Saturday, April 01, 2006

Wrestling With God (or, Being a Fool for Him)

(written late evening, March 31)

I’m continually astonished at how the Lord provides confirmation—and a clear sense of His presence—every time I need it, and then some.

Over and over … and over.

Deep calls to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls …

I’ve been doing the Beth Moore The Patriarchs study with some of the ladies at church for the past few months. (Yes, the study was designed as a 10-week course … so we’re a little slow.) I confess I hadn’t expected much when we first started, but this has been THE best study I’ve done in a while, maybe bar none—not only in the richness of how she covers the everyday real lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also to the startling relevance the various issues they dealt with have had to my own life over the past months. (And note, I didn’t choose the name of my main character, Jake—derivative of Jacob—on purpose; that happened long before we started the study. So did the fact that my Jake just happens to be a “patriarch” of his own world.)

Very often I come away from Bible study in tears, overwhelmed at the intimacy of whatever word I felt spoken during that time. Today, I had the strong urge to flee to the ladies’ restroom and just sob.

There were two main “events” today … I’m going to try to stay coherent enough tonight to pin them down in words.

First … the highlight of today was the recorded section by Beth, discussing Jacob’s terror of facing Esau again, twenty years after he’d deceived Isaac and stolen Esau’s blessing of the firstborn. Once more, Jacob schemes to pacify the anger he imagines Esau must still have for him, and in the process sends his whole company ahead of him. He’s left alone, and that night comes face to face with his own insecurities and fears. (Never think the Old Testament, particularly the book of Genesis, is boring. There’s drama enough to rival any modern-day miniseries or soap opera in those pages!)

Those of us who have been to Sunday School much of our lives know what happens next: the Angel of the Lord (who most scholars agree is the visible presence of God Himself) wrestles with Jacob all night, but “could not prevail against him.” Toward dawn, the Angel touches the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and permanently cripples him. Jacob still refuses to give up and begs God to bless him. God says, “What is your name?” and Jacob answers, “Jacob.” Then God says, “No, your name is now Israel.” And when Jacob asks God what HIS name is, he gets an answer roughly the equivalent of, “Now why would you ask a silly question like that?” and He disappears.

Now it gets interesting. Apparently the phrase “could not prevail” conveys the sense that God could not make Jacob quit. This is supported by Hosea 12:3-5:

3 In the womb he grasped his brother's heel;
as a man he struggled with God.
4 He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.
He found him at Bethel
and talked with him there-
5 the LORD God Almighty,
the LORD is his name of renown!

Being the inquisitive (and distractible) little squirrel I always am when teaching is going on, I read ahead a verse …

6 But you must return to your God;
maintain love and justice,
and wait for your God always.

Whoa. “Wait for your God always.” He’s been speaking a lot to me these past weeks about waiting, hasn’t He?

So, I’m thinking back on how, for the last FOUR weekends in a row (I promise I’m not being overdramatic here), I’ve had some sort of battle centering around my writing and specifically what I’ve come to term as “The Scene.” :-) I go into the weekend doubting what I’ve heard from the Lord, doubting my calling as a writer, doubting my ability to discern truth from the outset … yada yada yada. By Sunday afternoon, I have some sort of breakthrough—and this weekend seemed particularly intense, to the point that when it was all over, I had to apologize to two of my friends for not being quite sympathetic enough over a few particular trials that they’d gone through. Then, I thought I knew; now, I KNEW.

I’ve shared with some of you that this past weekend’s breakthrough came through a brief but intense session of praise and prayer on Sunday afternoon, just before returning to church for Awana—and that less than an hour later, AFTER I’d come back to a place of resting in His love and will, the Lord gave me a clear answer. For now, yes, I was to hold fast on the line He’d laid down for me before, even if it meant disapproval and misunderstanding from a few (not all) of my writing friends and acquaintances … and that their calling was NOT mine—their vision is not mine—and their audience may not be mine. What sweet peace and comfort to come back to that place again! The confirmation later was just icing on the cake.

