When We Wrestle with God

hulk-hoganThe greatest wrestler of all time?
Most would say Hulk Hogan.

But as I recover from my recent right hip surgery,
I can’t help thinking about the man
who wrestled God and prevailed,

even after his hip was touched and moved out of joint,
causing him pain and tears (Hos. 12:4)
as they struggled on till daybreak.

Who would be so dumb to wrestle God?  Certainly not Jacob who from early on showed unusual cunning and manipulative ability when he frauded his brother out of the birthright and blessing.  And he had been coming to know the power of God as 10 times His Great Shepherd miraculously produced whatever spotted or striped sheep his wily uncle Laban had agreed would be his.

As he was traveling to settle in the land of Canaan, “angels of God” met him  to camp for the night (Gen. 32:2).  “When Jacob saw them,  he said, ‘This is God’s camp.'”  Jacob could see this was no KOA or Motel 6.

But I’m sure he had no idea that he was about to rumble all night with God.  After his long journey, he was probably hoping for another pillow stone (Gen. 28:11).

jacob-wrestlingAnd Jacob was too worried about his brother Esau coming his way with 400 men to think about half nelsons.

So no, Jacob was not foolish enough to go to the mat against the God of the Old Testament who was Jesus Christ of the New.  It appears in verse 24 that God caught Jacob alone and instigated the all-night knockdown, drag-out contest of wills.

God had big plans going back to Abraham and Isaac to work through Jacob, and He wanted to see how badly Jacob wanted to be blessed.   Jacob meant “supplanter” but God was looking for a humble man who  would persevere with God  in adversity that was surely coming for his progency down through all the years to come.

Of course this wasn’t really about Jacob vs. God.  Jacob had no chance to win even if God tied both hands behind His back.

God was  eager to bless Jacob but not with buckle or trophy.  Jacob’s life and spiritual development was the main event right now in the plan of God for mankind.  God was so happy for Jacob to hang on till daybreak.  The growth encounter ended not with a pin but with spiritual victory.

God changed his name to Israel, meaning “prevailer with God.”  We are spiritual Israel (Gal. 6:16).

We wrestle with God

For over a year now I’ve been mentally grappling with God over why He isn’t healing a brother in Christ who seems so deserving yet only gets worse.  It’s a case resembling the story of Job more than any I’ve ever known.  “Father, please, next time we talk, please let him have  something happy to share.”  Healing was the happy I was hoping to hear!  But he would be talking with joy in his voice about God and His way of life!

As with Jacob, no pin but spiritual victory!  As with Job, God was contending for perseverance (James 5:11).

In another struggle, I’ve been tag-teaming with a brother in Christ who has endured 31 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and sees no hope in this life of the bell ever ringing the bout over.  Family long ago deserted him and now brethren  who had been faithfully encouraging him grow older and wearier and overwhelmed just by their own matches.

So, leave the ring?  No, we keep wrestling!  With God—not against Him—as we struggle to seek His will and submit to it.

Perseverance has been called the sixth law of success out of seven, the main one being looking to God and keeping our eyes on Him.  If Jacob started out thinking he was grappling with flesh and blood, by the end he knew he was seeing God face to face (Gen. 32:30).

We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood either (Eph. 6:12).  We need God to help break every hold  this world has on us.

As I wrestle with God now, often flat on my back in hip recovery, God would just have to rest a pinky finger on my chest for the pin.  But His favorite move is a big comforting spiritual bear hug!   And He blesses and blesses and blesses!

Jacob was surely the greatest wrestler of all time and has made the Hall of Faith (Heb. 11).  So will we unranked Christians who endure to the end and prevail with  God.  Then we’ll be given a new name (Rev. 3:12) that will probably be way cooler than anything WrestleMania can think up!

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Anxious for Nothing

When I went to the hospital Monday for my right hip surgery,
I wanted to choose to follow Paul’s advice to
“be anxious for nothing” (Php. 4:6).  
If we are anxious, we find out it’s for nothing.

The same goes for fretting, except being useful for guitars. 

quantum-leap-2My obvious  challenge was going to be blood  pressure—pressure being the appropriate word.  At my pre-op for  my left hip surgery back in May, my doctor said my blood pressure  was high enough that my hip surgeon might postpone my surgery—so he prescribed medicine.  Overnight the results dropped dramatically lower and I had the surgery.

