Covid has impacted not just the church, but the entire world. In many ways it briefly put lifelong dreams, aspirations, ambitious goals and targets on hold, but then, inspired by faith, it caused many to and take a step back and take stock.
As difficult as it was for so many people, it made many pause to absorb what they experienced, and then realise that little steps can add up to big changes in our walk with God when maintained over the long term.
More profoundly, there are things that still remain before us that we feel strongly to embrace — the great commission still lays tantalisingly before us — it’s a challenging mission even as we come out of lock down but unlike us, God has not been put on hold. We’re also not abandoned. He is here and at work in the heart of the nation. You may be unable to perceive it, but God is profoundly at work. Back in history in the extraordinary encounter Jacob had with God there is comfort and inspiration for us as we consider Jacob felt exactly the way we may feel today. It was time for him to be found wrestling with God, but it took Jacob by surprise.
The Apostle Paul says these things happened in the Old Testament as an example and were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11) so it’s an important and inspiring story for us too (Genesis 32:22-31). We need to allow the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts with its promise that as much as God was dealing with Jacob, he is also wrestling with us.
Don’t underestimate what God is capable of doing in your life, or the measure of grace he is able to extend to you.
Jacob had once fled from the land of Canaan, the promised land, the land that God had given his forefathers and him, and he had also fled from his brother’s anger. He had spent years of his life in a foreign land but now he is drawn back. He wants to go back to his home country, back to the land promised by the prophets. He wants to go into the land where God is the Lord and no other. And he wants to go to his brother and make peace with him.
He wants to explore the land of God. For our part, our cities (our church) are waiting eagerly for the gospel to bring hope – and life. We want to reach our nations for Christ, making disciples of nations, not just cities, towns and villages. Clearly, not all of this story is applicable to our current predicament, but in our personal lives it may be that God has much more to say than we think.
Don’t underestimate what God is capable of doing in your life, or the measure of grace he is able to extend to you. And remember, if you feel you don’t deserve God’s grace and kindness, you are right. That free grace leads you to a life of obedience and faith. God is doing something so great that you won’t believe it or comprehend it, even if you were told. The word “unprecedented” and its twin, “awesome” still have time to be used properly…
Something remarkable happens to Jacob. Evening has come, the last evening in the foreign land. He, Jacob, knows that his brother and the promised land are near; tomorrow he will be in his home country. Now it is night. And he stays alone by the river.
Just a few hours, then it will be morning and he will cross over into his home country, but then suddenly he notices that he is being attacked. Someone steps into his path. He puts his arms around him; he wrestles with him; he will not let him go; he tries forcing him down.
Because of his underhand dealings with Esau, Jacob should not return to the promised land, neither should he find peace with his brother. A terrible, powerful force steps in his way and will not allow Jacob to enter; it wants to push him back into the night, into the foreign land. It is an engagement that seems to say, “Stay there, where you are coming from. You may not come into the promised land; you are a foreigner, an unfaithful one. Stay away from here.” And violently the great unknown one tries to push Jacob away from him into the night.
That stirring of the Holy Spirit that you have felt before, may well have produced the response that Jacob had – you long for revival and here, Jacob’s longing for the promised land gives him unbelievable strength, and he does not allow himself to be pushed away. He does not give way. He holds the other one tight in his grip, and now in the struggle, he suddenly recognizes who his opponent is! It is none other than God who is guarding this land, who will not let any intruder in, who keeps this land holy, who wants to show this person that one can’t just come in so simply and happily and merrily, but that only the holy and righteous cross over the borders of this land.
We should never be casual about Church – we were brought into the church by Christ Himself, it was never our decision, something we chose ourselves — Jesus through His death on the Cross bids us enter at His invitation alone, in response to His grace and call — and that call leads to a holy life, imparted by God.
But how should we become holy, so that we can enter all that God has for us? Let us look at Jacob. The night is ending and morning is coming, and Jacob is still holding off his opponent. He still does not let himself be sent away. He is still holding him. Then comes a last, terrible blow from the opponent: Let me go; the day is dawning and I must leave. You stay in the night! And now Jacob’s passionate determination becomes immeasurable. He dares to talk back to God, to refuse to do what he says: No, I will not let you go, unless you bless me.
