I absolutely love watching my husband, Brad, wrestle with our kids. It mostly happens with the boys, but on occasion, the girls have wanted in on the action. When they were little, it would usually be several of them together against just him. This was not a problem.
I remember one particular wrestling match when Jayden was a sophomore. He had wrestled his freshman year in high school and was growing long and strong. This is usually about the age that boys think they can “take” their father. They do not yet understand “man strength,” that kind of strength that can only be built with many years of life.
During this wrestling match nothing was “out of bounds or “off limits.” The match rigorously extended from the sofa to the floor, back to the sofa. Rug burns and sweat were appearing at a rapid rate and I am sure, although I could not see, ligaments and tendons were stretched to the limit and muscle fibers torn, ready to rebuild stronger. The living room sofa ended up pushed around and almost knocked over. But Brad had no concern for the material things in our home at that moment (and of course Jayden did not either), they were both in it to win it.
I delighted in watching this age old tradition of fathers and sons knowing that Brad would win and Jayden would learn something new and come out stronger in stature and character. I had complete confidence that Brad would know how to take Jayden down without causing irreparable damage and he would know exactly how long to hold the pin resulting in loving, mutual respect and not damaged ego to Jayden. I knew the struggle would end with love and laughter, and new found strength and confidence. Ultimately, the wrestling match made their relationship closer, made Jayden stronger, and made Brad sore for days.
What a perfect picture of our struggle with our loving Father (minus the sore part).
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
At this moment, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel which means:
“to contend, to fight,”
“he struggles with God.”
It is from Jacob/Israel that the 12 tribes of Israel have been born which make up the nation of Israel and all of the Israelite people and we, as believing Gentiles are grafted in. Ephesians 2:11-13 and Roman 11:17
According to scripture, everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, no matter where they are from, their history, their culture, their nationality, is now part of God’s chosen people. This invitation is open to the whole world; to every nation, tribe and tongue. The second we make this choice, we are grafted into the family of Israel, God’s chosen people, we are co-heirs with Christ. Praise God!
But let’s look at this name, Israel… Why didn’t God name Jacob something that meant, “he is in harmony with God” or “he has total faith in God” or “he lives in perfect peace with God?” I would have liked one of those characteristics to define my life and my family.
But He didn’t.
And…since “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8 …it is reasonable to assume that God didn’t mess this one up. He’s not thinking, “Oops! I should have named Jacob something different.”
He knew His people would struggle with Him. It is actually by design. Not because God enjoys watching us squirm or because we were created as some form of amusement for Him to watch from heaven. Those are the characteristics of the fickle gods of mythology. God has never, will never, can’t ever, delight in watching our pain and struggle with sin, death, and evil.
However, He does use our struggle for our benefit. This struggle is actually a gift to us! We struggle as a result of the gift of free will.
The definition of free will is – voluntary choice or decision
Or: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.
God created us free to choose Him. He woos us to Himself.
Think about it this way…if you were designed with no other choice but to “love God” you would not know any difference. It would just be part of who you are, your programming. That is not love at all. That is programming. Love is not only an emotion we feel but it is an action we choose.
If you were dating someone and he/she said, “You have to love me because I said so. You have no choice but to love me and follow me.”
You would, hopefully, turn and run the other way!
When you are loved, served, treated better than you deserve, sacrificed for, and given mercy and grace, you will love in return. This is how God woos us to himself. However, just like with human relationships, we must see it, feel it, and accept it. Unlike human relationships, God does this perfectly. He doesn’t toy with us. Pride, shame, guilt and fear have no place in a relationship with Jesus. Those are characteristics only we, fallen man, bring to our relationships.
We, all of us broken people, struggle.
- We must come to a place where we are exhausted, worn out, and tired of the struggle against God, having believed that we can do it better our way.
- We must wrestle with the doubts we have that we hold onto out of fear and pride.
- We must believe that this book called the Bible is real and true; that God truly loves us as much as the Bible tells us. That God is not only capable of the miracles written in the Bible but that He performed them all for the benefit of His children and His glory.
- We must struggle to uncover the mysteries of the universe and come to an awe-inspiring realization that God is so much more perfect, powerful, loving, and creative than anything we can imagine.
- We must finally surrender and receive the beautiful free gift of grace and forgiveness offered to us by Jesus Christ and the shedding of His blood.
- We must re-surrender our attitudes, plans, lives to Him every time we try to take ourselves back, wrongly thinking our lives are ours to control.
- We must struggle with man as we learn to follow Christ when all-of-the-sudden the things we once thought were ok, we now clearly see as an offense to a holy God.
- We must learn to give others the kind of grace and mercy we received as we struggle to live in a world of brokenness, shame, jealousy, pride, hate, adultery, murder, lust, greed, and evils we never even thought of.
- We must struggle with our new selves, filled with the Holy Spirit, as He reveals more and more of Himself to us and we realize just how far we are from being like Him.
- We must struggle to give ourselves and others the grace that Christ died to give us and NEVER think that His sacrifice wasn’t enough.
When we struggle with all of these things, out of our own free will, that was and is a gift from God. Then, our love for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, grows and we begin to reflect His love for us.
God loves us so much He allows us to struggle through these things.
Without the struggle we are apathetic, weak, and there is no power in our choice.
It is like wrestling with a loving father who knows exactly how to “pin” his child, how long to keep him there to produce more strength as he struggles against the power of the father, and exactly when to release him so the new strength in body and character can be used in life. This loving “wresting match” bonds the father to the child. The struggle makes our faith and love strong and sure.
Remember the last part of the verse! “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” We never have to worry that we will lose in the end. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His blood poured out for us, we are washed clean and covered in His righteousness and now, not simply believers, but victorious, overcomers!
Lord, we thank you and praise you for wrestling with Jacob that night and changing his name to Israel. Because of this simple name change, and your gift of free will, we can rest assured that You know and expect us to struggle with you and with man and you are always with us in the struggle, in the wrestling. Thank you for making us strong through the struggle and hold us up as we lean on you. Help us in our doubt and unbelief during these times of struggle when we cannot feel you near. Help us when we begin to doubt that you are in the struggle with us. Help us persevere to the end of the wrestling when we come out victorious and know we are stronger for the trial. Lord, you love us so perfectly. We praise your Holy name. And it is in this Holy name of Jesus, we pray. Amen
What is something you struggle with or have struggled with that Jesus has redeemed you from? In what areas of your faith do you struggle most? What relationships with man do you struggle with?