Have you ever devoured a book in one sitting because you literally could not stop turning the pages until you were done?
That’s what I did one night with Gordon Ferguson’s book, “The Victory of Surrender” when it came out 18 years ago.
Today’s audio guide on Genesis 32 in “Through the Word” by Kris Langham about Jacob wrestling with God reminded me of the most important lesson in Gordon’s book: when wrestling with God, we gain victory through our surrender.
That’s the irony of wrestling with God: we want our own way; but when we surrender to his way, we come out the winner because God knows what’s best for us – even if we walk away with a limp, like Jacob did, as a reminder that when we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in him (2 Corinthians 12:10).
We all want our own way. But as a loving parent, God knows it’s not always best to give us what we want. That’s where the wrestling comes in: like a child we must learn to trust and obey God instead of insisting on our own way.
Why is that such a wrestling match? Why is such a struggle to trust and obey God?
The Lord’s brother, James, tells us that our struggle with others actually comes from our own desires that battle within us: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3)
God says, trust me and I’ll give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). But that sounds too tenuous to us, so we take matters into our own hands and arrange for our own happiness. We trust ourselves more than God.
This passage points out that when we quarrel and fight to get what we want then God will not bless our efforts or answer our prayers because they come from selfish motives (Vs. 3).
But if we surrender our desires to the will of God then he is free to bless us with more than we could have possibly asked for or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).
This is the story of Jacob’s life. He was named Jacob (which basically means deceiver) because he would do whatever it took to get his way early in his life – even if it meant taking advantage of a famished brother or a senile father to steal the birthright and then the firstborn’s blessing.
But over time, God revealed himself to Jacob and he learned to trust the Lord to take care of him instead of always taking things into his own hands (Genesis 28-31). God’s faithfulness to his promises over time eventually became the bedrock of Jacob’s faith.
But even after learning these lessons in life, sometimes the bigger challenges tempt us to revert back to how we were.
In Genesis 32, we see Jacob facing the biggest challenge of his life – the wrath of his older brother whom he had deceived and stolen from many years earlier. Jacob had changed and grown since the last time they had been together 20 years earlier, but Esau did not know that. Would Esau forgive Jacob or take his revenge?
The night before their unavoidable meeting, Jacob is gripped with fear. He must have had thoughts like: “I can’t handle this; I can’t do this. I won’t survive. I’ll die.”
Ever been there? Sure, you have. We all have to face those runaway fears at different times in our lives.
So, the night before the brother’s unavoidable meeting, God comes to Jacob in the form of a man and Jacob wrestles with him till daybreak (Genesis 32:24). Apparently, something changed in Jacob’s heart during that struggle and Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, which means something like “he struggles with God” because Jacob the deceiver had become Israel the surrenderer.
Are you facing a battle you know you can’t handle on your own? Do you feel like it’s just too much for you? Are you afraid you may not even survive it?
You’re not alone. We can all relate.
Jacob’s journey is all of our journey in this respect. It’s a journey of giving up control, a journey of surrender, a journey of trust and faith in the face of fear.
Let’s learn from Jacob – one of our spiritual ancestors who wrestled with God and found him to be faithful.
Like Jacob, you may walk away with a limp – as a reminder that when we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in him (2 Corinthians 12:10) – but you’ll walk away the winner because God can then bless your life, as he did with Jacob.
Just remember: the key to winning those wrestling matches with God is victory through surrender.