Wrestling With God Transcript

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Wrestling With God Transcript

Pastor Kevin Rutledge
First Reading: Luke 18:1-8
Second Reading: Genesis 32:9-13, 22-30

Chapter 1: The Power of Persistent Prayer

We're jumping forward quite a few years. We just heard last week about the birth of Isaac Abraham's son, Abraham, and Sarah, and we jumped forward. Isaac was married, had children, was fully grown, and had two kids named Esau and Jacob. And now we're to the point where Jacob and Esau do not get along. Now, part of that, most of that, is Jacob's fault. Jacob was the second born. Esau was supposed to get the birthright, the blessing. He was the one through whom, at least in birth order, that was supposed to have the lineage. But Jacob had tricked Isaac. He had traded it with Esau, and then he tricked Isaac on his deathbed when he could no longer see, so Isaac gave Jacob the blessing rather than Esau. And because of that and fear of what Esau would do to him, Jacob ran away and spent a good number of years, at least 14, if not more, away from home. He met a man named Laban, and he eventually, with some difficulty and some trickery, married. Two of Laban's daughters had amassed many possessions and wealth, and God had told him to go home. However, he was still afraid of his brother Esau, afraid that Esau would kill him, his wives, and his children and take all his possessions. 


On that note, we come to today's passage in Genesis, where Jacob prays to God to save me, and he offers that prayer that we read in the beginning part of the passage. As soon as Jacob prays, God saves me; as soon as he's done with that prayer, he sends his wife, children, and possessions ahead of him, hoping that his brother, Esau, will be merciful. But he sticks around, he holds back, and in holding back, he encounters a stranger. At first, we have no idea who this stranger is. Only when we get to the end of the passage do we understand who exactly Jacob is wrestling with. And we know that this wrestling lasted through the night. And this wrestling lasted, and it was getting to be daybreak, and the man Jacob was wrestling with said, let me go. The day is coming, and Jacob holds on to him, refusing to let go until the man blesses him. The man does. Now, the man needs to tell Jacob his name. He refuses to. And then daybreak comes, the wrestling match ends, and Jacob moves on. But at that moment, he recognizes who he is wrestling with because he names that place Peniel—the place where he had seen and wrestled with God and lived to tell the tale. Now, in that wrestling match, we see a few things happen, and in that wrestling match, we see an example of a prayer life that may be foreign to us, and that's where we're going today. 


More often than not, when we think of prayer, we think of prayer in terms of that first song, that gentle speak, that approaching of heaven with timidity. Too often, we approach prayer not with any forcefulness, not with any kind of God. I want you to do this or God. I want you to do as you promised. Part of that is born out of this desire not to be too arrogant in what we ask for, not too demanding. We think of prayer as that sweet hour of prayer. We think of the prayer that Jesus prayed over before his crucifixion when Jesus said take this cup from me, but not by your will, not by my will, but you will be done. We approach prayer with humility, which is good and right, but it's not the only way to pray. I think we, as a church, as Christians, and as people, desperately need transformation, revitalization, and redemption. We need to recapture this sense of prayer. 


Like Jacob wrestling with God, Jacob refused to give in. He refused to let go. He wrestled through the night, no matter how exhausted he got. He held on to that wrestling and didn't let it go. He didn't let his strength give out, and it lasted until the morning. And even in the morning, after wrestling through the night, Jacob said I will not let you go until you bless me. He held on to the stranger. He held on to God and said I will not let you go until you bless me. That takes some hoods, but that takes some real. I don't know what the word is other than hoods. But under that other that's thinking of, who are we to wrestle with God through the night? Who are we to hold on to God and say I will not let you go until you give me a blessing? It's so foreign to how we approach prayer, so foreign how we come to God with what we want because sometimes we're pretty vague when we pray to God we don't quite know what to ask for. We know what we want, but we don't ask for it. When we have a loved one who's sick, we know we want to heal that person, but more often than not, we approach God with timidity. Now, part of that is that understanding of what if this healing doesn't come. What are we saying when we say God does this and God doesn't do it? And I get that, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask God for what we want. 


We see over and over again these people that approach Jesus as he is going about his ministry. They would cry out to him God, save us, God, have mercy on me, God, heal me. I like the story of the blind man crying out into the crowd. Please have mercy on me, save me. And Jesus says well, what do you want? And the blind man says I'd like to see it again. And Jesus grants him his wish, brings him healing, but then grants him forgiveness and mercy as well. In these stories of Jesus's healing, we see people in desperate need of something, healing, hope, forgiveness, whatever it may be, and they ask him for it. They say directly heal me, I want to walk again, I want to see again, I want my daughter healed. Now, they didn't know who they were talking to as the Son of God, but they knew they had somebody who had God's ear and could do what they wanted him to do. 