I also ran across the passage in Hebrews about submitting to the Lord’s discipline, and wondered whether this wasn’t all just some sort of preparation for something—the Lord hardening me, perhaps? Anyway, He has graciously been confirming it again in little ways all week—but this afternoon just resounded. And again, I’m in total awe that He chose to speak again so clearly, when He doesn’t have to …

Back to Jacob. Beth spends much time discussing the “why’s” of our struggles with God. Sometimes we may not even recognize what we’re wrestling with till the light begins to dawn. (Wow! bingo—it was God I was wrestling with!) Sometimes God has to wound us to teach us a lesson. (Ouch!) But when God allows us—or even invites us—to take part in a divine wrestling match, we have to remember that no matter how dark things may appear, God is always FOR us—the dark, the struggle, even the hurts are for our good. (The pressure from those who felt they were confronting error in me, though I disagreed, had its purpose as well.) Also, God’s purpose in inviting Jacob to wrestle was to teach him not only honesty (facing his fears and his history of deceit), but tenacity—to hold on till the blessing comes. (Oh—wow—THIS sounds familiar!) But if we can hold on till then—we should not be surprised if the blessing comes in such a way that we ourselves are completely redefined (“Jacob” the Liar becomes “Israel,” Prince of God).

How sweet—how utterly sweet—to have the last weeks’ struggle illumined and explained!

But it gets better.

The second thing … I have to explain first of all that my walk with God has been marked by a hunger for intimacy and passion for Him and His words. I don’t mean that in any sort of “look at me, I’m so spiritual” kind of way … just that—I’m half embarrassed to even write this, but I’m sure most of you know this already—I’m such an intense, dramatic, emotional creature, that I tend to these lavish bursts of … whatever … where my faith is concerned. I was raised a Baptist, where I was taught that lavish displays of passion for God were unbecoming to the serious, mature believer … then my adult years took me through a few churches of, a, errr, more lavish bent … and now I’m back in a Baptist church. (God’s idea; not mine—no offense to anyone!) In the past few years, however, the Lord has helped me see that HE made me the creature of drama that I am, and that it doesn’t scare or dismay Him in the slightest. And as if to prove that point …

After discussing the new name that God gave Jacob, Beth takes us to Revelation, where it says that those who overcome (who “hang on”) will each be given a white stone with a new name written, which only that person and God Himself know. She pointed out the incredible intimacy implied in that, and the solitary person inside me rejoices to know that despite the throngs of people with whom I’ll share heaven, there will still be that element of being completely alone with God. Then Beth went on to share a song by CeCe Winans called Alabaster Box, about the woman who poured out the alabaster box of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair … an act of lavish affection if there ever was one. But there was one detail of that story I’d never noticed … this woman had the courage to walk into a house full of Pharisees and carry out this act. Oh, I can appreciate how difficult it must have been for her to do so!

And then, the chorus of the song goes like this:

And I've come to pour my praise on Him like oil from Mary's Alabaster Box
Don't be angry if I wash His feet with my tears and I dry them with my hair.
You weren't there the night He found me.
You did not feel what I felt when He wrapped His love all around me.
And you don't know the cost of the oil in my Alabaster Box.

My mind leaped back over the years to when I was fifteen and struggling so hard against my innate intensity that I was sure my best option was to just remove myself from existence on Planet Earth altogether—the first time God whispered to me and said, “You won’t always have to struggle—there is an end to this, and I have a purpose for you …”

And then to weeping before Him in a hospital bathroom, alone, while my sixth baby lay in the intensive care nursery on life support, asking Him why it was the life of my child He was choosing to take, and not mine …

And all the other moments when He’s assured me the race is worth running …

Oh, yeah. I have a reason to be passionate about this One who poured out His blood for my redemption. Like David said to Michal when she told him he was a fool for his wild dancing as the ark was being brought to Jerusalem … “You think? Well, you’ll see me being even more of a fool for my God!”

Once again I realize that this isn’t about getting published. It isn’t even about my writing. It’s about learning to hold on until God says it’s time to let go, whenever that may be. I may be foolish for doing so (and maybe even for believing that all this really even applies to what I feel it does) … but like the Jacob in my own story, I choose to believe that He’s there and no matter what, the end will be so worth it, we can’t even begin to comprehend.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

4 comments:

  1. and wait for your God always

    Oh, geez, Shannon. LOL What are you trying to do to me?? (just kidding)

    I think He's making himself perfectly clear in your writing (and mine!!). We get down when we start applying our own interpretations to His words, rather than trusting Him to fulfill His will in His way. (Now, doesn't that sound profound?? LOL).

    Thanks for posting this, shannon!

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  2. and wait for your God always

    Yeah what Ronie said. Geez woman

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  3. ROFL! C'mon, y'all! Of course this means to wait on Him all the time ... as opposed to only when the waiting is easy ... ;-)

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  4. Thanks, Shannon, that really came at an opprotune time.... I needed it.

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