It's Okay to Struggle with God
Everybody struggles in life. Life’s tough. Life is a struggle three ways. We struggle with other people; we struggle with ourselves; and we actually struggle with God. We struggle with God all the time, whether you realize it or not. In fact, most of our struggles with other people and most of the struggles with ourselves are rooted in the struggle that we have with God.
Why do we struggle with God?
There are really two reasons: one, we doubt his wisdom. And therefore, two, we want to be in control. Whenever we doubt God’s wisdom then we want to be God. Because we think we know better than God does. We think we know what will make us happy more than God does. When God says, “don’t do that,” and we think, “I think that will make me happy, and I am going to do it anyway.”
Growing up, my kids have never doubted my love. They’ve always known that I loved them. But often they have doubted my wisdom. “I know Dad loves me. I just don’t think he knows the right thing in this situation.”
For a lot of us we’ve had that with our heavenly Father. We know God loves us. There’s no doubt in your mind that God loves you. But sometimes we just doubt his wisdom. Why did he allow that? Why did that happen? Why did he say no to this? Why isn’t this prayer being answered? We’re actually doubting God’s wisdom.
Jacob of all people demonstrates struggling with God. In Genesis 32 we find Jacob’s wrestling match with God. It's such an interesting story, with so much meaning.
Genesis 32:22-24 “During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break.”
Let me set this story up:
Jacob cheated his brother Esau, his twin brother, out of his blessing, from the family, and birthright. So he got the inheritance. His brother Esau had intended to kill him. So Jacob ran away to another part of the country and married his uncle’s daughter Rachel and also married Leah, and lived there for at least fourteen years. After a while God says to Jacob, “Jacob, I want you to go home, back to where you were born.” He is regretting it, because he knows that his brother wants to kill him.
On the way going back home Jacob and his whole family, they’re very large now. He’s got servants, he’s got cattle, he’s got sheep, he’s very very wealthy. He hears that his brother Esau is heading toward him with four hundred armed men. This is not a happy family reunion. He’s scared to death. But he knows God has told him to go home, to his home country, yet he knows when he goes back, “my brother has said he wants to kill me because I’ve stolen from him.”
So when he gets to the Jabbok River, Jacob sends his family on ahead, and he stays behind and he wrestles with God. acob has been running from God his entire life. Some of you have been running from God your entire life. God says “Jacob you’re not going to run anymore. We’re going to settle this issue right now. We’re going to have a little wrestling match. We’re going to the mat.”
God shows up and starts wrestling Jacob. It says,
Gen 32:25-26 “When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.’”
It says here that the Man said he wasn’t winning the struggle. If Jacob is wrestling God, clearly God could have overcome him instantly. Clearly in this wrestling match between God and Jacob, it’s kind of a tie. So what is going on here? God could have easily overwhelmed him. But he lets this struggle go on.
There’s a very important lesson for you right here: God loves it when you wrestle with him!
Some of you are in a struggle right now with God. God loves it when you struggle with him. Why? Because the opposite of struggling with God is walking away from God. The opposite of struggling with God is running away, avoiding, saying, “forget you, God.” God would rather have you fighting him than fleeing him. Wrestling is a face to face encounter. So he’s letting this struggle go on even though he could have just instantly ended it. He’s letting Jacob think he’s winning. But Jacob says, “I’m not going to let go until you bless me.” The Man, this represents God, asks “What is your name?” That’s a strange question in the middle of the wrestling match.
Gen. 32:27-28 “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
What’s going on here? They’re in this wrestling match. God is wrestling Jacob. Jacob has been a runner. He’s been trying to get away from God his entire life and running from responsibility. He says “What’s your name?”
One of the things we know about God is this: Whenever God asks you a question he already knows the answer. He wants you to know the answer. God knew what Jacob’s name was. God had never missed a day of Jacob’s life. God created Jacob. But what he wants Jacob to do is admit who he is. Because in those days names meant something. You were named for your character. Jacob literally means deceiver.
Jacob had gone his entire life manipulating everybody. Trying to get things to go his way. Trying to control everything. Tying to control his brother. Trying to control his family. Trying to control his uncle. Trying to control his wives. Trying to control his children. Jacob was a manipulator. When God says to Jacob “What’s your name?” He’s saying, “Jacob, do you realize you’re the problem. The reason we’re in this struggle is you – you won’t give up. You still keep trying to control everything in your life and you’re making a mess of everything in your life because you’re trying to control it. That’s why you’re struggling.”
The thing I like about Jacob is this: Jacob is willing to struggle. He doesn’t run away from God. He hangs in there. He doesn’t walk away from God. He knows what he wants. He goes, “I want to be blessed. I’m not going to let go until you bless me, God.” Have you ever said that to God? “God, I’m not going to let go until you bless me. I’m going to struggle with you until you bless me.” He is persistent and he knows what he wants. He even admits that he’s the problem. “I’m Jacob. I’m a manipulator. I’m a deceiver. I’ve tried to control everything in life and it’s caused conflict with everybody in my life. Parents, family, friends, sons, daughters, wives, everybody.”
God says, “You’ve fought with [me well in this] and you’ve won.” God has never said that about anybody else, and there are some important lessons to learn here. He says, “So your name will be Israel.” This is the man who the Israel nation is named after – the Jews. He’s given a new identity. As a result of this wrestling match,
Gen 32:29-30 Then he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”
This is a very important story in the Bible because it teaches us how to wrestle with God and win. How do we get through the struggles in life and win? How do we wrestle with God and be blessed?
Let’s look at how do I go through struggles in my life, particularly when I’m struggling with God. When I’m angry with God, when I’m mad at God, when I’m disappointed with God, when I think God has let me down, when I’ve prayed and haven’t gotten an answer. That’s called a struggle, friends.
We need to understand that the only reason we can wrestle with God is, as I said, because God loves it and God loves you. God is not an apathetic God who just sets the world in motion and doesn’t care about how you feel. He cares deeply about how you feel. He loves you and he cares about you and he’s sympathetic, he’s not apathetic and he’s not detached.
1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you.”
Cares. Cast all your cares – that’s worries – on him because he cares for you. God is a caring God. If God didn’t care about you, you couldn’t wrestle with him. You couldn’t struggle with him. You couldn’t argue with him.
The truth is, the very fact that God allows you to argue with him is because God cares. Because God loves you. The Bible talks about a kind of prayer called a lament. Most people don’t know how to lament. A lament is a passionate complaint to God. God doesn’t want you just to praise him. God wants you to lament to him. God doesn’t want you just to confess to him. God wants you to complain to him. It’s an act of worship when you complain to God. It’s an act of rebellion when you complain about God.
This pattern is the pattern you use to successfully argue with God. Are you ready for this? You need this. This is a form of prayer. To help you remember it, I want us to remember how much God cares about us, we put it in a little acrostic – CARE.