Wrestling with Reliance
Scripture: Genesis 30:1– 33:20
Wrestling with RelianceGenesis 29:31-33:20
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
When I was in high school I had a job working in a lumber yard. Cars would pull in; we'd check their receipt and then load up the purchased items. I was an unbeliever at the time and I worked with a real motley crew.
I was also into rock music and my favorite band named, "The Who," was on their "Farewell Tour" and had a stop scheduled in Chicago. A friend of mine had tickets, but they weren't cheap. So what was our plan to gain a few extra bucks to cover the cost?
It was December and the place where I worked started selling Christmas Trees for $10. Occasionally we'd be asked, "Do I pay you or do I pay inside?" The correct answer was, "You pay inside." We started to answer otherwise. I had never taken money that did not belong to me so it was uncomfortable at first, but within time, the more I sinned the easier it became. I covered the cost of my ticket and appeared to get away with it.
About eight years later I came to know the Lord. God opened the heart of this sinful young man that knew absolutely nothing about the Bible and possessed all kinds of rough character defects that had been accumulated in twenty-five years of godless living. God immediately took me to His workshop. The changes were happening overnight - reading my Bible and going to church and choosing new friends and activities - the list continues. Some of it came easy. Some of it was a wrestling match with the Lord.
During those years of not knowing the Lord, I made a lot of poor decisions. I knew I was forgiven, but I also knew there were consequences for my choices that I believe God was calling me to make right. The Christmas Trees! The Christmas Trees were brought to my remembrance. It was a wrestling match with God - knowing what He was calling me to do, but lacking the courage, loving my money and fearing man's punishment to do it!
By God's grace, I entered the store. I asked for a manager. I apologized for my actions. I mentioned my faith in Jesus Christ. I put a stack of $20's into his hand which more than compensated for what I took (I didn't want to shortchange it and have to go through this again!). Then I departed with a great sense of peace.
Last week we learned about Jacob's transformation. Jacob was a lousy no-good schemer that spent his life pursuing well-crafted, selfish ends at the expense of others. But God met him at a place he later named Bethel (chapter 28). His life was changed and we witnessed that last week (chapter 29) as he responded favorably to the trials God brought into his life primarily through his father-in-law, Laban. He began to think more favorably of others. Specifically we said he became more loving and more faithful. He was maturing spiritually.
As we enter chapter 30, Jacob now has married Leah and Rachel and has eleven sons and one daughter. However, though he's a forgiven believer, he still is dealing with the consequences of his former decisions. He has two wives at odds with each other (Gen. 30:1). He has Laban taking advantage of him (Gen. 31:7, 41) with no apparent way of release. He has his brother Esau wanting him dead (Gen. 27:41). And he is run-away dwelling hundreds of miles away from where he should be - the Promised Land. What is Jacob going to do? He has got to make things right!
The Christian life is not for wimps. God expects us to deal with our problems, not run from them. God expects us to be people of courage who can resolve interpersonal conflict with a spirit of gentleness and humility. God expects us to make wise decisions, even if they come at a personal cost to ourselves. So how does God accomplish these traits in our lives? Oftentimes it is God's hand-to-hand combat with us.
To be the tool that God could use, Jacob would need to be sharpened. Jacob would learn the paradox - he needed to be an aggressive warrior for Christ, but one that entirely operated in humble dependence on Christ. God is going to make Jacob a man, so that Jacob with God's strength can have the strength to rightly deal with his problems. In His love, God is going to beat-up the man. As the sermon title suggests, Jacob is going to wrestle with God with reliance on God.
1. Wrestling with God in Prayer
Let's first see how Jacob wrestles with God in prayer.
God does not want us to run from our problems. He doesn't want us to face our problems without Him either. God expects us to man-up, but to do it on His timetable with His wisdom and in His strength and then to be attended with His blessings. The avenue for such a process is always prayer. I am not talking about a feeble three second prayer for His help. I am talking about persevering prayer (laboring in prayer accompanied at times with fasting) where we are actually found in a sense wrestling with God. If you need an example, read about Jesus praying to the Father in Gethsemane while He sweats great drops of blood.
In verse 6 of chapter 32 Jacob learns from his servant that his brother, whom he double-crossed, is out to meet him with "four hundred men." This is not a welcoming party. This is a formidable army set to annihilate the man! Before Jacob could move forward with his spiritual life, he needed to settle this past account. But how?
I think we see both a bit of the old Jacob and the new transformed Jacob in his decision making here. Though God promised him a prosperous future (Gen. 32:12) and passage back to the Promised Land - "Then the LORD said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you'" (Gen. 31:3) - Jacob still feels the need to be self-reliant and take matters into his own hands.
