…you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome…
We are only saved by the grace of God, the merit that He bestows on us that we have not earned but freely receive through faith. And in this grace we progress in our spiritual life. We are not saved by grace only to mature by works – it is by grace through faith from first to last.
Yet there is a call to struggle in our faith. “The religion that costs us nothing is to us worth nothing” wrote Adam Clarke. Christ called us to daily pick up our cross and follow after Him, and this means nothing in the spiritual realm if it has not practical application in the physical realm. The nature of the faith-struggle is both physical and spiritual – for we remain very physical beings on this earth. A sickness, a difficulty, a misunderstanding, a betrayal, and suddenly we are transported into the realm of spiritual warfare. These physical world problems are not the only forms of spiritual warfare, or the main ones we have to deal with, but they are real.
The nature of the struggle, however, is always mostly spiritual in nature – it involves that area of our heart that must surrender totally to God, that must let go of its own claim on itself, and act in a way that can only be described as God’s way, not a human way. The story of Jacob wrestling with a man, almost assuredly the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus, this mysterious person of he Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord, was such a struggle.
The night before he was to meet his brother Esau whom he had cheated, Jacob was confronted by God as he camped alone by the River Jabbok, and struggled with him, asking for a blessing. It is not hard to imagine the fear that gripped Jacob’s heart as the failures of his past came back to haunt him, and not merely to haunt his memories but to also face him in the flesh. He knew he needed an experience with God that was deeper than he had previously had.
That Jacob is said to have overcome is surprising because in the story clearly he was defeated. The man touched his hip near the groin and disjointed his leg. When later we read of Jacob leaning on his staff (47:31), it seems to indicate that he never completely healed from this experience. The overcoming happened through surrender, to have been seemingly mastered by circumstances yet to still never let go of God throughout the process. It is the heart that says as Job had, “Though he slay me yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
In difficulty we must hold on tighter than ever before to the Risen One, surrendering into His hands every fear, every doubt, every old-fallen-nature-reaction, and ask for the deeper blessing – the blessing that faces even death and knows still that we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. I believe the nature of this deeper work is to surrender our strong will to Him, as though we have no will left whatsoever. Through these deeper struggles we become less and less and He becomes more and more.
Have you come to the point where the pains of your life, where you limp emotionally and perhaps even physically, where you wince from past betrayals, where you still feel the hurt of your own past acts of foolishness – have you come to the point where in all of these you see the hand of God calling you to a deeper blessing, to a deeper life of surrender, to a deeper experience of His love and grace and peace? If you feel the burdens of your soul are too heavy to bear, pray through them until it is settled in your heart and you have released them all into the hands of Christ. There is a genuine peace from God that surpasses all human understanding.
It is customary that our own goals for our life are to have money, to live comfortably, to retire in luxury, to enjoy the “best things of life.” But none of these are why we were created or what eternal life is really all about. The world, Christ taught, runs after all of these things, just as Jacob had, but we are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and then let Him add these things as He will.
Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). It is of no value to hold so tightly onto those earthly things that we cannot keep anyway that we lose our grip of the One who is ours for all eternity. Hold on to Him! And everything else in your soul will be okay. He will guide us through every other challenge and difficulty we have to face.