Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wrestling With God

(Read Genesis 32: 22-31)

Submission to God’s will is one of the great spiritual disciplines of our tradition. In the classic book, Celebration of Discipline, the profound teacher, Richard Foster writes, “The most radical social teaching of Jesus was his total reversal of the contemporary notion of greatness. Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all. Power is discovered in submission. The foremost symbol of this radical servanthood is the cross” (Foster, pg. 115). The book of Philippians sums it up when the writer says, “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). According to Christian teaching, it is through this humbling, obedience and death that Jesus and we ourselves find glory, power and life.

“Every discipline has its corresponding freedom” (Foster,Richard. Celebration of Discipline. pg. 110). And the freedom associated with submission is “the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.” Richard Foster goes on to say, “The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today. People will spend weeks, months, even years in a perpetual stew because some little thing did not go as they wished” (Foster, pg. 111).

And let’s face it, people that insist on their own way all the time drive us crazy. The boss that micromanages and demands that things be just so, the parent that gives their child no freedom and insists that their way is the right way, the friend who always has a plan and gets irritable when that plan is deviated from…these people are missing out on the dynamic movement that is supposed to be a part of a healthy relationship. It’s in the back and forth, the conversation, the compromise that we are most creative with each other and find a way to make whatever the situation is mutually beneficial.

I have a friend who has a very definitive idea of the way she likes things, and sometimes, being around her is like walking on eggshells. I have to watch what I say because I don’t want to offend her sensibilities. Honestly, it’s tiring and not that much fun to be around her when she’s like this.

So, submission is something that we do in order to get along well with others and make the relationship rewarding for all parties. As well, submission is something that we do to imitate Jesus, and through it, we find the life that God wants for us, instead of the life that we want for ourselves. However, there is a season for everything. As Ecclesiastes says, there is “a time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to seek, and a time to lose.” We can’t always submit. So may I add, there is “a time to submit, and a time to wrestle.” A wise person knows what is called for when.

And that brings us to today’s Scripture lesson of Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob is in the process of taking his family on a journey. They have left their home, but have not arrived yet at their destination when he comes across a man, who turns out to be God. Jacob wrestles with him all night long, and as day is breaking, God says, “Let me go.” Jacob replies, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Genesis 32: 26).

This brings me to my first point: when we decide it’s time to wrestle, to strive with God or with a fellow human being, we must have a purpose in mind. In other words, choose your battles according to what you want most in life. If you really want to be a published writer, then you will send out proposal after proposal because you have a goal, and you will let nothing deter you from that goal of being published. But we have to know what we want in life. Do you know what’s really important to you right now? What’s worth wrestling and striving for?

Choosing your battles based on your overall goals and desires is especially important when you are wrestling with human beings. You don’t want to fight with your mother or mother-in-law about everything, so pick the things that really matter to you and let the rest go.

A second point about this passage: the wrestling goes on all night long and into the morning. When we decide it’s time to go for something, we can’t be faint of heart. We must be ready for a challenge and ready to endure. This can be difficult because many of us get about halfway to where we want to be and settle. “Oh, this is good enough” we say. Jacob doesn’t quit even after his hip is struck out of joint. He perseveres. He keeps wrestling until he gets what he wants.

A third point: God rewards, not punishes, but rewards Jacob for wrestling with him. I know that submission to God’s will is a pillar of our spirituality, but don’t you ever get tired praying, “Thy will be done.” I know for many years I would say the Lord’s Prayer, including the part that God’s will be done, but then would say in my personal prayer time, “God, why can’t it be my way? I know what I want. I know what I need. Why can’t you make happen what I want to have happen?”

The thing is, if we are going to wrestle God for what we want, then we have to take responsibility for making that thing come to fruition. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness, but God does not just present our greatest desires on a silver platter. As the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves.

There is a poem called “Striving” by Robert William Service, and I particularly like these three lines:

I am myself - yet when I strive
I build a self that's truer, higher;
I keep my bit of God alive

I don’t know exactly what you are feeling like right now, but my friends, let’s have some fire in our bellies! Let’s strive, let’s wrestle so that we can be our best selves, so that we can see our dreams fulfilled, so that the part inside of us that is divine can really shine forth.

Today is no day to roll over and play dead. Today is the day to wrestle with God and be blessed. Amen.

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