This is part 1 of a three part series on Wrestling with God:
1) Wrestling with God – this post
2) God Wants to Bless Us -Wrestling with God – Part 2
3) God’s Not Done – Wrestling with God – Part 3
2017 is becoming the year that I explore prayer and try to raise my game in that area. I’ve never been consistent in my prayers, often praying heavily when I need something and not so much when I don’t. I think we all can say we fall into those ruts from time to time when prayer is just not easy to do. But one thing that always helps is to look back at those prayers that I’ve had over the years and see how God has answered them. I often don’t realize that a prayer is answered until I perform this little exercise as often things become clear when looked at through the lens of time.
I’ve had many such experiences and have written about some on this blog before, but let me talk about a prayer that I think is still being answered, yet was begun long ago without my even realizing it.
At the beginning
Back in 2001 I took a job with a small consulting firm, leaving a job I was not happy at (no real reason of theirs, was just not loving it anymore.) At first the new place was great, I was able to work from home most of the time and while that required a level of discipline that I was only beginning to acquire, it allowed me to spend time with my young family and gave me the flexibility that many jobs could not provide me, all the while making a salary that more than provided for my family.
Fast forward 6 months to the end of 2001, the day after Christmas to be exact. I received an email that would begin this journey of prayer and renewal that has continued to this day. The owner of the company (there were only 2 of us), emailed me to tell me he was laying me off. I no longer had a job. No insurance, no income, nothing. And right after Christmas where we had spoiled the kids more than we probably should have. We went from one of the happier times of our lives, to one of the worst, in just a few hours.
We had three of our four children then, one just 9 months old. This was just after the terrorist attack of 9/11 and there was still much uncertainty in the world and the economy. There was no guarantee of finding a job, especially not one making the kind of money I was making. Things were not looking good.
Up until this point, while I had a long history of knowing Christ, indeed all the way back to my childhood, I had only recently re-committed myself to following him. This was one of those turning points in my life. One I can look back to as a moment when I could have gone one of two ways and in this case, I believe I chose wisely and followed God’s promptings without really understanding. See it was then, that I began to question my purpose in life, question what I was doing, not understanding completely why this was happening to us. I had so many questions.
Looking back, I see that I discovered something about prayer that I think God likes. I was quite frank with God in my frustrations, my anger and my disappointments. I didn’t understand or like this moment and I let Him know how I felt. I struggled with God. I questioned His judgment as it really made no sense. All I wanted from God was comfort and to fix my situation, but I was getting neither.
I’m reminded of the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis. Jacob was headed back to see his estranged brother Esau, who was coming to greet him with 400 men. No welcome party. Jacob splits his party up to avoid complete destruction and decides to stay in camp alone, probably for some intensive prayer.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 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. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” – Genesis 32:24-26
This response pleased God so he pronounced this blessing on him;
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome. – Genesis 32:28
So while he came out of the wrestling match wounded and with a weakened body, he came out with a stronger faith.
Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, he sends it in unexpected or even unwanted packages. I didn’t want to be unemployed! I wanted to provide for my family. This lesson began with a simple email after we celebrated the birth of Jesus, but this is not how I wanted or expected this lesson to be delivered.
For two years I was essentially unemployed. Luckily we didn’t have a ton of debt, but living week to week became the norm. We made sure our children were fed and taken care of and then we worried about ourselves. I did side jobs, mostly software development work that I managed to pick up. I also spent quite a bit of time selling stuff on eBay which actually turned into somewhat of a nice little side business. But overall we were not in a financially good place and things really didn’t look to improve… but these two years did something great, it taught me a valuable lesson.
This time of trouble, forced me to rest my faith more fully on God and not myself. See before this time, I was making all the decisions, I made the choices. I had faith in God, but I kept all the “important” stuff for my own decision making. To take me to the next step in our relationship, God had to set me back a peg. He wounded me to increase my faith, just as he caused Jacob to limp to strengthen his.
After two years of struggle, I finally landed a long term contract that took my business to the next level. I was able to form my own business and once again was able to provide for my family. It took time to build that, but during the process God did something else to me.
Wrestling with God changed my identity. This time of trouble made me a different man. I grew up in the process. I became a responsible adult finally (only took me 30 years). I learned to be a better father, a better husband, a better business person. I learned to take responsibility for matters and probably most importantly, I learned to lean on my faith in God to get me through.
Jacob had gained his initial blessing from his father through deception, thus causing the rift that existed between him and his brother. But with his new identity, Israel, gained his blessing through faith in God. I did much the same. I initially gained all my blessings through my own effort and while God rewarded me and blessed me, I gave none of the credit or glory to him. After my 2+ years of wrestling with God, I was blessed in so many ways, but I now knew who those blessings came from.
This brings us to about 2006. While I thought the wrestling match was over and the lessons were learned, I soon learned that really this was only the beginning of the match. See I had worked on my timing (even though those 4 years were too long anyway), but God has his own timing that in hindsight was the correct timing. But I end here and will pick up the story later.