stressed because you cannot solve financial woes like you want; you cannot pour money into your bank account by thinking about it. That is why you get scared— because you cannot stop the gunman from appearing in a school or make your cancer shrink away. That is why you grow nervous for the future— because you cannot guarantee retirement, you cannot make politicians enact every single idea in your mind, you cannot force the teacher to give you ‘As.’ So we worry. We worry because we do not control what we think we control. We worry because we cannot control what we want to control. We worry because we confront our limitations— and we care little to admit that.
For a moment, ponder what that fear says about your God. Worry says that God will not keep his promises. Worry says that I have more power to control life than the almighty God. Instead of wrestling with God, we wrestle against him. We either demand God to give us what we want (because we think this is the tool we need for successful living) or we try to handle life cares and concerns on our own.
For a man who tries controlling so much, one simple touch demonstrates just how little control he has. A man wrestled with [Jacob] him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Even though Jacob could still wrestle, he realized this Mystery Man was mighty powerful.
In fact, this Man is so powerful that two thousand years after this wrestling match, he would wrestle again. This time not against Jacob, but against the penalty we brought on ourselves. God had draped on Jesus your self-reliance (and mine). The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we can hold the power to handle any trouble in life. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we know better than God. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks God does not care what we confront. As Jesus kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane, he confronts the hellish consequence for our self-reliance.
What does he do? He Wrestles with God in Prayer. He cries out three times: “God, if possible, please take this suffering from me. Do not do what I want. Do your will” (Matthew 26:36-43). God’s will is that Jesus be our Substitute. That Jesus stands under God’s wrathful waterfall against self-reliance. Do you see how God punishes the self-reliant heart? He lets it have its wish! God leaves Jesus alone. The self-reliant heart considers itself so reliable to rescue and deliver itself from any trouble— except it cannot. This is the best it can do: fall before God.
Jesus, the One who wrestled against Jacob so long ago (read Hosea 12:2-5), takes on flesh again to wrestle self-reliance, struggle against its punishment, and win. Yes, Jesus conquers our greatest foe: death itself. Even if we could handle all of life’s worries, stresses, and accidents, we could never add another day to life. Jesus can and he does. He extends your life forever.
The man said to Jacob, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This wrestling match teaches us that God can do what we cannot! Jacob does not try to defeat this man, but looks to this man for help. He Takes hold of God’s powerful might and prevails with God’s mighty blessings.
[The man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” God did not forget Jacob’s name; God has Jacob think about his name. He had always schemed, but now no more. [H]e said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” From now on, any time ‘Israel’ rings out, Jacob would remember God his Rescuer. Anytime ‘Israel’ wrote his name, he wrote down God’s protection. Anytime ‘Israel’ saw his name, he would see God’s blessings of property, family, and faith. The name change brought blessing; it re-centered Jacob’s reliance in God alone. That’s how this wrestling match ends— prevailing with God’s blessing!
Maybe prayer feels much like a wrestling match. Asking, pleading, struggling, crying, day and night— but never receiving. Where is the blessing in that? How does this benefit you?
God makes clear: Wrestle with Him in Prayer and prevail with His blessing. That blessing may be (1) increased awareness of God’s will. Yes, the heart aches for your spouse. You miss the companionship. You miss the activities, but they’re gone. Why didn’t God heal them? Remember what you (and I) admit as true: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.’ Heaven is our final stop, not earth. A spouse leaves for heaven because God promises heaven to every believer. That is their final stop and soon, you (and I) will arrive there too. You (and I) might think that we will benefit if God just grants our request. A few more dollars will provide contentment. A little more healing allows you to volunteer … to babysit …to worship— and those are good things! Doesn’t God see the benefits of giving what you ask? God also knows no earthly wish completely satisfies the heart. If you get, you can worship the object. If you get, you only want more. If you get, you can forget the Giver. Going to God again and again and again leads you to revisit his promises and rely on his Word. ‘Cast your anxiety on me for I care for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). ‘Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will honor me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5-6). Wrestle with God in Prayer and prevail with God’s mighty blessings of peace.
Wrestling with God in Prayer gives a chance to reflect on your real need. You may not need the cruise; you may instead appreciate the quiet day off. You may not need the smartphone; you may instead appreciate talking to friends. You may not need the car; you may instead appreciate the friend God put into your life to drive you. Jacob did not need escape, he needed God’s protection. Prevail with God’s blessing of living under God’s powerful might.
The next morning, Jacob did meet his brother. For the first time in twenty years they hugged (Genesis 33:1-17). As each went his own way, God kept protecting Jacob— just as promised.
Because God is not me—a parent who says and then breaks his promises. God does not let you down. God does not forget you. You (and I) will confront limitations. We cannot handle so many troubles. God can. Take hold of God’s powerful might and Prevail with God’s blessings. Anything, anytime, anywhere Wrestle with God in Prayer!