After the surgery, and picking up my lifetime bias against drugs, when it seemed like my blood pressure was holding in acceptable range, I stopped taking the drug.

But now with my right hip surgery looming, recent tests at home with my wrist tester were all over the map.   I couldn’t help feeling anxious about what score might be captured in the surgeon’s pre-op and whether it might postpone surgery.

So the night before I popped a blood pressure drug in hopes that it would again bring amazing overnight turnaround.  Horrors!   A high reading like being on no medication.  But to my surprise, the nurse said no worries, surgery would go on.

She obviously knew something I didn’t

Post surgery, my blood pressure readings were all way lower than the old standard 120/80—apparently thanks to anesthesis and pain drugs.

So much for anxiety!  My best blood pressure readings ever.

But time for Paul again:  Let him who thinks his blood pressure stands take heed lest it fall!

In the middle of the night, nurses went into a frenzy over the fact that my blood pressure plummeted during a 10-minute period down to 80/50.  Just when I was wondering what the nurses  would have up their sleeve, it seems their solution was to just take it again and it climbed up to an acceptable rate.

The nurse regularly taking blood pressure told me that even with her hospital equipment, she never gets the same reading in a row.  “As long as you’re not dizzy or lightheaded.”

So anxious it will be too high … anxious too low.  The two pretty much zero out!  Whether blood pressure or any other pressure, why “be anxious for nothing.”

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Effective Bible Prayers: One Common Ingredient

prayingThe Bible gives examples of effective prayers.
We can see what God likes to hear.

And let’s especially notice one trait
answered prayers have in common.

Hezekiah, 2 Kg. 20:3—After Isaiah told him God said he was going to die, the king wept bitterly.  He asked God to “remember” his obedience and faithfulness, like Moses, Hannah and Nehemiah ( 5:19, 13:14, 22).

Moses, Ex. 32:11After the golden calf orgy, God told Moses He was going to consume Israel and start over with Moses.  Moses pleaded with God to “remember” His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And what would the Gentiles say?

Hannah, 1 Sam. 1:10-15, 2:1-10Provoked year by year for being barren by her husband’s other wife, Hannah fasted and wept in anguish.   She spoke heartfelt even in silent prayer.   She “poured out my soul before the Lord.”   She asked God to remember His maidservant.  After Samuel was miraculously born, she rejoiced and praised God.

Elijah, 1 Kg. 18:36-37, 42450 prophets of Baal would testify to the power of this 15-second prayer!  Elijah asked God to “Let it be known that you are God and I’m your servant.”  James 5:17 said Elijah “prayed earnestly.”  When Jezebel  scared him, Elijah begged that he might die—but God was not going to grant that request!

Daniel, 9:2-19Excited about the nearing end of the 70 year desolations of Jerusalem,  Daniel prayed with supplication and fasting.  He praised God and reminded Him of His promises.  He deeply confessed “we have sinned.” He pleaded for forgiveness and restoration.

David, Psalm 51—After being confronted by Nathan the Prophet about what he did with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, David prayed repentance.  He said he sinned against God only.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” He pleaded with God to renew a right spirit and restore to him the joy of salvation.   His psalm is often sung during Passover services.

Jabez, 1 Chron. 4:10Jabez asked God to bless him, enlarge his territory and be with him.  Thanks to being named “He Will Cause Pain,” Jabez so wanted God to “keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!”

Jonah, 1:14, 2:1-9, 4:2-3Fearing they were about to be smashed and drowned, sailors cried out to God to spare their “innocent blood” when it was Jonah He was angry with.  From within the belly of the special fish prepared for him, reeking and draped in seaweed, Jonah cried out to God and thanked Him for delivering him.  But after Ninevah repented with fasting, Jonah was exceedingly disappointed because Assyria wouldn’t be getting theirs and later they would come against his people Israel, who were too stiff-necked to repent like Ninevah did.  Like Elijah, Jonah begged to die, but God rejected his fervent request like he did Elijah’s.

Stephen, Acts 7:59-60—As he was being stoned, Stephen cried out with a loud voice for God not to charge them with this sin.

