The Reluctant Wrestler

“And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day.” Genesis 32:24

“Athlete by nature. Wrestler by choice.” This phrase caught my eye on a t-shirt at a wrestling meet. I watched my first live match when my son started wrestling in middle school. It was pretty fun until I saw bodies twist and turn in ways that I had only seen in a pretzel. Boys looked upon my boy like he was prey. And my boy was transformed into a predator. Advancing on the mat toward one another, the hunt was on. Arms locked, bodies pinned and there was no way out until someone yielded. It seemed painful in more ways than one, but one thing the wrestlers had in common was that they participated by choice.

We’re all wrestlers by choice whether it’s on the mat or in our minds. We wrestle with decisions. We wrestle in relationships. We wrestle at our jobs. We wrestle with doing the good thing or doing the best thing. And we wrestle with God.

Take the Bible’s favorite man of the mat, Jacob. His t-shirt might’ve read something like “Shark by nature. Wrestler by choice.” He was the master of shrewdness – from cooking up a stealthy menu to steal his brother’s birthright to taking his father-in-law out to pasture by breeding a stronger herd. It wasn’t enough that Jacob outsmarted the competition, but he seemed to look for opportunities to show others who was boss. Even with a supernatural being.

While Jacob’s posturing in this instance may seem presumptuous, what’s more surprising is that Jacob’s invitation to engage the divine was even accepted. Serious students of scripture have debated for centuries who wrestled with Jacob that night. Some say it was the Lord, an angel or a man. Prior to this encounter under the stars, Jacob had been interacting with the Lord during his journey home, so it seems that this wrestling match was made in Heaven. I’m not a biblical scholar, but if God wanted us to know for sure who wrestled with Jacob, I think He would have made it clear. Since the text isn’t clear on this point, I think what God wanted to emphasize is that when we want to wrestle with Him, He accepts. It is amazing to me that the Holy One would be willing, let alone even listen, to such a request.

What is also amazing is His grace. Because of it, we can go “mano a mano” with the God of all creation. It would seem that by accepting a wrestler’s challenge, God needs to prove something. But nothing could be further from the truth. God has nothing to prove to us, but in wrestling with us, He allows us to engage with Him in a very raw way. We can be brutally honest with Him (what we say wouldn’t surprise Him anyway). He knows we need a safe place where we can pour out our hearts to express our longings, struggles, losses and agony. He prefers our authenticity and transparency anyway, so maybe getting us to wrestle with Him is His way of actually enjoying fellowship in a culture of disingenuous religious activity (Isaiah 1:10-20)!

Whether we wrestle one night with the Lord and are forever changed like Jacob was, or whether we wrestle over the course of years to come to deeper relationship, wrestling with God results in losing something because He will always win. But in so losing, we really win. Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

I guess if I were to design my own t-shirt, it’d be something like “ Reluctant wrestler by choice.” By this I mean that I’m hesitant to engage in something I would rather avoid, even wrestling with God. I’ve gone “mano a mano” with the Lord over more disappointments than I care to rehearse. But through these times, I’ve learned that, ultimately, every struggle is with God because, in His glorious sovereignty, He allows trials. There are easier, more predictable seasons to be sure, and I am very thankful for those. But when those tough seasons come, I have joyfully learned to embrace the One who allows both, appreciating what Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Yieldedness to the Victor even in apparent loss results in an uncomparable sweetness that bears much good fruit in time.

Father God, Your love is better than life itself. You are far more wiser and intelligent than I can grasp, and I am thankful You know all things. Thank You for letting me wrestle with You when I struggle, and thank You for the joy that comes in yielding to You. Increase my faith so I will more wholeheartedly long for Your kingdom to come and for Your will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

In Joyful Surrender,



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