A written sermon from Sean McDonald
Sometimes life can be really difficult. We don’t get the job or internship we want, we lose a loved one, friendships break apart. And sometimes that leads us down a road of doubt. We ask ourselves, “why would God allow this to happen” or in certain cases “Do I really even believe in God”? If you have gone your entire life believing in God these thoughts can scare you terribly. But scripture tells us that these moments can actually be the best thing for us. Today I want to talk about wrestling with God and I want to share a time with you when I questioned if I personally believed in God anymore.
Todays scripture comes from Genesis 32:22-32. You can find it here at this link:( https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+32%3A22-32&version=NIV). Here we see a man named Jacob who is traveling with his wife and kids. In order to get a better understanding of this story it is necessary to look back on the life of Jacob before this moment. Jacob was the son of Issac who was the son of Abraham who was the man picked by God to start the Jewish faith. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau who was the first born. Jacob made it his life’s mission to attain Esau’s birthright and his mother, Rebekah, was willing to help him do this. So through a series of tricks, Jacob gains his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing. Out of fear of the repercussions Jacob flees. Our story picks up while Jacob is on his way back home to his family after hurting and deceiving them.
While on this trip back Jacob sends his family and slaves across the Jabbok river. When they had crossed and he is all by himself a man appears and begins to wrestle with Jacob. Scripture tells us that this wrestling match went on with him till daybreak so we can assume that this was no quick match. The match ends only when the man blesses Jacob and renames him Israel. Later in verse 30 we see that Jacob knows that the man that he wrestled was in fact God.
This is an odd passage because most of us would think that if we or anyone else engaged in a physical altercation with God that it would end very poorly for us. And we get a glimpse of the power of God in verse 25 and 31 when all it took was for Him to simply touch Jacob’s hip in order to cause him to limp. But ultimately we see that not only does God not destroy Jacob but only disengages after He blesses Jacob. Why would God do this? Why would He not use His power to end the match before it even began? It is because God wanted to wrestle. God wanted to fight with Jacob. Maybe this is a strange concept for you but I know it to be true. Think about the life that Jacob was living. He was a man who was a part of the promise of God made to Abraham. He was part of the descendants of Abraham who would out number the stars of the sky. His family was blessed by the creator of all of the universe. Yet, despite all of this he pursued his own selfish desires. It wasn’t enough for him to be a part of this promise because Jacob wanted more; wealth, power, esteem. While away from his family Jacob still heard from God but he was not in the place that God had intended for him and his family. When God sends him back to where he belongs it is at that point that the two of them wrestle. I believe that it was essential for God and Jacob to wrestle in order for Jacob to return to where God wanted him. And during this time not only does Jacob have his family’s blessing but he gets his own.
Think back on your life. Has there ever been a time where you truly felt like you were wrestling with God? Maybe you felt extreme shame or nervousness because you thought that it meant that God would be wrathful towards you. When we look at the story of Jacob we can see that this just isn’t true. In my experience when people wrestle with God it always follows a difficult experience in their life. Questions arise and that flame of faith that has burned inside of them for so long begins to dwindle more and more. More times than not people say that they “just don’t feel God anymore”. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. And the reason that God welcomes us wrestling with Him is because when we do we become so close to Him. Think about two people wrestling, the space between them is almost nonexistent. There is no difference when we wrestle with God. When we ask the questions of “why would God allow this to happen” or “do I even believe in God” we are at the very least thinking about Him.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the movie “Warrior”. In this movie two estranged brothers coincidentally enter a worldwide MMA competition and as fate would have it they both get all the way to the championship match. I love the athletic framework of the movie but what makes it truly great in my eyes is getting to watch how two brothers who haven’t seen each other in 20+ years find the love they have for each other again through competition and fighting. Right before one of the brothers taps out, the other yells in his ears that he loves him. It is the first time that there is a moment like this in the movie. I think something similar happens when we wrestle with God. No matter how we enter the fight, by the time it is over we hear God yelling in our ear that He loves us.
Going into my first year of undergraduate I had a beautiful picture of how everything was going to go. I envisioned having so many new friends and being extremely successful on the football field and in the classroom. Unfortunately, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Our football team won 4 total games that season and I barley saw the field. I dreaded every minute of going to practice and meetings. I had friends but relationships were new enough where I felt that I couldn’t really go to anyone to talk about how I was feeling. For the first time in my life classes were really tough. And to top it all off my longtime girlfriend and I broke up. So there I was, in a new city, feeling absolutely alone, and not enjoying the thing that I had always loved. Questions began to arise such as “why would God send me here” and “does He even care”? Those thoughts turned into more serious thoughts like “Do I even believe in God anymore”? Talk about a serious identity crisis. I was there studying religion in a pre-ministry scholarship group and I was asking myself if I even believed in God anymore. I remember one night sitting in my car late at night and crying because I felt absolutely lost. And I cried out to God to just do anything. That night I began to really have my first wrestling match with God. The weirdest part about it was that I began reading more scripture than I had done in a long time. I prayed WAY more than I had in a very long time. And little by little, that emptiness that I had began to be filled. I joined a bible study group with a few guys on my team and began to form deep and fruitful relationships. Before I knew it the flame that I had thought was close to going out sparked a fire that was arguably the strongest that it had ever been.
I consider myself extremely blessed to have been able to have that experience and come out of it stronger. I am not ignorant to the fact that many people wrestle with God and come out of it feeling further away than when they started. Maybe this is you or someone you know. Please hear me when I say to not let that discourage you. Because when we look at the story of Jacob it is all a part of the process of getting us to the place God wants us. The fight ended on Jacobs terms and it is no different for us. It is only when we give up that we have truly lost. So welcome this wrestling match. Allow it to draw you closer to God. When we do that we will not only draw closer to God but receive a blessing better than anything we deserve.