The plan (spelled out in verses 13-21) was to offer a gift of livestock to his brother, Esau. The gift (exceeding 550 animals) will be divided into three groups presented by a servant in three intervals as Esau is approaching. In other words, "Jacob sends his greetings, Esau, here is a gift from him." A few hours later another servant with livestock says, "Jacob sends his greetings, Esau, here is a gift from him." And then followed by a third servant with more livestock says, "Jacob sends his greetings, Esau, here is a gift from him." Here I believe we see him cover his bases, a back-up plan if you will, just in case God fails to come through on His promise. The old Jacob!
But we do see Jacob also doing something right! The new Jacob! We see him, for the first time recorded in Genesis, going to God! The man prays! As a matter of fact, it is the longest recorded prayer in Genesis! Jacob is maturing! Jacob for his whole life took matters into his own hands. Now he's going to the Lord for His assistance. This is evidence of God's work, a humble dependence on God for all things. Let's learn from his prayer because it is a good one.
Last Wednesday we had a wonderful prayer meeting here at the church. We went through the A-C-T-S model. Jacob did the same thing thousands of years ago with the same God.
First is A - "Adoration." So often we begin by telling God what we want. Nothing wrong with praying for the needs He has placed upon our hearts. But if we are not careful, only asking God for what we want is no different than a child going to Santa Claus or a gambling addict going to a slot machine.
Adoration is a good way to begin your prayers because it acknowledges God as the Supreme Being who is first worthy of our reverence and respect. Even the first part of the so-called "Lord's Prayer," "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (Mt. 6:9) before any requests are presented. Or from Jacob's lips in verse 9, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD." Immediately, before the requests start coming, Jacob acknowledges that God is the sovereign and faithful Lord, believed in reality and experienced personally in the way his father and grandfather were regarded.
Adoration is usually a series of statements in our prayer each starting with, "I praise You, Lord for" followed by an attribute of God (i.e. His holiness or goodness or justice) or an action He has performed that displays His greatness (i.e. His creation or redemption or providence).
Second in the A-C-T-S model after adoration is C - "Confession." Confession is acknowledging our sins. Confession is both specific, agreeing with God where we have specifically fallen short from His law, and also general, acknowledging that we are a sinner and unworthy of His benevolent presence in our lives. Jacob hits the latter in verse 10: "I am unworthy." The man is finally getting it! Humility is shining forth as the man is descending to greatness.
That leads to T - "Thanksgiving." Once we understand our unworthiness and the fact that the only thing we deserve is hell, we admit that every blessing we receive from God is an undeserved token of His grace in Christ. Through the Spirit, God enables us to be people of gratitude. Let me continue reading verse 10: "I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies." In other words, I came in only with a stick and now I am departing with hundreds of animals and a family.
And then in verse 11, at the end of his prayer we have the S -"Supplication." Jacob prays, "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children."
What I particularly love about Jacob's supplication is that his items of prayer are not only for himself. That is so rare in the evangelical church! Often when we pray, if we do, even when praying with other people, our prayers are frequently focused on ourselves or our ministries. Jacob is becoming a man of God. He is focused on people other than himself!
I also like the fact that in Jacob's prayer he is praying the Word of God back to God. Bookends to his prayer in verses 9 and 12 are the fact that God promised a return to the Promised Land and a prosperous future. He is taking one of God's spoken promises back to Him. He is clinging to it in all faith, and he is wrestling with God in persevering prayer for its fulfillment with a full understanding that God is faithful to keep His Word and is pleased to fulfill His promises.
God has spoken to us as well. It's called the Bible. The Bible and prayer go hand in hand. Pray before you read your Bible and then pray after your read your Bible asking for conviction and repentance and insight and strength - application of what you have just read. And by all means, store up for yourselves the promises of God and continually bring them back to God in prayer. Such an action will lead to overcoming anxiety and fear and despair with a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
2. Wrestling with God Through Adversity
Jacob wrestled with God in prayer. Let's go to the second point as we see Jacob wrestling with God through adversity. This is one of the most unusual stories in the Bible.
Jacob sends his family before him and verse 24 says that when "Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." We are not told immediately who this man is. From the start, Jacob didn't even know himself. Was it Laban who went back on his word? Was it Esau who blindsided him in the dark? Soon Jacob discovers it is the Lord who engages him in a physical wrestling match. Let's find out why.
Jacob is about to enter the Promised Land. He will be one of the venerated Patriarchs of the faith. But before Jacob can become Israel, the man must be broken. Jacob needs to learn that his life is to be one of continual striving with God, but doing it with full dependence on God. He will learn that with God there is a continual heat from the refiner's fire, but through the adversity there is an unspeakable joy in the journey.
