Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I'm intrigued by the story of Jacob. Given Jacob's ancestry, he should be destined for greatness. But from the beginning, that doesn't seem to be the case. During birth, Jacob seems to have some intrinsic feeling that if he isn't born before his twin brother Esau, he will not have his proper place in society. That's why he's grasping Esau's heel when he comes out of the womb. From that day on, his entire life is characterized by drama. I get the idea this, in part, was due to Jacob's feelings of inadequacy--afterall, it's usually the first born that's held in highest esteem. Time and again, we see that Jacob will stop at nothing to make his way to the top. He lies, cheats, and uses people to gain the standing he feels belongs to him. While Jacob thought his determination was a noble trait, others viewed it in a much different light. They saw him as a ruthless liar and a master manipulator.

Sadly, when I look back at my life, I see that I have a lot in common with Jacob.

To begin with, there are seasons of my life I committed to make things work without any dependence on God whatsoever. Like Jacob, I have been guilty of lying, cheating, and manipulating to gain my rightful standing. Worse, not only have I been guilty of this with others, but I have even attempted to try these tactics on God. There's also the reality that both Jacob and I have feelings of inadequacy. For years I have tried to deal with them, but they continue to surface. Mostly, those feelings of inadequacy stem from the time God called me to a life of ministry. In spite of those feelings, I wanted to live a life that amounted to something more than selfish pursuit, so I accepted that call. But, you should know that, in the beginning, I didn't fully embrace it. Just a few months later, I did everything I could think of to disqualify me from what God had planned for me. I dove head first into a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Actually, I have no musical talent and zero rhythm, so it was less a life of rock and roll and more a life of drugs and sex. But even that isn't a proper description, because I only chased women, smoked pot and drank. That characterized the early part of my high school career, which only changed once my wrestling match with God began--which is where we pick up the next part of Jacob's story.

In the thirty-second chapter of Genesis, we find Jacob trying his best to make amends for some of his past. Too cowardly to meet his brother face-to-face, Jacob sends others ahead with lavish gifts. But God has something different planned. That night, Jacob has an encounter with an angelic stranger. The two wrestle through the night until the sun breaks the horizon. At this point, the angel (or God depending on translations), realizing Jacob will not let go until he receives a blessing, dislocates Jacob's hip. Jacob, the deceiver, then receives his new name: Israel, which means "struggles with God." The blessing Jacob begged for is then bestowed which provides some clarity. Realizing what transpired, in verse 30, Jacob informs us "[He] saw God face to face, and yet [his] life was spared." After all these years, Jacob finally learns the lesson God had been trying to show him.

The wrestling match I started with God in high school didn't end nearly as quick as Jacob's. While his eight hours probably seems like a lengthy amount of time, it doesn't hold a candle to the eight years my wrestling match spanned. All because I (like Jacob to some extent) spent much of that time trying to make things work on my own. That's why, after college, my inadequacy grew exponentially. Even though my friends and I graduated from the same university, with the same degree, I was left in the dust. Many of them accepted their first job in the church the weeks after receiving their degrees. I, on the other hand, worked for a company doing Internet tech support. The next few months I became discouraged and disillusioned as I saw both their careers and their ministries take off. I felt God had let me down. I did exactly what he had asked, yet the blessing I hoped for wasn't coming.

Once I accepted my first job in the church, I thought things would change. But they didn't. Seeing the passion, joy, and fulfillment my friends had was too much to take. All these things still eluded me and, to be honest, it pissed me off. That's when resentment set in. I began to resent my friends for the opportunities they had. I started to resent the success that came their way. But most of all, I began to resent the call God had given me. A call that, for me, didn't come with much clarity. While many of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do--lead worship, plant churches, teach the Bible--I didn't have a clue. All I knew was that God wanted me to give up my plans, in order to follow him.

Eventually I got burnt out and took a break. For several years I kept ministry, the church and God at a distance. Slowly, my need and desire to get involved in the church and to pursue my calling came back. So, that's exactly what I did. I started volunteering in various ministries at my church. In time, more and more opportunities came to plug in and discover what I was most passionate about. I was helping out with a youth group and getting to speak there. Then, I jumped at the opportunity to lead a lifegroup. And eventually I got to preach again on Sunday mornings. Things were looking up. I was finding joy and fulfillment. I began searching for ministry positions in the church again. I talked to different churches, and had several interviews. At one point, a church even called and asked for my resume. Although nothing panned out with any of those, I kept pressing on. In just a short while I began to get frustrated with how things were playing out again. The final blow was a church that told me I wouldn't be considered because I was young and single. That's when my old friends inadequacy and resentment paid another visit. I saw myself heading down the path I had just come.

But all of that was about to change.

One evening, alone, in the living room, my wrestling match with God finally came to a head. I stood there and literally yelled at God. Not once did he yell back. He didn't even speak a word. But at the end of all that yelling, my throat now hoarse, my struggle with God was over. He won. In the stillness and quiet of that moment, the blessing I had been begging God for was being poured out. What I received was nothing tangible. No job offer came. I didn't receive any more clarity about my calling. But, what I was given was just as valuable. That night God gave me exactly what he gave Jacob--peace and contentment!

I was able to see that my problem was never really with God. All along, the problem had been my skewed expectations. Because I had set aside my original hopes and dreams and was doing my best to follow God, I felt like he owed me. I didn't think a job in the church was too much to ask for after all I had done. Finally I was able to see that God owed me nothing. I began to see that he obviously envisioned things differently than I had. And I was finally able to accept that. I realized that while the ministry I was doing didn't always happen in the church, or even look legitimate to others, I was doing ministry. God was giving me opportunities to do what I was most passionate about, but because it wasn't coupled with a paycheck, I didn't see it.

Do I know what God wants me to do? Sort of. Do I wish it came with a paycheck? Some days. But I see how not relying on a paycheck has given me some freedom--like starting a lifegroup in a bar. Am I hopeful something will come of it? Most of the time. Do I still have struggles with God? Absolutely! But isn't that what it means to have faith?