Wrestling with God


Struggling, overcoming, and finding blessing in the midst of difficult times with God

Using the metaphor of Jacob, this book shows that wrestling with God is a good thing because it reveals a healthy relationship that holds nothing back and keeps no secrets. Sometimes God pins someone to the floor for the person's own good. Examples from the Bible teach strategies for wrestling profitably and acting honorably and righteously in the process. Discussion questions for individual or...

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Struggling, overcoming, and finding blessing in the midst of difficult times with God

Using the metaphor of Jacob, this book shows that wrestling with God is a good thing because it reveals a healthy relationship that holds nothing back and keeps no secrets. Sometimes God pins someone to the floor for the person's own good. Examples from the Bible teach strategies for wrestling profitably and acting honorably and righteously in the process. Discussion questions for individual or group study help readers know they are part of a "wrestling team."

Author Biography: Steve R. Bierly is the pastor of American Reformed Church in Hull, Iowa, where he lives with his wife, Deborah, and two children. He is the author of Help for the Small-Church Pastor and How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310247784
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.02 (w) x 7.18 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Wrestling with God

A No-Holds-Barred Approach to Knowing God
By Steve R. Bierly


Copyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0310247780

Chapter One

What Is It, and Do I Have to Do It?

In the Beginning Was the Word, and the Word Was Weird!

You don't have to read very far in the book of Genesis before you run across some very strange things-"sons of God" and "daughters of men" joining together to have children who grew to become giants (Genesis 6:1-4), a form of animal husbandry that included placing peeled branches in front of mating goats so that they would bear "streaked or speckled or spotted" young (Genesis 30:25-43), and the story found in Genesis 32:22-32 of Jacob wrestling with a man who seemed to be God, and winning.

What are we to make of this account of a mere mortal fighting with God? Is this only another tale to make us scratch our heads in wonder over an ancient culture that we can't possibly hope to understand fully? Is it just something to give the seminary professors and pastors a mystery to argue over and write papers and articles about?

As I heard the story in Sunday school while I was growing up, I put it in the "really weird" category. Because I liked to read about unexplained phenomenon, UFOs, haunted houses, Big Foot, and such, the story made quite an impression on me. Every time I heard it, I used to wonder what it would be like to have a strange celestial being suddenly appear before me and start to grapple with me. Then, in my bedroom on cold upstate New York winter nights, when the wind howled through the trees, I would fervently hope and pray that whatever strange beings were out there in the cosmos wouldn't notice that I had been wondering about such things and would leave me alone. And that they would quit hiding in my closet waiting to ambush me after my parents went to bed and were asleep.

However, the older I got, and the older I still get, the more I have come to see that I have often wrestled with the same being that Jacob and others in the Bible struggled with. I know what it's like to get into the ring with God. Genesis 32 is not just relating something that happened a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It's telling my story. And yours as well. In fact, it and other passages with similar themes in the Bible are describing a condition quite common to believers down through the ages and today.

Finding it hard to believe me? Then join me as I watch my favorite program on "ESPN" (the Eternal Sports Network), "WWG: Wrestling with God," and see if some of the highlights shown there seem familiar to you, or if you've known people in the same sorts of situations. Ready? Good. I'll turn my spiritual television set on now. Oh, look! There's the announcer, Phil Mykup Lord, wearing his blazer and opening the program with his trademark shout ...

"Let's Go to the Video Tape!"

"This is Phil Mykup Lord with today's wrestling recap.

"We zoom in first on a mother who has been praying for years that her son would see his need for the Lord, repent, and come to Christ for salvation, but so far, her persistent prayers have gone unanswered. Still, we see her praying again. And, indeed, we've had her in the highlights every night for as long as I can remember. She just keeps right on praying, even while sometimes asking herself whether it's doing any good.

"Let's cut now to Mary. Mary has had a bad week-no, make that a bad month. Okay, it was a bad year. Her faith is at its lowest ebb, and she often doesn't feel like much of a Christian. And she certainly doesn't ever feel like going to church anymore and some-times skips the services. But other times, like today, we see her walking through the doors into the sanctuary. She's not really expecting to get all that much out of the service, but somehow she still is hoping deep inside that perhaps God can reach her.

