WRESTLING WITH GOD
Luke 18:1-8; Gen. 18: 22-33; Gen. 32: 22-31
Many times when we pray, we ask God to protect us from the Evil one. We pray that we may be spared from illness, that we may gain wisdom to deal with a bad situation, that He may guide us out of our despair. We pray that the Devil would not be able to touch us in the struggle for our souls. When we pray like that, we consider God to be on our side.
But, there are times when our prayers take on the form of an intense wrestling match with God. …when we don’t understand God and the circumstances that befall us. There are times when God remains absent or at least silent. Times when we can’t speak the words “Thy will be done!”
Every one of us could tell a story or two from our own life’s experience, when God didn’t make sense. Times when the unfailing Love of God seemed to skip a beat... Times when we gazed up to the stars in disbelief and asked, “Lord, what do you really want from me?”
A good friend of mind often tells me about his experience as a prisoner of war in Italy in WWII. He wrestled with God that he would not be sent back to Russia as a prisoner. During that time I could not pray “Thy will be done”, he told me with tears in his eyes. God didn’t answer, and he was sent back to Russia as a prisoner. Shortly after, God told him in a dream that he should escape. He persevered and God blessed him.
There are times in every believer’s life, when our prayers take on a more urgent nature. …when we try hard to reconcile our understanding of God’s love and mercy with our negative experiences in life.
Take, for instance, the cry for understanding from a young person’s soul, whose heart has been broken by a special friend. Or a wife or husband who was abandoned for someone else. Think of a young student, who has all the potential in the world to become a world class professional, but hasn’t the financial means to turn that dream into reality.
Or, take for example the widow out of Luke 18, who was stripped of her right for justice, because of her social status. These are times, when prayer goes beyond the mechanical utterance of words that we think God would like to hear from us.
Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, so that his followers may be encouraged to persist despite unanswered prayer. Let us read from Luke 18:1-8
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, `Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4 "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, `Even though I don't fear God or care about men,5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" 6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says.7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
The parable tells the story of a widow who demands justice for herself. The corrupt and selfish judge makes excuses, and obviously doesn’t care about the widow’s concern. But the widow persists in her demand. She really gets on the judge’s case and is exhausting his patience.
The word that is translated as “Wear me out” literally means to beat black and blue, or to hit so as to cause bruises. Jesus seems to humor his audience by emphasizing just how intolerable and annoying the widow had become in her request for justice.
Picture the scene that Jesus is describing! This little old lady becomes the judge’s shadow wherever he goes. She tugs on his robe, forcefully tapping him on his shoulder, embarrassing him in front of his peers, and so on.
The judge is ready to jump off a cliff, and gives in to her insistence -- not for her sake, but for his own peace. The widow has endured in the struggle and as a result has reaped justice.
Jesus seems to imply that, if we want something bad enough we have to persist and not give up. It seems to me, what Jesus is saying is that God really enjoys an intense dialogue with us. God is not afraid of our questions and arguments.
I firmly believe that God has a great desire for our companionship and our trust. Indeed, God desires an honest relationship in which we have the courage to ask
hard questions, and where we grapple with the answers He provides.
In the History of God’s people we have many good examples of men and women who have stood their ground and not let go before their intense quest for truth and God’s blessing was satisfied. In these stories we perceive their deep desire to experience the love and blessing of a God whose ways are far above human understanding. In these stories we hear the cry of a bare soul demanding answers from the One who has no need to answer.
Take for example the story from Genesis 18:22-33, where Abraham pleads with the three divine visitors to spare the city of Sodom. Listen to the dialogue:
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing -- to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26 The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake
The story shows how Abraham bargains with God on the basis of God’s character, and talks him down all the way to only 10 people. Surely a righteous and loving God wouldn’t call down fire and brimstone upon the righteous as well as the unrighteous.
Another story is the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God until daybreak.
Genesis 32:22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
This experience takes place at a time in Jacob’s life when he is going through some deep spiritual searching. All his life he has had to deal with the reputation of his name. Jacob means “the one who deceives”. Jacob was holding on to his twin brother Esau’s heel when they were born. All of his life Jacob was the one who struggled hard to gain the approval and the blessing of his father. He tried to buy the birthright from his hungry brother with a bowl of hot pea soup. (Andy told us the story a few weeks back).
Jacob had lived with this reputation (this name -- this demon from his past) for many years. The time had come to settle the score. Now he was on his way to meet his brother Esau. And while he was anticipating the encounter with his brother, Jacob was scared stiff. He sent gifts of sheep and livestock ahead with his servants. He took measures to protect his family in the event of a violent confrontation. And then, he stayed up all night wrestling with God. In fact, the story says that he persisted till daybreak. He would not let go of his adversary. Jacob would not be satisfied with pat answer. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
As he is given his new name, Israel, Jacob comes to terms with his past, and he determines to take hold of his new God-given identity: “You are no longer the deceiver. You are no longer the one who has been robbed of God’s blessing. From now on your name will be ISRAEL.
At sunrise Jacob named the place Peniel, which means:
“I have wrestled with God face to face and my life has been spared.” And he had the limp to prove it.
In the New Testament, we have the example of our Lord Jesus himself. The night that he was betrayed he wrestled with God in the Garden. He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him... Then he said to them: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
When he finished praying, he found his disciples sleeping, and went back to pray the same prayer two more times.
We can be certain that Jesus bargained with His heavenly Father to find a different way to reconcile mankind with God. His struggle was intense. And in the end Jesus prevailed. He didn’t change God’s mind, but he found the strength and inner peace to obey the will of His Father.
Maybe these stories describe how you have felt about your relationship with God lately. Maybe you carry a burden for a loved one who has made some bad choices in his or her life, and you’re pleading with God that He would have mercy on them. Maybe you are wrestling with some demons from your past… a bad reputation …a nasty habit… or a decision that you can’t change.
If you have reached the end of your rope, then you have come to the place where angels fear to tread. Then I urge you to take off your shoes, for you are walking on holy ground.
Let the words of Jesus in the Parable encourage you to persist in your petitions before God, knowing that the Almighty can handle your arguments in search for truth, peace and deeper understanding.
Soren Kierkegaard said: “Prayer does not change God, but changes him who prays.” When we honestly wrestle with God we will be transformed forever. Our lives will be changed like the widow’s, and Abraham’s, and Jacob’s and Jesus.
God seeks to make His Love and compassion known to us. Let us persist in our wrestling with God... Let us persevere... and we too will rise up with a deeper understanding of God’s will and ways for us. We may be dusty and limping in the end ... but, we will experience God’s blessing!