On Wrestling with God
I picked wrestling as my sport in high school for two reasons: I wanted to join a team and I wanted a sport that made me face my fear of personal conflict. Wrestling is both a team and an individual sport. Tournaments include each individual match going towards the teams overall score to see which school wins overall. But each match is individual. There are no substitutions, no passing or assists. There are two people only on the mat and you are one of them. Wrestling taught me to face my fears head on, to be ok with not being able to avoid them — in fact in wrestling you get points taken away if they feel you are avoiding the other wrestler. Wrestling taught me that there will be times where only you alone, with your team on the periphery, must face whatever happens to be in front of you.
As humans, we wrestle with different things every day. Coworkers, difficult jobs, health issues, financial struggles, hard marriages, unwanted singleness, church members, and so much more. But as Christians, we also wrestle with God. Or more accurately, God wrestles with us.
Wrestling with God looks like God calling us out of something in order to do His will and fulfill His plan. And the wrestling occurs because in each of us we have our own desires that want to do their own thing. When God comes along and decides that His way is best, our inner self that has yet to be fully redeemed tries to run away. But God loves us too much to let our flesh get away and continue to let it operate. So he throws us a helmet and tells us to meet Him on the mat. It’s time to fight.
Fighting with God isn’t glamorous. And even the thought of it seems blasphemous. And before the fall, there would be no wrestle. We would happily submit to His will knowing that He knows what is best and He only does what is best for us. But we now have different desires in us. And these desires clash with the desires God has for us. This reason is why only Christians wrestle with God because it is only in the presence of an opposing force that one can wrestle. If only one side shows up, there is no battle. But when there are two forces, two wills and desires that meet, a clash happens.
Jacob is the most referenced example of what wrestling looks in the Bible. He wrestled with God until God blessed him. But the Psalms also testify to how our desires for our own way clash with God’s desire for us. It can even be argued that majority of the Old Testament shows a rebellious nation wrestling with a God who desires to love them yet must continue to discipline them. Wrestling with God is a part of the Christian life.
Wrestling is not rebellion although I do believe rebellion can happen in the midst of wrestling. Actual wrestling matches give penalties for running away. With God, rebellion is the wrestling-form of running away. It is us deciding that God’s way isn’t really as good as He says it is and therefore we don’t engage; we run. And wrestling with God does not justify running away from Him. Even a God who loves us enough to wrestle with us does not always stop the penalties that come with running from him.
Wrestling is currently where I find myself. On the mat, fully dressed, trying to run away, wanting to call it quits yet facing an opposing force that won’t let me go. But this force, though opposing, is not my opponent. God is not the enemy. It is the desire to run away that is my enemy. This desire would rather me bask in luxurious death then face the hard fought, blood bought life with God that comes only through the end of myself. The opposing force that calls me to stay in the fight is God. And He is not opposing me, but instead opposing that inside of me that wants to be apart from Him. That desire is His enemy and He hates it. He calls it sin and He will destroy it. We see God is so willing to destroy sin that He would send His only Son, Jesus, to destroy sin once and for all. And even though the power of sin in the believer is dead, the influence it can have is not. There is still much in us that does not reflect His Son and therefore must be purged from us.
If you find yourself wrestling with God, I’m right there with you. No, I’m not on the mat with you, as this is your fight that only you can see through. But I’m probably on the mat next to you, across the way, struggling with my own battle. But our God only wrestles out of us that which needs to be gone. When we wrestle with Him, we are not opposing Him but allowing Him to call out of us that which is not like His son, Jesus. And this is why we must wrestle.
So how do we wrestle well? How do we not run away from God but allow Him to wrestle our flesh to submission? We read His Word. We turn away from sin. We pray and we pray often. We ask others to pray for us, to push us back in the ring when we try to run out. We do whatever it takes to sit and allow God finish what He started, asking His help to believe this is for our good and only that. We ask Him to let us not run in fear of the pain of sanctification but instead push us toward that which He calls the best, the reflecting of Jesus and greater, deeper, more personal intimacy with Him.
Wrestling is needed because sin still lives in us. Wrestling shows there is something else besides sin in us that wants Lordship. That battle is the Holy Spirit warring for territory in your heart. He wants it. And He will win. So while we wrestle, while we fight the urge to run, while we might end up running while longing for our Savior to come find us, we can know that He will win. He will complete that which He starts. We can believe in confidence that there is no battle He has not already won and there is no good He will keep us from.