One of my good friends is a young 91-year-old. One of the things she loves to do is watch professional wrestling. She seldom misses those "blood and guts" matches on television every Saturday.
One Saturday I stopped by to see her at wrestling time, so I took a ringside seat and we watched a match or two together. It didn't take me long to see that I was sitting beside a serious wrestling fan. I didn't dare breathe a word that I thought it possibly could be theatrics! If she could have gotten to them she would have used her cane on the tag-team beating up her favorite boys!
Today we have ringside seats for another wrestling match. As a matter of fact, through the eyes of the Genesis writer we're going to see the most unusual wrestling match in history. And before it's all over we just might discover the blessing of wrestling!
Our main event takes place in an open-air arena beside the Jabbok river. It's a rather odd place for a wrestling match, but this is no ordinary event. In one corner of the ring stands "Big Jake," better known to us as Jacob, the master of deception. And in the other corner, of all the people we would expect to see, is God himself. It's quite a billing! Jacob versus God!
But at a closer, more serious look, we see that Jacob is wrestling with God because he's wrestling with life. It wasn't by accident that Jacob ended up in a wrestling match with God. Everything that had happened, everything that was happening in his life, had been leading to this one crucial encounter.
We're not merely spectators; we, too, are in the ring. Like Jacob, we're wrestling with our problems, our decisions, our doubts, our fears. It could be that we're engaged in a struggle with God. At some time or another we all wrestle with life and along the way we usually wrestle with God.
One of the things that Jacob was wrestling with was family problems. For many years he hadn't spoken to or even seen his brother Esau. Ever since Jacob had tricked his brother out of his inheritance, family relations had been strained, to say the least. In fact, if Jacob hadn't left the country Esau probably would have killed him. But now, after all those bitter years, Jacob was wrestling with the idea of reconciliation.
It's not unusual for us to wrestle with family problems is it? Strained and broken relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, brothers and sisters aren't uncommon. No doubt some of us are struggling with an unhappy marriage. We're trying to decide whether to "hang on" or "hang it up" or get some help with our problems. The stresses our society places on marriages makes us all struggle from time to time.
Our family problems often coincide with our financial problems. When there are too many bills and not enough money, when the cookie jar stays empty too long, trouble frequently starts "cooking" in the family. Everything from children to a lack of communication to a mid-life crisis can cause our marriages problems.
Or perhaps our family problem is that we don't have a family. It could be that we're wrestling with what it means to be single in a world that seems geared to couples. Fitting in and finding one's place as a single adult is usually more of a struggle than an adventure.
There's no question that Jacob was wrestling with some real family problems. He was also struggling with some decisions that he had to make about the future. At this point in Jacob's life he wanted to make things right in his relationship with his brother, Esau. And, even more important, he wanted to make things right with God.
Jacob had been trying to do things his way for a long time; now he was ready to be serious about his relationship with God. Yet, at the same time, there was a degree of uncertainty. Jacob wrestled with some fears about the future. He couldn't know for sure how his brother Esau would react to their meeting. There was a possibility that Esau might kill him. He couldn't know what the next day would bring.
Neither do we. We constantly struggle with our fears, our uncertainty over tomorrow. As we wrestle with life we're never quite sure how things are going to turn out.
Recently I spoke with two people who are wrestling with the future. One is a college senior who is doing what most college seniors do–he's looking for a job. He's not at all sure where he'll be living and what he'll be doing in the future. Job hunting is always a time to wrestle with tough decisions.
The other fellow I talked with is a businessman who is wrestling with changing jobs. He's looking for a job that will give him better opportunities to witness for Christ. When we're serious about following Christ there's almost always a struggle involved. Jesus' encounter with the rich young man is an example of someone who wrestled with a decision and chose not to follow Jesus.
Jacob decided, in spite of his fears, to tough it out with God. In Genesis we read, "And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day." Two things stick out in these words. First, there is the statement that "Jacob was left alone." There comes a time when we each must accept responsibility for our situation. No matter whose fault it is, or who caused our struggle, we ultimately have to decide what we're going to do about our situation. Especially is this true in our relationship to God. No one else can accept your responsibility to God.