Real Lord’s Prayer, John 17 Just before the mob came for him, Jesus glorified the Father and asked for His glory back.  He prayed for those the Father would give Him to not be of the world, be sanctified by the Word and be unified in love.

What trait did all these effective prayers have in common?

“The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

incenseThe Bible compares prayer to incense (Psa. 141:2, Rev. 8:3-4).  Prayers should be beaten fine, have blend of ingredients (discuss everything with God) and be sweet and appealing to God.

And they must be heated up (fervent).  Room fresheners are designed to heat up at room temperature.  Deodorants at 98.6 degrees.

Prayers heat up when you remind yourself that you are privileged to talk to the Supreme Power of the universe during the time He is upholding and directing it—at any time you choose!

Make it fervent!

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Pray Tell, How Can I Do it Better?

prayingI love it when there’s something in the Bible
about how to pray more effectively.

Nehemiah, recognized as one of the best leaders in the Bible, shows us how to pray more effectively.

Eleven times in 13 chapters it’s recorded that Nehemiah was praying.

In 445 B.C. his brother Hanani returned from Judah, giving him the shocking news that the people were suffering in great distress, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates burned with fire.

Hearing his brother’s distressing report, Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days …

Fasting and praying

before the God of heaven” (1:4). “Day and night” (verse 6).   His “sighing and crying” over Jerusalem’s troubles (Ezek. 9:4) probably made for some sleepless nights.   But also fervent, passionate prayers!  “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).  Some issues are important enough to require fasting along with prayer (Mark 9:29).

widow-unjust-judgeNehemiah lived the lesson of Jesus Christ’s parable about the widow coming before the unjust judge. Jesus is certainly not calling Himself an unjust judge, but even the unjust judge in the parable couldn’t help giving in to the dogged persistence of the widow. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8).

Nehemiah kept on fasting and praying, letting the Master Timer decide what is “speedily.”   Read for yourself in verses 5-11

How Nehemiah prayed

  1. He prayed respectfully and humbly (“your servant”).
  2. Praising—reminding God of His promises and mercy. Not because God forgets or needs to be buttered up. Nehemiah needed to remind himself of the greatness of the Being he was privileged to pray to.
  3. Not for self. No “gimmes.”
  4. Like Daniel who served in Babylonian and Persian government and died about 85 years earlier, Nehemiah humbly confessed the sins of his and his people (Daniel 9).
  5. Nehemiah was in tune with God’s desires and timing and the result was his prayer that was according to God’s will. At times we may become the answer to our own prayers!
  6. Nehemiah asked to “prosper this day” (1:11).  It appears he asked this each day for the long period he was fasting and praying.   He showed he was willing to patiently wait on God for the proper when, but he boldly asked if it could be “this day.”  Likewise, when we pray for healing, we leave it up to YHVH Ropha for how and when, but why not hope for right away.  When we pray “thy kingdom come,” oh, if only it could be today!  We must not grow weary and scoff.

Nehemiah asked God specifically for favor with “this man”: King Artaxerxes I Longinum.   He was the king’s trusted cupbearer.

Great, it’s who you know! Just go tell him!

No, as a cupbearer Nehemiah was well-trained in court etiquette. He was to be a listening companion. He controlled personal access to the King and couldn’t abuse his. He had to always be deserving of the unreserved confidence of the King. Archeology shows an Assyrian cupbearer commanded the fourth highest salary in the kingdom, and a Persian one was no doubt just as valuable.  Nehemiah may have received his position thanks to Queen Esther (479 B.C.) who may have still been alive, and he wouldn’t want to bring discredit to her.

watch“Nehemiah did not ask in haste but carefully bided his time, constantly praying to God to grant the proper opening” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary).

Four months later the Master Timer granted the opening!

The king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad, when he had never seen him like that before. That made Nehemiah “dreadfully afraid”! Why if he had such a good relationship with the king?

Persian kings believed that just being in their presence was enough to make anybody’s day, so being sad was an insult! And here Nehemiah was just itching to ask the king to let him go to Judah.

Maybe there was more staring at Nehemiah’s faith: Artaxerxes was the very Persian king who had ordered work on the walls to be halted (Ezra 4:21-23)! To be fair, the king may have acted out of just keeping the peace during the confusion caused by the rebellion of Megabyzes. Perhaps he was not opposed to a wall—just swayed by the liberal press.

