Tag Archives: tension

Wrestling God (Again) – Genesis 32:3-32

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In the morning, Jacob will cross the Jabbok River into the Promised Land and face his estranged and violent brother Esau who may destroy him completely. All of Jacob’s family and wealth have already begun the journey. Jacob sits alone and waits in the dark.

God held astounding plans for Jacob, plans far too great for a man like Jacob who cheated people as a matter of character. How incredibly tempting is must have been for Jacob to think he had misunderstood God’s word – that he has the short end of the bargain this time. Jacob lay in the dark knowing God, knowing God’s promises, praying, but not knowing God’s plan.

Can you imagine the bone crushing doubt that kept company with Jacob that night? Do you ever feel the soul rending tension between God’s glorious promises and the olive press of your circumstances? Do you wait alone, naked of all conventional security, and in the dark?

In the middle of the excruciating waiting, a fight breaks out. Jacob wrestles with God – all night long. Nothing God does can sway Jacob. Nothing defeats Jacobs’s will. Jacob will not submit. Ultimately, God’s victory requires divine intervention and leaves Jacob crippled by God’s touch. But still, Jacob clings to his will and stays engaged: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”(Genesis 32:26 NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but I often wrestle with God, in the dark, and for huge stakes. Those battles seem to last forever. They hurt, sometimes horribly. Sometimes, like Jacob, I hang on even after I am thoroughly beaten and insist on my blessing. If this is where you are, “…take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12–13 NLT-SE) Know that your struggle will bless you as well as the cloud of witnesses cheering you on and those who look to your example to cast light on their own path.

Also, please know that trust, simple submission to God’s will, also leads directly to peace and joy.

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Choose Great Suffering Part III: Grasping Salvation Now

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Productivity and stewardship are great – necessary even. Just ask my son (from a safe distance) as he battles to recover from neglecting them for a couple of years. Being responsible hurts when you are young. You have to step away from a fair amount of easy fun in order to steward a better future. However, running from that pain makes things much worse sooner or later. At the other end of the spectrum, I am learning that busyness and work can also serve as “protective” idols. They distract from the clarifying and sometimes painful process of dialoguing with God. It takes great courage to slow down, accept my flaws, and listen in stillness.

What I hear highlights my profound dependence on God. It is frightening, and it hurts. It also issues a strong invitation to peace. Conscious dependency opens the door for faith. With faith I can hear the Spirit proclaiming God’s brilliant strength intertwined with my critical weakness even over the cacophony of my swirling inner chaos.

This is the moment.

This is the unassailable heart of peace at the center of my Christian struggle.

No one can see into me, nothing can challenge me, and never can I feel love more deeply.

Spending time naked in my insufficiency before God defines my identity in Christ and prepares me to be the blessing God intends for others.

It does not drain the sting from suffering. It certainly does not rob my actions of their meaning. It invites me to embrace discomfort as an opportunity to get into the game. Reaching the end of my abilities, venturing into the rapid waters outside my comfort zone drives me into the arms the Spirit. There, only there, can me find meaningful peace and joy in the middle of the rushing stream.

I can’t possibly tell you when this line of thought will makes sense to my son. The consensus from many brilliant people I consulted is that Eli needs to find his own path and suffer his own setbacks in order to develop a thirst for this kind of deeper truth. I will love and respect unconditionally, enforce reasonable boundaries, model those truths, and trust God to make Eli ready.

I am ready now. I will embrace the immediate implications of our salvation and the power of my broken, joyful, dependence, on God. I look forward to living in peace and joy right here and now in anticipation of the astounding victory parade to come.

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Choose Great Suffering Part II: Finding Peace in the Storm

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On the first day of the New Year, with the subtle awareness that it was time for me to stop running from my own brokenness prowling around in my sub-conscious, I dove into a long stretch of PJ wearing idleness – watching Netflix, playing cards, and tracking football on espn.com with my family. Anxiety crept in. The uncertainties of the New Year gathered around. Potential problems grew into happiness robbing fears. I did not want to think about all that uncontrollable uncertainty tinted with the sick gleam of my past failures. I wanted to get off the couch and get busy. I wanted to work on something, anything instead. But I did not. Knowing that Jesus promises peace in the middle of the storm I stayed where I was and let my desperate vulnerability break over me in waves. I mourned the end of the holiday season, worried about work, and suffered with my anxiety.

This was uncomfortable but not all consuming. I had enough attention left to notice that my alma mater, Wisconsin, was also suffering – slowly losing the Capitol One Bowl to South Carolina. I found myself defensively setting each negative play against the greater perspective of the game and the history of the football program. “All is not forsaken (I got a little dramatic). We’ve won Rose Bowls in the past and we will again. Hang on to our glorious history and hope for the future. Keep fighting the good fight Wisconsin!” Then, as I was about to break into a rousing rendition of Varsity, it hit me.

My stewardship (all that productivity I throw myself into and the failure I fear) matters. God chooses to work through people, and my faith must manifest in loving acts of humble service. My sanctification requires it, and God stands ready to use my life’s testimony to invite others. But. But, the greatest possible victory has already been won. I am immersed in the pleasure and privilege of playing a vital role on the winning team. The pressure is off. My participation is critical, but God knows I’m going to screw up and it’s cool. The plan accounts for my selfishness, stubbornness, and astounding desire for control. In fact, all that human messed up stuff is part the victorious game plan. I don’t need to run from it. I need to embrace it and trust God with it.

Poooooof (or maybe it was more like woooosh), anxiety lost its power. The waves stopped pounding, the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Now the New Year looked challenging and bright. I realized that I could bust my butt, fail, succeed, and find peace all at the same time. His burden is in fact a real burden and the yoke is in fact light.

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