Let’s face it. Life is full of struggles. From the time we were born, when we learnt how to cry for sustenance so that we could survive, through our schooling years when we struggled to be top of the class, to our working life in an uber-competitive environment. When we retire, we struggle with issues of declining health.
Struggle is part of life’s fabric. Most of the time, however, they stem from the need of humanity to get to the top of the ladder. Most of us have a (perhaps culturally-instilled) but nevertheless inborn need to prove ourselves to others. Are such struggles good for us? How do we free ourselves from the constant struggling if not so?
Last Sunday, Dr Frikkie Bekker shared at C3 concerning this issue in our life. He shared that the Bible itself confirms that life is full of struggle. It is the consequence of man’s fallen nature back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:17).
In fact, we see even the Christ Himself struggled with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). Christ knew that He was about to be separated from the Father for the first time. On the cross, He gave a loud cry of brokenness and forsakenness (Matthew 27:46). Dr Bekker pointed out that it was not a soft mutter.
However, he shared, there is a difference between struggle and fighting. The Bible advises us to take control of our tongues for there is power in the words we utter. Despite what He went through, and despite His anguish, Christ did not fight against the will of God or utter curses. We must learn how to be quiet in the spirit. How do we discover the way to this?
The principle is to bring God to our problems, and we need to struggle with God if necessary. What does this mean? Dr Bekker shared that there are some lessons that we can gain from the life of Jacob.
Jacob was the only man who was ever allowed to wrestle with God. God could have easily wiped him out just by a snap of His finger. Why did God allow Jacob to wrestle with Him? In order to comprehend this, we need to study the character of the man.
Dr Bekker shared that Jacob understood struggle. When he was born, he was found grasping the heel of his brother Esau. ‘It was as if Jacob was saying, the position of the eldest son is by rights mine,’ Dr Bekker said.
As Jacob grew to be man, he never forgot this objective. Esau, on the other hand, was different. While Esau was a hard-working man, he never appreciated the significance of his position as the eldest son. In the Jewish culture, the eldest son was a position of honor and special blessing. Yet Jacob tricked him out of it through a bowl of lentil soup. Jacob understood the spiritual significance of Esau’s position while his elder brother did not.
Jacob’s deception nevertheless brought trouble to himself, and he had to flee for his life. The next stage in Jacob’s life, he worked 7 years in pursuit of Rachel, a woman he loved. When his uncle Laban tricked him, he worked another 7 years. ‘He would have saved himself from the entire trouble if he had brought them before God,’ Dr Bekker shared.
‘The way out of struggle is very simple,’ he conveyed. ‘The key is in obedience to God. Just be who He wants us to be. But many of us have a struggle in our hearts, only to achieve something that is temporary.’
Jacob’s life is a potent example of God’s faithfulness, Dr Bekker communicated. In spite of how Jacob had lived his life thus far (as a cheat and as a greedy person) God knew him wholly and thoroughly. In the same way, God knows us deeply. Paul recognized this when he wrote in Romans 5:1-11 about developing the potential that is from God. In Jacob’s case, God knew that he would be a man who would know how to hold on to his identity in God.
Jacob eventually came to a point of realization. All his life, he had labored and fought so hard. Yet what had he gained? He was on the run from his own brother who was out to kill him. He had cheated his own blind father, and betrayed his own family. He had nothing to his name except for what was temporary. He had no meaningful relations. Up to this point, he had only hurt the people who were closest to him.
This is where the significance of Jacob’s wrestle with God in Genesis 32:23-30 comes in. Dr Bekker shared that he believes that Jacob was going through a dilemma of conscience at this time. Jacob wrestled with God all night until the dawn came, and when God wrenched Jacob’s hip out of its socket, he still refused to let go (v26).
God was all-powerful. He could win the fight easily and yet He put up with Jacob and spared him. Why? Jacob’s refusal to let go of God in verse 26 is a mark of his conviction. He had come to a point of genuine realization and he was not going to lose it this time. He would not let go of God unless God blessed him. It took immense faith on Jacob’s part.
In verse 27, God asks him for his name and Jacob replied simply, “Jacob”. In verse 28, God saw the potential and heart of the man and decides to help him. He changes Jacob’s name (Jacob sounds like the Hebrew words for “heel” and “deceiver.”) and gave him a new-found identity, Israel (meaning “God fights”) in recognition of Jacob’s faith wrestling with God. And from that time, things went smoothly for the man.
Jacob’s life has many parallels for us, Dr Bekker said. We are so used to thinking it’s irreverent to bring our complaints before God. But sometimes God wants us to struggle with Him and die to ourselves and our ego.
When we humble ourselves before God, and acknowledge that we cannot go on without Him, and that we refuse to let go of Him, God can start working in us. For many faithful Christians, this was the process of catharsis and redemption that we went through.
Like the Prodigal Son who finally acknowledged that he could not go on without the Father, we struggle with God at first, only to find release through the surrendering of our wills to Him. When we are able to free ourselves from the need to prove to others, in priority of our relationship with God and who He wants us to be, we can finally find rest and freedom.
“Who are you?” God asks. When we are able to answer humbly, “I am a sinner. Take mercy on me. I will not let go of you no matter the cost and what it takes”, that is when God can, and will, finally do a deep work in us, and bring transformation into our lives.
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NOTE: All pictures of Dr Frikkie Bekker and the church kindly contributed by C3 Subang