Maybe Nehemiah was afraid the king might think he had rebellion in mind.   We can imagine what all was racing through Nehemiah’s mind when the king asked “What do you request?” (2:4).

Instead of blurting out words, Nehemiah silently prayed for God’s favor and to guide his presentation.

In Rom. 12:12 “The words ‘continuing instant in’ represent just one Greek word, meaning, literally, ‘ever enduring in.’ The picture is one of being always ready to pray, whenever the need appears. The same urgent readiness is implied in Paul’s exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thes. 5:17). We must work, and sleep, and do many other things, but all things should be done as if in the very presence of God—for we are in His presence. Therefore, ‘in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’ (Php. 4:6)”—Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.

When Nehemiah answered the king, it was boldly in faith. But of huge importance to note:

Nehemiah was prepared with a detailed well-thought-out plan with time markers

He had even found out the name of the keeper of the king’s forest to obtain timber from.  When Nehemiah returned to Persia after 12 years as governor, that’s surely when he told the king he would return (2:6).

“And the king granted … according to the good hand of my God upon me” (2:8). Nehemiah always gave God the credit for all success (2:18, 20; 4:15, 20; 6:10, 16; and 7:5.

Many times Nehemiah prayed to God to “remember me” (13:22) according to the greatness of His mercy. Nehemiah was not out for personal glory.

nehemiah-wallWhatever the opposition threw at him, every time Nehemiah answered by prayer—and he acted. He did what he could do. He set the example by working on the wall, being the first to sign the covenant, and treating many at his table at his expense instead of claiming governor’s provisions.

Nehemiah exemplified

The Partnership Principle:  Pray as if God must do it all and act as if you must do it all.

When Jesus said His followers must be found “so doing” (Matt. 24:46), the tendency is to think He was talking about what we do on our feet.  So get up off our knees and get busy!

But we need to also be “so doing” in our prayers—fervent prayers that seek God’s will for the worldwide Work to be done and people to be prepared for the God Family.

Yes, Nehemiah is recognized as one of the greatest leaders immortalized in the Bible. Pray we follow his example:

  • Fervent prayer with fasting
  • Persistent, waiting for God’s timing
  • Humble, praising and confessing
  • Meet opposition with prayer
  • Pray and act in partnership
  • Give God all the glory

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Whether, When & Where

Thank God if you live in a place where you choose
whether, when and where to worship.

In Gallup polls year after year about 40% of American Christians say they attend church weekly or near-weekly,  yet head counts show the actual number who show up is about 17%.

This is called the “halo effect”—the difference between what people claim and what they actually do.  The common  word is hypocrite.

So bloggers then write about all the fancy reasons why people are not wanting to attend church regularly anymore.  Why it’s fashionable to reject religion, especially among millennials.  Each year nearly three million people change their status to “religiously unaffiliated.”

BibleThe answer to church attendance is so simple, if we choose to be guided by the Bible:

“And let  us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,

as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).

So we won’t  stop attending even as “the manner of some” becomes the manner of most.  We see the Day of the Lord fast approaching!  Whether we show up won’t be affected by who else shows up because we know the Bible says God the Father chooses who comes (John 6:44).

heart floweringWe don’t get to choose our brothers and sisters in church either!  We have to accept the vision that eventually all humans will have opportunity to become our brothers and sisters in Christ as part of the God Family for all eternity.  If we can’t accept that, we will be the exception!

Does it even cross our minds that the one somebody doesn’t want to accept might be us!  Hah, then show up and be the trial they need to grow!  While you grow also (2 Pet. 3:18).

The Bible teaches  one  message and, like Hebrews, Lev. 23:3 also teaches weekly church attendance.

Jesus Christ as the God of the Old Testament commanded weekly attendance as His “holy convocation” [Hebrew MO’EDIM].  Our divine appointment!  He expects us to show up!  He and the Father will be there wherever two or three are gathered.

So according to the Bible, there is no whether.

But when and where?

Right there in one verse (Lev. 23:3)—and in the whole chapter where it also commands other “holy convocations”—we can read with our own eyes when we should assemble.  And that knowledge is a huge piece of the puzzle in pointing us to where we should be attending each week.

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