“If you stop learning today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” Prof Howard Hendricks
Most of us respond to trials like my friend, Calvin.
However, trials are one of the vehicles God uses to shape our character. Hannah More (1745-1833) expressed it this way:
Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired and in which great characters are formed. It is like a spiritual gymnasium in which the disciples of Christ are trained in robust exercise, hardy exertion and severe conflict.
We do not hear of military heroes in peacetime, nor of the most distinguished saints in the quiet and unmolested periods of church history. The courage in the warrior and the devotion in the saint continue to survive, ready to be brought into action when perils beset the country or trials assail the Church, but it must be admitted that in long periods of inaction both are susceptible to decay.
James 1:2–4 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
At a recent gathering, someone asked me, “What do you do during the week?” I tried to explain what my schedule looks like and what I do from day to day. What I perhaps should have said is that I spend my time worrying about people.
In 2 Corinthians 11:16-29, the apostle Paul writes of the suffering he experienced in ministry. Some came as a result of persecution (24-25), some from difficult circumstances (26-27), and some came from concerns about the health of churches and believers (28-29). While I have not experienced persecution as Paul did, I have faced the difficulty of travel for ministry on occasion, and especially the pressure of being concerned for peoples’ spiritual health, or as Paul phrased it,
the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (28-29, NASB).
I can identify with his latter statement. It’s just hard to explain that to people.
While we believe in the power of prayer, many of us find it difficult to pray. While we know we should pray, we find prayer to be a struggle. Sometimes, we say it is because we are too busy. We just don’t have time to pray. But deep down, I think prayer is a struggle because of the issue of control. We want to be in control of our lives. We don’t want to admit that we are not and we don’t want to admit we need help.
For this reason, we can easily identify with Jacob in Genesis 32. He spent his entire life wrestling with people and with God. He wrestled with his brother, his father, his father-in-law, and finally with angel. His experience teaches us that God cannot bless us until we stop wrestling him for control of our lives and start trusting him.
Jacob’s wrestling match with God (Genesis 32:22-31) is emblematic of his entire life. While God had great plans for Jacob, he refused to wait for God’s timing. He took matters into his own hands and tried to force their completion. It is only when he was crippled that he yielded control and was ready to receive God’s blessing.
The story of Jacob’s life is a five-round wrestling match. Most matches go three rounds. His needed extra periods to decide the winner.
Round 1: Genesis 25-27. From the very beginning, God planned for Jacob to be a leader (Genesis 25:23-28). Though born the second of twin boys, God chose him for prominence. Not content to wait for God’s timing, Jacob took matters into his own hands. He wrestled his brother for his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34), and he wrestled his father for the family blessing (Genesis 27).
Round 2: Genesis 28-31. Realizing he needed some space between himself and his brother, Jacob left home in search of a bride. Along the way, he encountered God (Genesis 28:10-22). He promised to return and serve God should God protect him in his journeys. Despite his commitment, Jacob spends the next 20 years wrestling with his father-in-law for his family and prosperity (Genesis 29-31).
Round 3: Genesis 31-32. Following God’s direction (Genesis 31:10-13), Jacob heads home. He is assured of God’s presence when he meets two angels at the entrance to the Promised Land (Genesis 32:1-2). Despite the assurance of God’s presence and promises, Jacob focuses on how to manipulate his brother into reconciliation (Genesis 32:3-21).
Surrender: Genesis 32-34. Finding himself alone on the doorstep to the Promised Land, Jacob spends all night wrestling with God himself (Genesis 32:22-31). After an all-night cage match, God dislocates Jacob’s hip. Unable to win, Jacob still refuses to concede. He begs God for a blessing, ironically, something he has been striving for all his life. God asks, “What is your name?” Since one’s name reveals their nature, God is waiting for Jacob to confess that he is Jacob, the heel-grabber, the cheater, the manipulator. Once he admits who he is can God bless him.
God’s blessing is a new name—Israel, one whom God fights for; a new relationship—he saw God face to face; and a limp—every step he took reminded him to depend on God for strength.
Despite these lessons, Jacob’s obedience is only partial. Rather than returning to Bethel where he first met God, he settles in Shechem among pagans. This mistake will lead to the date rape of his daughter, Dinah, and the murderous revenge of his sons.
Victory: Genesis 35. Jacob finally returns to Bethel, the “house of God.” He and his household get rid of all the idols that have held them back. The commitment that was private at the River Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31) is now public (Genesis 35:1-15).
Lasting lessons about prayer and spiritual life from Jacob:
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 25, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Book Review: Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of our Cosmos, by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey
Dr. David Bradstreet is thoroughly convinced that God wrote two books—Scripture and creation. He wants people to
take a minute or two out of your multi-tasked life every once in a while, take a deep breath, look up at the heaves above, and take in God’s handiwork.
For the longest time, God has broadcast his power and glory through his Creation, but often we fail to tune in. The heavens are an ever-changing image of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Who wouldn’t want to look, to watch, and to wonder?
As he explains, Dr. Bradstreet is a “theistic creationist,” an astronomer who sees the work of a divine Creator when he studies the heavens. His book, Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of our Cosmos, serves as an introduction to science and faith. He gives an overview of early studies of astrology and astronomy, and takes the reader on a guided tour of stars, asteroids, galaxies, nebula, black holes, and other facets of the universe. He also introduces various Christian astronomers such as Kepler, Galileo, and Big Bang theorist Georges Lemaitre, as well as men and women who study newborn stars and the complexity of the cosmos.
The strength of the book is in laying the groundwork for understanding and appreciating the fact that science and faith need not oppose one another. You gain a better appreciation for the majesty and mystery of the God who created the cosmos out of nothing and who still sustains it today through complex processes we are just beginning to wrap our minds around.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
“Leadership is not about playing it safe, and learning is not about doing what you already know. Sure, you could always play to your strengths. You may even enjoy it. But where’s the growth or the opportunity for greatness in doing that?”
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in Learning Leadership: The five fundamentals of becoming an exemplary leader