And though God probably won't be wrestling with any of us physically like He did with Jacob, there is a continual tension of finding our greatest peace when we are most intimate in close communion with God. At times we struggle, but in the pain we learn to submit to His will, allow Him to expose our defects, yield to the wounds He creates and then trust Him that the pain is for our greatest good as the "old man" is further put to death. If we act in the flesh and run away or defend ourselves or blame others or whine and complain, we'll never experience this. As creatures so prone to follow our selfish instincts, there is a serenity that comes when God wrestles us to the ground, breaks us further of our pride and reminds us that our sufficiency is only in Him.
God wants to make Jacob a man. He has some growing to do. Jacob needs to learn fortitude and faithfulness. He needs to learn patience and perseverance. He needs to learn self-control and selflessness. He needs to learn courage and conviction. So before Jacob can meet Esau en route to the Promised Land, Jacob must first meet God, and it is not going to come through butterfly kisses, but a wrestling match. And I am afraid that there are professing Christians here that have no idea of what I am talking about.
Shane and I do our share of wrestling. As a matter of fact, I believe we wrestle more than any other recreational activity. When I lock him up in a position where he can't move, his line is, "Daddy, stop." In the past I'd release the hold and we'd start over. That is, until last week. Like an illegal hold, I told him those words (unless he's hurt of course) are barred in our wrestling federation. I want him to persevere and not give up so quickly. But in order for him not to be exasperated, since I do have significant advantage over him in experience, strength and size (for now!), I need to know how hard to push him.
Likewise, God could blow us away every time He wrestles with us, but He knows just how hard to push each of us individually. The text says He wrestled with Jacob all night (verse 26) and even permitted Jacob to prevail (verse 25) to give the man confidence and hope. But in the end, God always wins. He'd be untrue to Himself and unloving to His people if He didn't!
Jacob was eventually humbled. His hip was dislocated (verse 25), but even when overpowered and defeated by God, he refused to run away from God. Jacob knew there is security in clinging on even as a defeated opponent. Though knowing the need to surrender, in a sense he never surrendered. He surrendered to God's will, but he did not surrender to his own godless contentment. He refused to let God go. Verse 26, "I will not let You go unless you bless me." In other words, "I can't win, but I have learned that my victory is not overpowering You, God, but my victory is You overpowering me! I want You to make me a man that You can use and refuse to let You go until You do so." Has God taken you to that point where you are desperate for His spiritual blessings?
"What is your name," the Lord says in verse 27. It was a loaded question. "Jacob" means deceiver. Jacob spent his life deceiving others. Saying his name would be an admission of all that he was. That one word would open the door to the numerous closets that contained well-buried skeletons. Before Jacob could receive God's blessings, he had to admit his past and man-up to his sin. He replied that his name is "Jacob."
Verse 28, "[The Lord] said, 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.'" He's a new creation giving evidence of being a new man now rightly fitted with a new name. Like all of God's children, he's not perfect, but he's a humble vessel closely connected with God, not self-made but God-made, prepared and available for God's purposes.
Verses 29 and 30, "Then Jacob asked him and said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, 'I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'"
Jacob learned that through his encounter with God, though humbling and exhausting, that he was not only under God's lordship, but also thankful to be in that place of safety so close to his Savior. The man who only thought about himself was transformed through all kinds of trials to have a heart that reveres and respects God. He acquired a healthy fear of the Lord and with that development no longer needed to fear Esau. And when we read chapter 33 we see that everything worked out just fine. Through Jacob's prayer, God changed Esau's heart (Gen. 33:4).
We know that salvation is not by works. The wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God welcomes sinners like Jacob and you and I. It is a message of grace based entirely upon the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Through childlike faith (and not self-sufficiency like Jacob learned) we can be forgiven and promised our own Promised Land called heaven, and there we will in ways greater than Jacob did, fully see the face of God. That is our ultimate Sabbath rest, but with Christ right now we can rest of any efforts that we think might earn God's love for us. Jesus has done it all and those who rely on Him by faith can rest with full assurance that we are eternally accepted by the Father.
Yet we also see the tension when we read the words of Jesus in Luke 13:24: "Strive to enter through the narrow door." As Jacob learned, we are to learn as well, that God does not roll out the red carpet and put His children into cruise-control. We are to be found empowered by the Holy Spirit, wrestling with God in prayer and wrestling with God through adversity. God loves us for who we are, but He loves us too much to keep us that way. It is through intimacy with Him that we are encouraged and comforted, but also that we are refined and challenged. It's not just about Him getting us to heaven. It's also about Him making us Christlike to have beautiful lives to serve as useful vessels for the kingdom. And like Jacob, we don't always get the answers and it is often painful to our pride, but we walk by faith trusting in our Savior, clinging to Him in the difficult times and refusing to let go until He accomplishes His good work in us.
Do you want that? Maybe I should ask, do you want God?