In my high school days of the mid 1970’s I was part of the wrestling team. Though I never really made the team as a competitor, I was a sparring partner for many of the team members. A benefit or blessing I received from this training is that I grew stronger and stronger and was in the best shape of my life.
This recollection leads me to ask, why do people of God attempt to gain the blessing of God by their own efforts? Faced with a great opportunity or a challenging task, Christians are prone to take matters into their own hands and use whatever means are at their disposal. In such a situation there may even be a flirtation with unscrupulous and deceptive practices – especially when things become desperate.
Jacob displayed these tendencies. All his life he managed very well. He cleverly outwitted his stupid brother – twice, by securing the birthright and by securing the blessing. And he eventually conquered his Uncle Laban and came away a wealthy man – surely another sign of divine blessing. Only occasionally did he realize that it was God who worked through it all, but finally this truth was pressed on him most graphically in the night struggle at the ford Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-30).
At Jabbok Jacob wrestled with an unidentified Man (whom we know as the preincarnate Christ) until dawn and prevailed over him, and though he sustained a crippling blow, he held on to receive a blessing once he perceived that his assailant was God. That blessing was signified by God’s renaming Jacob “Israel.” One thing that Jacob’s crippled walk is designed to teach us that before God we are powerless and dependent.
My question for you as you read this is for what do you find yourselves wrestling: in your life, in your family, at work, school, or even here at Christ’s Church? Moreover, what blessing to you wish to receive from the Lord? If you find yourself wrestling with the Lord that is wrestling practice, intended to make you stronger. Strength does not come from being comfortable, relaxed, or at ease, which only makes us flabby and weak. Growth and strength come from being stretched, from being challenged, and from dealing with adversity. In order to wrestle in this manner, we must regularly and intentionally make time to pray to the Lord and study His holy Word.
Reflect on this: how many minutes each day do you spend with personal Bible reading, and how often do you participate in group Bible study sessions? Further, did you know that the first Christians “devoted themselves [emphasis added] to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42)? This demonstrates that Christians gather (fellowship), to hear the Word of the Lord (apostles’ teaching), regularly received the Sacrament (the breaking of bread) and participate in the prayers of God’s people (the prayers). Therefore, attending public worship is a type of wrestling with God, especially when we’d rather do something else. Again, all this wrestling is practice designed to build our strength and stamina. The bottom line in all these areas is that we must to better in our wrestling with the Lord, if we desire to receive blessings from the Lord. Therefore St. Paul reminded Timothy, “You, however, must continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them…” (2 Tim. 3:14). This, dear friends, is wrestling practice, intended to make you and me spiritually stronger.
However, because it is our desire to receive blessings from the Lord, you and I must do what God commands, regardless of what our sinful mind, or the sinful world, or the devil himself says to us. This is where I, as your Pastor, greatly struggle at times in assisting members of the congregation in how to best help in our spiritual walk with Christ, which is what every Pastor is “Called” to do. You have Called me to preach and teach, and to administer the Sacraments in order to help you learn; but it is extremely difficult you learn if you do not come to Worship or Bible class. I am to help you in order to equip you for your acts of ministry (see, Ephesians 4:12). Oh, to be sure, I will be doing acts of ministry, because that is the duty of every Christian; but the entire congregation should be involved in acts of ministry.
With all of this said, it is evident to me that when the people of Christ Church are in God’s holy Word and are studying, and it is evident when you have daily devotions, and it is evident when you take time to pray that spiritual strength and stamina increase. Yet, if you and I expect to receive blessings from the Lord we must ask the Holy Spirit to wrestle with us, and to adjust our thinking about all things pertaining to this life: that we make it a habit to attend the worship services and group Bible study and personal Bible reading regularly, and not just when we have an obligation to fulfill. We do this to build each other up in this body of Christ.
One final word. St. Paul talks about wrestling: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This difference with this wrestling is that it is not for practice; this kind of wrestling is for keeps. Jesus Christ fought this battle for you and me, and He won it for us when He came to this earth to deliver us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He did this by first being born without sin, in order to take our place. By living a perfect life that we cannot, and then giving us that holiness by faith; by dying on that cross to pay for every one of our sins; by rising from the dead guaranteeing that we, too, will rise from the sleep of death; and by ascending to heaven with the promise that one day He will return to take us to be with Him forever.
Jacob wrestled with the Lord and received the blessing from the Lord; his name was changed to Israel as proof. You and I receive a blessing too in that our name is changed to “child of God.” And so, may continually be wrestle with the Lord, in order to grow stronger and be conformed into the likeness of His dearly beloved Son (Romans 8:29).