"And now, here's a sad one. Sensitive viewers may need to turn away. John has a terminal illness, and every day he is in great pain. He has no 'quality of life' and can't understand why the Lord is keeping him here on earth. He longs to go on to his heavenly home, but the Lord seems to have those doors securely locked for the moment. Does God enjoy seeing him suffer like this? Is God even there at all? Yet, here are believers visiting with him and praying with him, and suddenly, he finds himself clinging to the old beliefs.

"Then there's Stu. Stu had dedicated his new business to God, even faithfully tithing all his profits and witnessing to his clients about God's love. He claimed the biblical promises that God would honor and bless those who honored him, and he knew that the Lord wanted him to provide for his family and be a light in his community. Yet, the business went under, and Stu was forced to declare bankruptcy. Now we see him on his knees. Every day he asks himself and the Lord why things turned out the way they did.

"Through the magic of our ESPN camera, we look in on Pastor Donna. Pastor Donna keeps trying to recapture the joy and expectation she felt when she first entered the ministry, but she was forced out of her previous congregation during a bitter power struggle. Donna feels abandoned by God as a consequence. Still, she takes her place behind the pulpit and proclaims his name on this, and every, Sunday morning in front of her new congregation.

"And here's someone looking both queasy and expectant, if you can believe that! Bill was secure that he knew the truth-that is, until he met Christians from another church who questioned his positions on the end times, spiritual gifts, and Christian social action. He's now throwing himself into studying the Bible and reading good books on the subjects to prove that he's right, though he's discovering that he may very well be wrong. He is both exhilarated by, and a bit fearful of, what he's finding. He works at putting aside concerns about where his quest for truth may lead him and what he may have to do as a result. Instead, he keeps on keeping on, sometimes overjoyed, sometimes totally perplexed. Bill refuses to give in to the temptation to despair of ever finding what he's looking for, and he won't buy the lie that the Bible can mean whatever one wants it to mean. Like agent Mulder on TV's The X-Files, Bill knows that 'the truth is out there,' and he's determined to uncover it. Go, Bill, go!

"We pan across town to look in on Linda, who is out on a date. Linda's relationship with Paul broke up despite the fact that she honestly believed that he was the one whom God had given her. Now she's starting to get serious with the new guy she's with, Carl, but finds herself wondering if she can and should trust herself, another man, and, more importantly, God again. But she's eating supper with Carl, nonetheless, and notice that they both started the meal with prayer.

"Next, we look in on a man sinking down into a pew. Every time Ted goes to church, he feels that the preacher is speaking directly to him. He knows God wants him to make some changes in his life, but he's been putting off doing so for quite some time. However, God is wearing him down, just as the Lord wore him down a couple of years ago through the witnessing of friends who systematically removed all of his intellectual objections to the faith until he finally gave up and became a Christian.

"Finally, we see Pastor Steve shaking his head and wiping a tear away from his eye as he turns off his computer."

What? I'm in the highlights? I didn't know they filmed me!

"He has just received another email from back home. Although Pastor Steve is currently serving a church in America's heartland, he was born and raised in the Northeast. Now, you can see that Pastor Steve is no spring chicken ..."

Hey, watch it, Phil!

"... so his relatives, friends, and members of his extended family are also getting up there in years. He misses them terribly. Often this homesickness translates into physical pain. He continually hears about health problems and concerns that are besetting those he loves. He longs to be able to help them and to be with them in their hours of need and to spend time with them while there still is time to spend. Yet, he is miles and miles and miles away. He accepted his current call when, through a series of circumstances, it seemed that God wanted him to. But now he has some serious doubts. Maybe he read God wrong. Not a day goes by without him asking God why he brought him to his present church and what God has in mind for him here beyond just attending to the normal pastoral duties. But as of yet, no grand plans have been revealed. Indeed, God doesn't seem to be saying all that much. Still, Pastor Steve keeps asking, even though he struggles with the feeling that his prayers are just bouncing back to him off of the clouds, and with a niggling doubt that keeps surfacing in his mind that maybe God doesn't really care and isn't all that involved, after all. He keeps on doing much the same sorts of things that he did in the ministry back East-preaching and teaching the Word, helping people with their problems, and sharing their joyous times and their periods of grief. He hasn't thrown in the towel yet, but he wonders why he couldn't do these same sorts of things in a church closer to home. He even questions the divine logic behind assigning him to help other people through their hard times and to attend other families' weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, birthdays, and funerals, while, half a continent away, pastors who are relative strangers are going to his own family's celebrations and wakes, and helping his loved ones through crises. Still, Pastor Steve holds on to God, knowing that God could give answers and clarity in a moment, if he chose to. Besides, Pastor Steve has nowhere else to turn. He realizes that only Jesus has the words of eternal life and that God is the One and only Sovereign in charge of all things. So he's still a Christian and still a pastor. Confused and grieving at times, to be sure, but a believer and a minister, nonetheless.