In this critical time in Jacob's life he left his family on the other side of the river. It was a private encounter between him and God. No one else could take his place. The old spiritual says, "Jesus walked that lonesome valley. He had to walk it by Himself. For nobody else could walk it for Him. He had to walk it by Himself."
As we go through life, as we face death and encounter God, there is a time when we have to go it alone. We have to wrestle with our sin, our faith, our commitment. Perhaps this is a part of the Apostle Paul's message when he urges us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."
A second thing that we notice about Jacob's wrestling match with God is that it was held in the dark of night. Don't most of us wrestle with God in the darkness of human understanding? As we wrestle with life and wrestle with God there is so much that we don't know and can't know! To use Paul's phrase, "we see through a glass darkly" and we only "know in part."
I've experienced the frustration of this truth time after time in my life. I've wrestled with God in my darkness on many occasions. I remember one day when I visited a little twelve-year-old girl in the hospital. She was severely retarded and she was dying. She couldn't talk. She couldn't walk. She couldn't see. I stood there and watched this suffering little girl who never experienced life as most of us know it. And I couldn't help but wonder why God would allow such a terrible thing to happen.
I wrestled with God when I heard the news that David, the "boy in the bubble," had died after only a few days outside of his germ-free prison. When he was six year old, David did some of his own wrestling with God. He asked, "Why does God make some children live in a bubble and let others run and play?"
In our pain and darkness we've all wrestled with God and asked why some things happen the way they do. And many times there are no answers to satisfy us. We are left to live and wrestle in the darkness of our human understanding. In Isaiah the Lord tells us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways."
Jacob wrestled alone in the dark of the night. And he experienced as we do that wrestling can be painful. As he wrestled with God, "Jacob's thigh was put out of joint." As we try to come to grips with our problems, our circumstances, even with God, it can be painful.
In his autobiography, The Struggle to be Free, Wayne Oates, the Christian counselor and writer, tells of an experience he had growing up. Oates grew up in poverty, but a turning point in his life came when he was given the opportunity to be a page in the United States Congress. Young Oates was ridiculed by the other pages in Washington. They abused him and intimidated him and put him down at every opportunity.
Finally Wayne decided to fight back. He gave all of his opponents a sound beating! But in the last of these fights he was wrestling and the fellow he was wrestling with fell on his arm and broke it. Even until this day Dr. Oates has a bent right arm as a reminder that wrestling can be painful!
Maybe we're hurting as we struggle with our situation. But the good news for us to hear is that there is blessing in wrestling! Let's look at the outcome of the great wrestling match that Jacob had with God. It had been a long, dark struggle. But Jacob refused to give up. He was persistent. He was patient. In his determination Jacob said to his wrestling partner, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." Jacob was willing to wrestle with God even unto death!
When we're wrestling with life and wrestling with God there is always the temptation for us to give up and give in to our problems and doubts and fears. In our pain and darkness we often want to cry, "I give! I can't take anymore!" Maybe that's where we are, today. We've wrestled so long and so hard with our situation that it seems useless to wrestle any longer. We are weary from the struggle and ready to quit.
But if we're willing to be patient, if we'll be persistent, there's a blessing waiting for us! The Christian singer Evie sings those words, "Hold on a little while longer." Jacob had come to the point that he had decided that he would never let go of God. No matter what happened in his life, he had decided to hang on to his faith in God. As a result Jacob became a new and stronger person. He was even given a new name: Israel.
The psalmist wrote, "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." Our great statement of faith in the middle of our struggles is, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him."
One day a lady shared with me a deep, dark struggle that she faced a few years ago. There was a tragic death in her family that no one could understand. There was only sadness, guilt and grief. For a long time this woman suffered from the same haunting nightmare. She dreamed she was at a carnival in a house of mazes and she couldn't get out. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't escape the confusion and pain that filled her life. Then one night, she had this nightmare again. It disturbed her so much that she woke up and sat up on the edge of her bed. She prayed, "Oh, Lord, how can I escape my fear and guilt and grief?" And this woman, who had been wrestling so long, said a voice spoke very clearly to her, "Faith is the way out. Faith is the way out." From that moment on the nightmare never returned. This woman received the blessing of peace.
So in our struggles may we be patient, persistent, people of faith. Let's dare hold on to God no matter what! For through the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ there is always blessing in wrestling.

Genesis 32:24-31

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