Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A date with the devil...and wrestling through.

Have you ever boxed with the devil?
I have.
And let me tell you,
it
is
invigorating!

I'm a kickboxing girl and love this sport.  It's empowering, great exercise, a huge stress relief, and emotionally charged (if you let it be).

Unfortunately, our local gym changed the time of its kickboxing class to the time I have to take my littlest to preschool, and I haven't been able to attend this class for a while now.  However, when I was a regular, I had a date with the devil every Friday morning.

I'm being serious here.

We can pull the divine and the spiritual into any moment or circumstance...



Even kickboxing.

Those Friday morning classes were a great way for me to wrap up my week and let loose the steam and stress that had accumulated within.  I literally would spend an hour pretending I was swinging left hooks, jabs, uppercuts, and cross-punches square in the devil's face.  And when I felt I was running out of steam, I'd remember who my opponent was and I'd just let out all my aggression in another elbow jab, sidekick, and gut punch straight to the enemy of my soul.

Take that, ya big bully.

It may seem silly, and I haven't shared this with much of anyone besides my husband, but kickboxing became a spiritual experience for me.  I used this time to declare glorious victories over the one who wants to take me out.  The one who "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

There are times when we feel we are featherweights in the ring of life up against a heavyweight just waiting for the right moment to proudly declare a TKO over us in the first round.  I think that heavyweight has forgotten that Someone already has won the championship belt and there is no way He's ever letting loose of it.

While every day may not seem like a boxing fight, I'd have to admit that this life seems a whole lot more like a wrestling match. Or a "wrestling through."  For me, there is often a wrestling through discouragement, lies, and my own selfish will.

A wrestling through to peace.
A wrestling through to joy.
A wrestling through to hope.
A wrestling through to perspective.
A wrestling through to truth.
A wrestling through to victory.
A wrestling through to Him.

These things don't often come naturally.  They are sought after, fought for, and ultimately, given mercifully by the One who is all these things.  Though I don't always like it, I'm not ashamed of the wrestling through...for I know that in my weakness, His power is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I may be weak, flawed, messy, imperfect, and face moments of defeat and discouragement, but there is one thing I do consistently... though my heart is prone to wander, I seem to always find my way back to God, stay with Him, and keep following Him through the wrestle.

I don't think I am alone in this fight.  While it may not have been in a boxing ring, the first book of the Bible tells of a man who found himself in a divine wrestling match.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Let's take a look at Genesis 32:22-26:

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Jacob helped his family across the river and stayed back because he desired to spend some time alone with God.  I'm assuming he had a lot on his mind that night.  See, years prior Jacob had tricked his oldest brother out of his birthright.  His brother was so angry with Jacob that he had been plotting his murder for years.  At this point in Genesis, Jacob was on his way to be reunited with this brother after all those years.  One can only imagine the fears and concerns that were running wildly through his mind at this time.

The text states that a "man" wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.  Some Bible scholars say this was an angel or a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the form of man.  Matthew Henry's Commentary reasons that whoever this "man" was, "we are sure God's name was in him."  There's no mistaking this was a divine encounter.

The commentary further explains, "the angel put out his hip to show what he could do, and that it was God he was wrestling with, for no man could disjoint his thigh with a touch" (The thigh muscle is the strongest in the human body).  Furthermore, "the fact that even this injury didn't halt Jacob's struggle indicates evidence that it was a divine touch indeed which wounded and healed at the same time."  (For how could a man continue wrestling all night after sustaining such an injury?  And how could a man with this type of injury continue wrestling and overcome in his own strength?)

Another indication that Jacob believed he was wrestling with God lies in the simple fact that he was asking to be blessed.  "In begging for the blessing he owns his inferiority, for the less is blessed by the better."  Jacob knew Whom he was dealing with and Who held the blessing.

Even after the struggle ended and Jacob was blessed, he acknowledged that this indeed wasn't a wrestling with man, but a wrestling with God.  Jacob asks the man what his name was and he was refused this information.  Jacob goes on to call this place of struggle, "Peniel," which means "face of God." Genesis 32:29-30:

29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place [a]Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my [b]life has been preserved.”

Yes, I think it's fair to say that Jacob knew of Whom he wrestled with all night long.  He had just encountered the divine and made no mistake to memorialize this encounter with a name that rightly fit.

This story encourages me greatly and I think we can learn many things from it.

1)  Despite Jacob's burdened heart, fear, and discouragement, his faith was not shaken.  Life will throw some "doozies" at us, but we do not have to let these things rattle us and weaken our faith.  Jacob continued to wrestle and pray, and he prevailed not in his own strength, but in God's strength.  And we can too.  In our own strength we cannot overcome our deepest struggles.  But in His strength, we can.


2)  Jacob came clean and laid it all out on the table.  He stayed back and didn't cross the river because he knew he had business he needed to take care of with God.  He confronted his past, his failures, his weaknesses, and his sins that night.  He faced God in a hand-to-hand single combat, and was blessed by Him.  When we come to the Lord in humility and good earnest, not holding anything back from Him, He won't hold anything back from us. He desires to bless us.  He will not withhold His goodness or mercy when we get real with Him and come to Him in humble submission.

3)  Jacob would not let go until he received the blessing.  The struggle was long, but he did not grow weary.  He pressed on in the strength of heaven...the strength that we have access to too.  Jacob's success rested in the fact that he kept his ground.  When we find ourselves in spiritual wrestling matches, we are to do the same.  Brothers and sisters, hold your ground and do not let go until you receive your blessing.  It is coming if we hold out for it.

4)  Jacob's blessing followed the struggle.  So many times I find myself wanting to just throw in the towel before the blessing has come.  I even question if it will ever come.  But real growth occurs in the struggle and pain.  It stings, hurts, and sucks the energy right out of me.  But Jacob stayed the course and clung to God in the thick of the struggle.  I am encouraged to persevere in any circumstance without letting go of God.  Jacob wrestled until daybreak, then his blessing came.  Hold on dear one, our daybreak will come too.

So, maybe we won't actually find ourselves kickboxing with the devil every Friday morning or wrestling with God all night, but we know in this life we will have struggles and we have to find a way to wrestle through them.  Let's follow Jacob's lead:  Go forward in the strength of the Lord, be humble and honest with God about where you've been and where you are at, and hold on tight until your blessing comes.

Sweat it out in glorious victory...a daybreak awaits.

Wrestling through,