Finding our identity in submission

The idea of wearing lycra and grappling around on the floor with another dude has never been one that I overly liked. I’m just throwing that out there. While I understand that there are many people who enjoy wrestling, it’s never been that high up on my to do list. The olympic version looks a touch too painful, while the entertainment version that’s such big business across the pond always had a bit too much glamour and script and not enough actual sport. I can’t deny however that it’s something that has stood the test of time. From Heracles wrestling Achelous in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Hulk Hogan wrestling in WWF, from Orlando wrestling Charles in Shakespeare’s As You Like Itto Kurt Angle winning Olympic gold, wrestling has pervaded our culture. If we look back to the book of Genesis we find a wrestling match like no other taking place.

“The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.”
– Genesis 32:22-31 (ESV)

I find this passage of scripture fascinating, in it we see so much that we would at first glance recoil from; he wrestles? With God? And then God pulls his hip out of socket? And even after this he refuses to let go until he is blessed? What on earth is going on here? It’s an encounter which leaves Jacob literally limping for the rest of his life. We can possibly be tempted to brush over it as an old testament curio but actually it’s relevance reaches forward to us.

There are times on our journey when we wrestle; we may wrestle with issues, fears, anger, doubts, sin and more. What does it mean for us in the twenty first century to wrestle with God and how does it effect our walk? When I read this passage it reminds me of times that I have found particularly challenging; the moments in life when the easiest thing would have been to give up but faith has prevailed. I think that the way we wrestle and the things we wrestle with are going to be individual to everyone but looking at this story we see two central themes; submission and identity.

When we look at Jacob this is a character changing and defining moment in his life; this is the scheming and devious guy on the very day his past catches up with him – literally, in the form of Esau – at a crossroads where his future is being decided. When we wrestle with elements of our character that are of the flesh rather than representing our redeemed nature, we’re doing the same thing. We’re deciding whether to submit everything to God or to try and rest on our own strength and personality. We’re deciding who or what our identity is rooted in.

The feeling that you’re wresting with things can be a difficult one with many parallels to what happens to Jacob. As he wrestled in the dark nothing made sense, the more He held to God the more crazy things must have seemed to be. It can be the same for us; the tighter we try to hold, the less we seem to have control. What I’ve come to realise is that at times like this, God is usually teaching us something. In spite of our desire to crucify our flesh,[1] it turns out it sometimes likes to put up a fight still and flesh wrestles spirit which is eager to learn and do. Our wrestling is about us coming to a point of submitting different aspects of our lives to Him.

There is something so beautiful about the moment that you submit and you realise where you have fallen short and that God loves you entirely anyway. If we look at the passage we find that God touches Jacob’s hip and puts it out of joint; this shows great power and yet also great restraint and Jacob realises more of the nature of what is happening. Jacob clings on tight in spite of his injury but instead of trying to overcome he is saying determinedly that he won’t let go until he is blessed. When he continues to hold on it’s not to try to subdue but rather to make sure that he leaves that place blessed. Something has changed. When we reach the point in whatever we’re wrestling with that we finally realise that in all the confusion God is showing us a better way and teaching us, we need to change our stance and receive from Him. Submission to His will in our life is a huge blessing, the weight that we put on ourselves when we try to do everything through our own strength is lifted and we’re better positioned to live in the way He wants. It’s in the defeat of our old self that we truly win.

There are seasons in life when we’re flying through and feeling abundantly blessed and there are likewise seasons where we may feel that we’re wrestling with things, but what’s important to remember is that when we wrestle with aspects of our self it’s followed by the blessing of becoming more like Him and finding more of our identity through Him. There are six words in this passage that we can look at if a time of wrestling seems like it may never end and they are ‘until the breaking of the day‘. If you are wrestling through the night then remember that, as the scriptures say, your joy will come with the morning.[2] The night may be long but the breaking of the day will come, it always does. God announces the coming of day and tells Jacob to let go; it’s important to remember that when we wrestle with things, we serve a God who calls time on those things. We serve a God who will announce the arrival of the light and decide that a particular struggle is over.

The final act of this strange drama is for God to give Jacob a new name, a name that would be taken by a whole nation. Jacob’s identity is completely changed because he has wrestled with God and with man and prevailed. But who has prevailed? It’s not the sinful nature of Jacob that has prevailed but the Godly part, his true nature has proved not to be the devious and unscrupulous Jacob but the prince that God has called him to be. The new name represents this. Our identity is defined in moments like this; when we wrestle with big issues in our life, and God brings us to that place where we realise our own brokenness and his strength, we should leave with an identity shift. We took on the name of Christ when we became Christians, we literally declared to the world that we wanted to become Christ like; every time we wrestle with the things that challenge us we should leave with an identity that is more and more like the name that we aspire to be like.

Wrestling. Brokenness. Submission. This all sounds like rather a difficult ordeal and yet Jesus clearly said that His “yoke is easy and burden is light“.[3] How can the two be consistent? How can a heavy cross be an easy yoke? And if I want other people to find their identity in Christ then why am I writing about a process that can be at times confusing and difficult? Because what would be impossible to bear for our flesh is made possible by Him. When we take His yoke we accept that through all the processes it’s going to take to refine us He is bringing us through. If we read the letters of Paul we see that he often had struggles but that He was motivated by the goal before him; he faced life with the mantra “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain“.[4] He had realised that while he might sometimes struggle, he was fighting a winning battle because of what Christ had already done. At the core of his identity was a submission to Christ which made him an overcomer.

It’s not just Hulk Hogan who finds his identity in wrestling, in one way or another, it’s all of us.

Further scripture references: [1] Galatians 5:24, [2] Psalm 30:5, [3] Matthew 11:30, [4] Philippians 1:21

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