"We'll be back after a commercial break and take a look at a classic spiritual wrestling bout-Michael versus the Dragon."

If you don't mind, I ... I'll turn the television off now. Just let me get a Kleenex and I'll continue. It's just ... see, I have something in my eye.

I'm okay now. So let me point out that all of the Christians featured on Phil's program, including me, are wrestling with God, whether they realize it or not. And maybe now you have an inkling of what wrestling with God is. I'll explain further.

An Explanation of the Match

For years I had caught snatches of hockey games on TV, but I never was all that interested in the sport. For one thing, I didn't understand some of the rules and penalties. Whistles blew and actions were taken on the rink that made little or no sense to me. I didn't really know what it was I was seeing. But then, while I was in college, I got the chance to go to professional games with friends of mine who were avid fans. They knew the ins and outs of the rules and were happy to patiently explain the game to me. I grew to appreciate and love the sport, looking forward to our trips to the Rochester War Memorial to see the Americans play. No longer did the game seem to be chaotic mayhem on ice. Er ... I mean no longer did it seem to be solely chaotic mayhem on ice. (Chaotic mayhem on ice is part of hockey's appeal, it must be admitted.) But it was also a game of strategy and finesse. I could enjoy the good plays, sigh over the bad ones, and loudly second-guess the refs with the rest of the fans.

It is my hope that, through this book, you will come to understand and appreciate what wrestling with God is all about and that you'll see that the spiritual life isn't just chaotic mayhem interrupted by sleep, but that it is also a game of strategy and finesse.

I hope that you'll learn the rules of wrestling and what constitutes a "good move." I want you to grasp how to perform the holds, counter holds, and reversals necessary to score points, and how to avoid fouls and disqualifications. I want you to be able to cheer on those who are exhibiting skill and style in their matches and to be able to knowledgeably coach and correct those who are floundering in the ring.

To this end, let me now give you a simplified explanation of what wrestling with God is, and then I'll elaborate in the following chapters.

Essentially, going to the mat with God entails:

1. Holding on to God no matter what he seems to be trying to do or allowing to happen in order to shake you off. The "man" Jacob wrestled with wanted to get away at daybreak, but Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26).

2. Pinning God down and getting answers to your prayers and questions. Jacob refused to let go, and the man told him that he had struggled with God and that he had overcome. And Jacob got his blessing (Genesis 32:28-29).

3. At times, getting pinned by God, totally floored by his power and his answers. God wrenched Jacob's hip and refused to tell Jacob his name, proving to Jacob that he was still the One in control (Genesis 32:25, 29).

Now, in light of the above, I ask you, "Have you ever wrestled with God?" If you have, you'll do so again. If you haven't, you will. Why? Because it is part of the very nature of our relationship with the Lord, as we shall see. And it seems as if God himself wouldn't have it any other way. In the next chapter, we'll explore the question, "Why would a loving, compassionate God want to wrestle with us? Why would he keep us struggling with, and clinging to, him? Why make us wait for answers and practically knock ourselves out to obtain them? Why not just deal with us swiftly and be done with it?"

It's Your Turn!

Here are some questions to stimulate your own thoughts as you interact with this chapter, either by yourself or in a group.

1. One of the several things that may strike us as odd about the
story of Jacob wrestling with God is that God comes to Jacob
on the night before Jacob has to do a very difficult task,
meeting again the brother he had cheated out of his
birthright years before. God knew when Jacob needed to find
strength and encouragement and chose that precise moment
to appear to him. Do you have a hard time with the idea that
God would be that personally involved with someone's life?
With your life? Why or why not?

2. Are there other portions of the Bible that strike you as being
really weird? Have you still been able to get something out
of them? Are there parts of the Bible that you never get
anything out of? Why do you think they are in there?

3. Does the concept of wrestling with God and the examples
I've given seem alien to you? Do you think that you might
have wrestled with God at some point and just not realized it?

4. Think back to a time when you were wrestling with God,
whether you knew it or not.


Excerpted from Wrestling with God by Steve R. Bierly Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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