On Wrestling With God

When I’m getting into a preaching head space, I often listen to a song by Switchfoot called “Twenty-four.” It’s a song about reflecting on your life and the things that have not gone as you’ve expected and hoped they would go, but how God is nevertheless transforming and “raising the dead” in us. Recently, as I listened to the song, I was struck by a few lines:

I want to see miracles, see the world change
Wrestled the angel, for more than a name
For more than a feeling
For more than a cause

I’ve thought of those lines often because the past few years have felt like wrestling with God. When life and ministry don’t go as I expect, I have to cling to the fact that I’m not wrestling with God to make a name for myself or to have warm, fuzzy feelings. So why am I wrestling?

That question led me to reread the story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. Jacob wrestled for a blessing. Before a blessing, he received two things: a limp and a new name. It was only after those things that he asked for the man’s name. Then God blessed Jacob.

As I reread the story, it struck me that Jacob recognized he was wrestling a supernatural being, and his immediate desire was to get a blessing (most likely land, children, and other material blessings) from him. He was face-to-face with God and his desire was so small! God instead blessed him with a new name. As evidenced in this story, a name had serious weight. It marked who you are. No longer would Jacob be the deceiver, but he would be the one who wrestled with God and had overcome. He was now a different person through the wrestling.

Jacob asked for the man’s name. Perhaps Jacob was still trying to master his opponent, by having his name to call upon, but it says that the man blessed him. The text doesn’t tell what blessing Jacob received, but Jacob’s response gives me a clue: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” I believe Jacob recognized the blessing was seeing God face to face and living to tell about it. Perhaps the blessing was simply knowing God’s name (i.e. knowing God).

This story makes me long to pray bigger prayers. Instead of walking into the throne room of God asking for God to bless my efforts or for material things, why aren’t I asking for the greatest blessing of all: knowing God?

God, I ask that my prayers would be so much bigger than for creature comforts. Lift my eyes to your face, that I might see you, know you, and live to tell about it all the days of my life. Amen.


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