Our desperate remonstrations with God
What else does that mean other than that Jacob dares to reach into God’s heart itself? It is as if he was imploring God, “You may not go away from me. You may not leave me alone in the night. I cannot be without you. I cannot. I want to see your land and live in your land. God, you will not leave me in the night, in sin, in need. You can’t leave me alone. It goes against your heart. No, I will not let you go, unless you bless me. I want only one thing: to know you are not my enemy, that you no longer reject me because of the evil things I did in the foreign land; to know you are with me, that you are merciful to me. I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
This relentless pursuit of God is what is gripping the heart of the Church in this day, despite those challenges we face. Surely, wherever there are people there will be the Church. If we are sent to the city then surely that is our church and our remit is to turn the heart of the ungodly to the Lord to worship and enjoy Him forever!
Jacob doesn’t know how he should hold on to God so that God doesn’t leave him, and he asks God, “Tell me your name, so that I can always call on you, so that I know who you are.” But God answers: Why do you ask me for my name? It is too wonderful for you to understand it. “And there he blessed him.”
God at work
So that was God’s answer, in which God revealed the divine name, which is not an angry but a merciful name.
- God blessed there. That means God did not leave him alone in the night.
- God did not push him back.
- God did not turn him away but was merciful to him.
- God was there to be found
- God promised faithfulness.
- God blessed him.
That means God let him come into the promised land of God. And Jacob called the place Peniel, which means, “I have seen God face to face, and my soul is restored.”
And at the moment when God blessed him, the night came to an end, the dawn broke, and the sun rose for him.
He had won victory over the night. And God had let it become day for him. The sun came up for him, as it did every day, and it shone over a land that was not any different from any other land. But the sun came up for him.
Now God was there, who made it light around him and inside him. Transformation. Just as God has done in your life. The day of God’s mercy had dawned, and the night was over. Jacob was standing in the promised land, for he had found God and his soul was restored.
But, of course, the signs of the night, which remind him of new nights to come, were still there. He limped because of his hip, says the Bible. That means he could not forget his past. It had cost him a great deal to enter into the promised land, to receive God’s blessing. We don’t go into God’s land without scars.
In the night where we know we are sinners before God, where our need becomes great and God wants to turn away from us, there one must fight for God’s blessing. There we should scream out: I will not let you go, unless you bless me. And then morning is near; then the day breaks. Then none other than God comes and makes it light and quiet within us, and we enter into the promised land. It doesn’t look any different from the day before, but God has been there and left divine mercy and blessing with us, and that is why we are in the promised land.
Wrestling with God. There is only one outcome. God is greater than we ever realise.
As the story unfolds, it is not long until Jacob sees his brother coming. And now, where the day of God has dawned, he sees the face of his brother not as an enemy but “like seeing the face of God.”
He sees in his brother God’s very self and God’s love. And the brother takes him in, and he is in his home country, for he has found God and his brother.
But what now for you?
And now daylight should come over you. Not so that now, from tomorrow on, suddenly everything will go smoothly and easily. But in a way that lets you know that God, who wants to bless you, will never leave you alone. That is the sun that came up for Jacob, which also will come up for you: God’s love and mercy, as you see them in Christ on the cross and in his resurrection.
Our present-day encounters may very well be the beginnings of birth-pangs with worse things to cause us anxiety than Covid, but as we learn to wrestle with God in prayer and faith we can have the confidence that God’s word to us is not just true but full of grace and extreme kindness; all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
Let no one ever take away from you the belief that God has prepared for you, too, a day and a sun and a dawning and that God brings to us this son who is called Christ. Jesus is with you by His Spirit, you are never alone, and the one who struggles with you till Christ is formed in you, also fights for you.
I will not let you go, unless you bless me! If God is for us, who can be against us? Rouse yourself, fan into flame the gift within you and worship God.