I dragged myself to bed hoping for the brief relief of sleep. What followed was not rest, but the kind of night I imagine Jacob endured while wrestling with God until dawn. Maybe you’ve been there?
Genesis 32 tells recounts the story of a vulnerable and worried Jacob preparing for a long night alone under the stars. He was really scared this time. What would the next day bring? Would the people in his care suffer? Was God with him? What would the future hold?
All the fears and unknowns of his life felt like a millstone around his neck. Potential scenarios and outcomes lay heavy on his chest, cold and unwelcome, and he fought for sleep.
But sleep would not come. Relief would not come. Comfort and escape would not come. A revised plan to improve the odds in his favor would not come. In fact, things were about to get worse for Jacob, not better, because in the dead of night an ambush would come that would cause him to fight for his life until dawn.
For God would come at Jacob’s lowest, weakest, and most fragile moment – not as an answer – but as an ambush. “Who are you? What is it you want from me? Are you for me or against me?” There was no response in the dark. The Man and Jacob would wrestle throughout the night and neither would let the other go.
As dawn broke, Jacob and his opponent still remained locked together. Their sweat and breath and resolve – their blood? – mingled together. Where did one man end and the other begin?
And The Man finally spoke to Jacob: “Let me go, for the new day is here. This whole night you’ve not been alone. Now you have a new name, Israel, because you’ve striven with God and with men. You didn’t let go of me in the night, and I didn’t let go of you, and now you have prevailed.”
[Pause for a minute to consider a God who is willing to leave heaven; take on soft flesh and brittle bone; mingle his own breath and effort with ours; restrain his power so we might wrestle with him and live…]
And then The Man blessed Jacob. Not with a ministering angel. Not with a promise of success or safety in the days ahead. Not with an answer to all the remaining questions. No, God blessed Jacob with a new name. And then God blessed Jacob with a limp.
Perhaps it’s when we feel most vulnerable and uncertain that God ambushes us with himself? Perhaps it’s when we realize how little of our future we can control that Jesus challenges us to cling to Him with all we have?
This morning after a long night spent grappling with God, I did not awake to more pleasant circumstances or profound peace. I was not rested or really ready for the new day. In fact, I was equally as concerned as to how life would unfold as I was yesterday.
But in the long night God had ambushed me with himself. I’d experienced his patience and his personal commitment to my feeble and forgetful faith. And I understood that even should I receive a limp from his hand at dawn, it would be far from a curse. It’d be a blessing.
The world is experiencing a long, dark, night full of uncertainty and fear. It feels like an ambush, and it feels scary. But could it also be the mercy of a God who comes close and allows his people to strive with him; to hold fast to him, until the new dawn breaks? Could that be our blessing?
Where are you limping today? What in your own life do you wish permanently healed or restored? What uncertainty about the future causes the most fear? Is there shame, regret, or suffering that hangs like a millstone around your neck?
Know this: The painful thing causing your limp is not a punishment from an angry or disappointed Father. God doesn’t desire to overcome you, or teach you a lesson, or rub your nose in the dirt until you beg for mercy. He isn’t disappointed that you aren’t striving well.
No. God’s property is always to have mercy. Always. This means that a limp from his hand is also his mercy. Can I see it that way? Do I believe it? Will I hold fast to him in this life even if it means I might limp through the rest of my days?
One day soon God will restore our bodies, souls, and all the world to rights. Sorrow will turn to joy and grief will be no more. All creation will be healthy and whole. But today, when all is not well, and we are worried, what are we to do?
We are to hold fast to the God who came to Jacob in his long night and comes to us in ours. We are to hold fast and not let go, even as He also holds fast to us. Is He with us? He is. This is our blessing.
If you are wrestling through a dark night or feeling anxious about what tomorrow holds, prepare to be ambushed by Jesus. And when He comes to you, strive with him – refuse to let him go – until he blesses you in whatever way he sees fit. Even if it means his mercy for you is a limp.
Shalom to you and yours in these days. For you share in the body, the breath, the suffering, and the purpose of Christ in the world.