Spiritual Life

Wrestling with God is a no-win contest. But even in defeat, you come out ahead

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The buzzing chatter around the rodeo arena went still.

Everything slowed down except my heart rate. All I could hear was the leather creaking in the saddle and a slight jingle as I gently tugged on the big bay horse’ s reins and backed him into the chute.

The summer sun was hot. Sweat ran down my face as I tried to mentally review the 52 things my instructor had taught me about how to chase down a 600-pound steer on the back of a horse.

Then the chute flew open and instinct took over. At 30 mph, I leaned far to my right, reaching out as the horse maneuvered me closer to the speeding steer. All I had to do then was drop off the horse, catch the steer behind the horns, and tackle him.

No problem, right?

When the horse felt me drop from the saddle, he was trained to move away from us, so I could stop that critter’s momentum, twist his head around and wrestle him to the ground.

Steer wrestling, or “bulldogging,” is a rough and dangerous sport. After many near disasters, I finally got the hang of it. But it never prepared me for a wrestling match with God.

I never knew much about that kind of wrestling match until I became a Christ-follower and read about a man named Jacob in the Bible. Genesis 32 relates a wild, midnight narrative detailing how this cowboy-like character thought he could whip God (the Angel of the Lord) in a wrestling match.

Like Jacob, I wrestle and struggle with God even though I know very well that I won’t come out on top. There are no 52 techniques that will give me an edge to win this divine grappling match. Quick hands and strong arms can’t hold him. The fastest horse can’t outpace him.

Jacob learned that too, and came out of the fray with a permanent limp, a new name and a new destiny. Wrestling with God will do that to a person.

We all face hard things in life that we wish with all our might were different.

When I don’t get to write the storyline by fixing something that’s broken, changing something that hurts, or dealing with people and problems beyond my reach, anger and resentment inevitably try to bully and take control of my attitude and outlook.

Sometimes in the arena of prayer, I wrestle with God over how this or that should happen — or why I want what I want sooner rather than later.

Pastor and writer A. W. Tozer said, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”

When Jacob wrestled with God along the banks of the Jabbok River, the site of their struggle became so significant it was given a name. Peniel, or “Face of God” (Gen. 32:30).

Getting into God’s face is what people fear most, but what God designs for our good and our survival. Theologian and Christian apologist Timothy Keller nails it when he says, “God has to wrestle us into a transformed life rather than comfort us into one.”

I’ve learned that it’s OK to wrestle with God and not win. Because even in losing, I win. As the psalmist wrote, “But as for me, it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28).

And when the sun breaks forth in a new day, I may be limping, but the Promised land is just ahead.

Rev. Micah Smith is president and founder of Global Gateway Network (globalgatewaynetwork.org) with offices in Richalnd. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.