Tag Archives: Striving

Wrestling

Wrestling (CaD Gen 32) Wayfarer

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.

But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.

Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.

That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.

God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.

Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.

Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.

Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.

I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

To-morrow, and To-morrow, and To-morrow

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.
Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)

  • When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
  • When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
  • When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
  • When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
  • When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.

It was never  my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.

As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.

Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.

Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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Striving Against Divine Design

David before Saul
David before Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, told him what his father was planning.
1 Samuel 19:1-2a (NLT)

The story is downright Shakespearean. I’m surprised the Bard never penned his own version of the story of Saul and David. Saul is the mad king given to fits of jealous rage. David is the young anointed one whom God has chosen to succeed Saul. What’s worse, David is Saul’s son-in-law and the best friend of his first born son, Jonathan. Saul tried desperately to follow Michael Corleone’s advice and “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but Saul’s own family members thwart his attempts to whack David.

The problem is, of course, that Saul is trying desperately to thwart God’s own purposes. Like the runaway prophet Jonah, every time Saul tries to oppose God’s will he finds himself running smack dab into it.

God’s designs and purposes are a mysterious thing, but along the journey I have experienced it enough times to know when I sense it. I have watched individuals try to accomplish their own purposes in God’s name and have seen it fail time and time again. I’ve seen individuals striving to stay far away from God while God continuously draws them to Himself. I have experienced God bringing about His purposes despite others active attempts to thwart it.

Today I am thinking hard about Saul and doing a little self-examination. In what areas of my life am I striving against God’s purposes? Where in my life am I being like Saul in my refusal to accept and surrender to God’s grand design? What areas of life to I need to stop struggling and simply  surrender?

Striving and Awareness

Ruth, Naomi and Obed. Pen and brown ink over p...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for.  Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. Now do as I tell you—  Ruth 3:1-3a (NLT)

As I read through the story of Ruth, there is no doubt that something was clearly happening between Ruth and Boaz. Ruth chooses to gather from Boaz’ fields. Boaz shows Ruth kindness and Ruth finds herself returning to join Boaz’ harvest each day. I find it fascinating that Naomi saw what was happening. Perhaps it was simply an old Jewish lady seeing that Boaz had the hots for Ruth and taking a chance to play matchmaker, but I believe that Naomi was a wise woman. She was aware, and she discerned that this was a specific moment in which God’s hand was moving in their lives.

Over the past several years Wendy and I have experienced the pain and frustration of striving to make things happen in life only to be disappointed time and time again. We have also, even in recent weeks, experienced being aware that God’s hand is moving and discerning that things are happening as a part of God’s great story.

This morning I am contemplating the places of life in which I am striving, and the places in life in which I am aware things are happening. God, grant me the wisdom to know when to strive, and when to stop striving. Grant me the awareness to sense when you are moving – to discern my role and to play my part well.