So my question for us today is, do we run out of strength? Do we give in too quickly? Do we refuse to express the longings of our hearts and our desires to God because we're afraid that God might not do it, that God might say no, or that maybe God can't do it? Are we holding back, or do we wrestle with God? Now, the funny thing in this passage is that, at any point, God could have ended this wrestling match. At any point, the stranger, if it was God himself, could have ended it and said well, if I'm the God of creation, if I made you, if I called you to be, if I called you to this place, then indeed the stranger could have ended it all and put Jacob in his place. So what does it mean to have a God who willingly wrestled with Jacob, who held back his strength, held back all that the stranger had to offer and all that he could have done, held it back so that they could wrestle together? 


The idea of God holding back helps us in prayer and faith in this idea of life. Is God does not want to do it? God doesn't just want to make things happen. God wants to wrestle with God's people. God wants that relationship that's born out of expressing our frustrations, expressing our desires, and expressing who we are. And if we need to do that in prayer, what are we trying to do? If we're not coming to God with everything that we are and all that we want, and all that we desire for ourselves, for our families, for our loved ones, and for our world, if we're holding back, as if God already doesn't know the desires of our hearts, then what is it that we're even doing? What if, instead, we recognize that in the act of prayer, in the act of wrestling with God, in the act of saying God, what are you doing? We are building the very relationship that God is seeking with us, shown in his holding back and his wrestling with Jacob. 


Jacob's name has changed in today's passage to Israel. Now, that's a significant significance in several ways. Through Jacob, he has 12 sons and one daughter, and through those 12 sons, the 12 tribes of Israel come about. But we're not going to go there in that particular passage today. But his name is. It becomes Israel. But unlike Abraham and Sarah and others whose names are changed in the Bible, this one doesn't seem to stick as much. 


Jacob is still referred to as Jacob in many places in the story, but the word Israel struggles with God, one who wrestles with God. It becomes a defining characteristic of Jacob and of Israel itself and, I hope, through us, through being grafted in through Christ, as people who struggle with God, people who wrestle with God. And we do that in the reading of scripture. We do that in prayer. We do that in small groups. We do that in worship, we do that, hopefully, in every day of our lives, to understand what God is doing, to say, God, what are you doing and why, and to hopefully understand it better, and then to hold tight on to that strength and hold tight on to God, refusing to let go, refusing to say I'm out of energy, I can't do this anymore, I can't last through the night, the struggle is too great, or even worse, the struggle is not worth the cost, because we find in today's passage that Jacob's struggle with God, Jacob's wrestling with God, does not leave him unscathed. He doesn't come out at the end with only the blessing he sought and demanded. He comes out of that wrestling with a limp, with an injury to his hip to his leg, and that limp stays with him. 


I can't guarantee that when we wrestle with God, we will always end up in a place of blessing without being touched by it or injured in the wrestling. Because when we hold on to someone like God, when we hold on and wrestle and challenge and be challenged by him, we are going to be impacted, we are going to experience something, we are going to struggle, and that wrestling, depending on what we're wrestling about can stick with us and be a defining characteristic of our faith in the future. But that is a sign that we've wrestled with God. That is a sign that we've wrestled with who God is and what God is doing. That is a sign that we've wrestled with God because what he wants for us, what God wants for us, may be different than what we want for ourselves, and anytime that happens, we're going to butt heads. And what we see in this story is a God who wants to butt heads with us, that wants us to wrestle with him, wants us to refuse to let go. 

Chapter 2: The Power of Wrestling in Prayer

So my challenge for you for this week, my challenge for you in your prayer life going forward at times, is yes, you will have those prayers where I say I need to sit in the presence of God in this sweet hour of prayer. But I want you to grab on to those times where you feel like you've got to speak to God on one, going toe to toe, wrestling with him and refusing to let go, naming what exactly it is that you're looking for God to do and refusing to give in. Now, God may or may not do it. God always has the choice of giving that blessing and giving you what you ask. But the purpose is not to get what you want. 


It's in the wrestling and being in the presence of God and in the chance that God blesses you. You have a double blessing. You've got the relationship, the wrestling, the experience of knowing God is there. Then you have the blessing you saw For, even when Jesus prayed the night before he died. He asked God to take the cup from him, the suffering, to remove what was about to happen and make it so that he didn't have to do it. He asks for that first, but then he does say, but your will not, mine be done. We have to be willing to ask for it, we have to be willing to be specific on what we want God to do, and we're going to have to wrestle with him either until he does it or he shows us another way. 


But the point is not to give up, not give in, and to hold on to God and not let go, no matter the cost. That is my prayer for us, and that is my prayer for myself because there are so many places where I've failed. I tend to go the route of, well, god, if this is your will, then do it. God, if you can bring healing in this person's life, I'd love to see it, but if not, I understand. But I, too, need to claim that. So, hold on to God, hold on to what your desires from him are, and be willing to wrestle with him until the very end, holding out hope, being willing to be transformed and even wounded in the process, but knowing that the joy, the blessing, the redemption, and the transformation have been given to us.