Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wrestling Match

As kids, my brother, sister, and I would have wrestling matches. Many times, my parents had to stop them because one of us got angry or frustrated. In our family, all five of us are stubborn and giving up is rarely an option. In the Bible, Jacob reflects this stubbornness on an even greater level.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with the Lord. Literally. Now on this side of the Old Testament, that seems pretty stupid to me. This is the same God who parts the Red Sea, reveals His glory to Moses, makes a donkey speak, destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. I don't think I would willingly wrestle with Him. But as I studied this passage over the last few days, I realized that the last two years of my life have been a wrestling match with God. Here's what I learned from this passage:

1) The Lord ALLOWS us to wrestle with Him. He could stop it at any time. He isn't backed into a corner or on the ropes. He knowingly allows us to wrestle with Him. Verse 24 says, "Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the break of day." Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. Man, to have witnessed that in the middle of the desert.

2) When we wrestle with the Lord, we will ALWAYS walk away changed. We never leave that match unscathed. It is a turning point where a decision is made one way or another. Will we follow the Lord? Verse 25 says, " Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him (Jacob), He (God) touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as he wrestled with Him. Jacob refused to give up. He was stubborn and persistent and desperate. I almost wonder if the Lord allowed Jacob to wrestle with Him to see if he would hold on no matter what.

3) The results are ultimately for the Lord's glory and our good. Jacob refused to let go unless the Lord blessed him. Verse 28 says, " And He (the Lord) said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'" Then, the Bible says that the Lord blessed Jacob. Because Jacob refused to give up, the Lord gained a man who became the father of Israel and gave him a new name and identity. Jacob meant "deceiver." Israel means "God's fighter" or "he struggles with God." The Lord took a man who cheated his brother of an inheritance and made him God's man, a tool, a beautiful picture of God's grace, and a blessing to generations to come. Jacob gained a blessing from the God he worshipped. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Ultimately, God is holy and we are human. We can never forget that distinction if we choose to wrestle with the Lord. Seek out the hard questions. Wrestle and talk to the Lord in the middle of tough times. Cling to Him. Refuse to let go until He blesses you. He's God, and He can handle all that. But NEVER make the mistake of thinking you will come out the victor against a holy God. He is in control. Because the Lord touched Jacob's hip, Jacob walked with a limp, possibly for the rest of his life. When we wrestle with God, we are never the same. It is a life-defining and altering moment.

Have you wrestled with the Lord? What did He teach you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beating My Best

 In my past life, I was a band nerd.

Okay, maybe it wasn't my past life. Maybe it was just a few short years ago. But it is a title I claim proudly because I love music and I loved playing my clarinet. Every day was a challenge. I worked hard to make my fingers and tongue move in perfect rhythm. Many felt the need to compete. I felt the pressure, but my band director had a phrase that he often told our band:

"Your main goal in this competition is to be Poteet (that was us). If you can beat what we were this time last year, you will have accomplished our goal."

I still remember that admonishment. While I am not the most competitive person, I do understand the need to beat myself. I don't need to be the best, but I do need to be my best. I constantly push myself to beat my previous standard of "best," and in this way, I am always growing.

Mr. Jones was another of my band directors. He taught me to play my clarinet and was present and active in my life from the time I entered middle school until I graduated. He was my silent cheerleader. I never knew how much until recently.

When I graduated, Mr. Jones gave me a book written by John Maxwell called, Developing the Leader Within You.  This book teaches leadership skills rooted strongly in Maxwell's faith in Christ. When I went to college, I attempted to read this book, knowing that Mr. Jones had given it to me for a reason. It was above my head as an 18-year-old who was only focused on making good grades and meeting new people. I've recently read through it, and value the lessons I have learned. But I value something else even more.

In the front of the book, Mr. Jones wrote me a letter. Several lines stuck out to me and have bridged the 5 years since I was his student. "As you embark on this new journey, I know you take a strong faith in the Lord and His teachings. I have no doubt that you will bring Him much glory! I pray that you will hold steadfast to His promises even in the hard times."

Mr. Jones believed in me before I believed in myself, before I recognized the hardships life would throw my way, before I realized my own leadership potential, or before I realized that Maxwell's words would help me grow in my people skills and my faith. Mr. Jones challenged me throughout my teen years and his words continue to challenge me today. Hard times have hit, and I am clinging to the Lord for dear life, just as Mr. Jones prayed I would.

He left me with a verse that I leave you with today, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

I pray whatever you do brings God glory, that your hardships point you to the goodness of God, and that you remember that what you do for the Lord is never in vain. I pray that you don't compare yourselves to others but constantly push yourself to excel beyond what you were previously capable. Beat your best and stand firm in the Lord.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Letting Go

I think one of the hardest things in life is letting go. I struggle with change more than anything else in my life, and it's only in hindsight that I view it as beneficial and necessary.

For over a year now, I have lived back in my home town. College was a cliche time of "finding myself" apart from the people who have known me for years. It was a time of reinvention. I had a clean slate and continued to find the voice I had only begun to scratch the surface of in high school. Being home has been an all new adventure in understanding who I am. But, it isn't a mission to find myself so much as it is one where I remember who I am in Christ. "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Phil 3:13b-14

My old haunts bring back memories of people I loved whom time has removed; activities I excelled in which I am now incapable of returning to; and places full of memories and milestones. These things I see as I drive through town, and I struggle to let go. I struggle to forget, as the Bible says. I am a firm believer that our past shapes us. Every day adds to the person we will be tomorrow and next year. Often the days that have come before are more comfortable, or, dare I say it, safe. Maybe that's what makes change so hard. It isn't safe. It's unpredictable and often equates to loss and heartache and more misplaced memories.

But, I will choose to look at it this way: Proverbs 25:4 says, "Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith." Dross is equated with impurity. When the bad material is removed, the silversmith is free to mold the material into a planned shape and design to serve a specific purpose. When the silversmith sees the correct image, his job is not only complete, but perfected. I am choosing to view change as the process by which the dross is removed from my life, so that in my next transition stage to God knows where, I am a little better for having gone through the process.

"We fight to hold on. We fight to let go." I wish I could tell you that I've mastered the balance. The truth is, I wish I had. This will be a lifelong process for me. Maybe my struggle to let go at the moment exists because I am on the brink of finishing something that could potentially change life as I know it. No going back. That reality is not safe.

But forgetting what is behind, I move on to see what the Lord has in store for me next. Hopefully, in the next stage, I will be a little wiser and slightly more equipped to let go of clinging to my comfort zone.

What are you holding on to?

"I'm Letting Go" by Francesca Battistelli