Once in awhile you get to demonstrate what you preach. Last Sunday I preached from Genesis 32:1-32. One of my main lessons was that Jacob had to learn to move away from self-sufficiency to dependence on God’s blessings before God could bless him and use him. I had to preach in a still small voice, no, not in any attempt to imitate the divine voice, but because I had a horrible sore throat and had lost my voice. I have been preaching for 35 over years and never had to preach with such a bad voice. I could barely form my words.
The heart of sin is to live as though God doesn’t exist, as though you don’t need Him. All sin can be traced back to the original temptation to be independent of God, to take the fruit and “be like gods…” (Genesis 3:5) And a key part of salvation is the realisation that we cannot save ourselves, a realisation that drives us to throw ourselves at the mercy of the Lord. Unfortunately the illusion that we can live and function apart from God is a very powerful one that continues to haunt us even after we have begun our journey of following Christ.
Those of us who are most obviously gifted, either with natural gifts or spiritual gifts or both, are most prone to this danger. It is also a danger that looms particularly strongly when we are experiencing periods of obvious success in our lives, when things are going well. It seems that the temptation to trust the gifts and not the Giver is an ever present danger, one that we have to struggle with all the time as we journey on this earth. And because God loves us He wants to protect us from this hubris. Which is why, now and then, He needs to wrestle with us and maybe break a leg or two.
Jacob is our poster boy for self dependence. He was clever. He made his way through life by outsmarting people (e.g. Genesis 27:1-41). And though he may not have been a hunter like his brother, he was no slouch in the physical strength department either (Genesis 29:10). Looking at how Jacob lives his life before the events of Genesis 32, we see a man who does not ask the Lord for help. He lives life without a need for God. He can handle whatever life throws at him. Until Genesis 32.
In Genesis 32: 22-32, Jacob is literally and metaphorically at a very dark place in his life. He is all alone in the night and believes that in the morning his brother will finally get his revenge and kill him for cheating him twenty years ago (cr. Genesis 27:41). Twenty years, a long time to nurture hatred and a vengeful spirit. Jacob is about to lose everything. A life lived depending on self has finally led him to this dark place. And things get worse.
A strange man attacks him in the darkness and they wrestle through the night. Just when he was holding out for a draw, the mysterious man dislocates Jacob’s hip with just a touch. The stranger could have defeated Jacob anytime he wanted. Clearly this was no ordinary man. Jacob was beginning to realise that perhaps this may not be a man at all.
But his growing realisation is accompanied by searing pain. His hip is dislocated. He can no longer wrestle. With a growing realisation as to who his sparring partner really was, Jacob hangs on for dear life, and asks the stranger for something he has never asked before. He asks for His blessing. Jacob, the man who had made his own blessings in life, now persists in “praying” for a blessing. Jacob finally acknowledges his need of Him and is saved.
Do you really believe you need God? This is not a theological test of your doctrinal orthodoxy. Deep in your heart do you really believe that apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5)? It is a question that I pose to myself often and often I find myself wanting in reply.
As I face the various challenges of life, I am often more conscious of the things I need to do then of my need of the Lord in doing them. At my stage of life I have some idea of my gifts. I have some life experience. And more often than not I find myself looking to those resources than to the Lord. Of course the Lord can use my gifts and my experience as part of His enabling but I have come to learn that there is a very real difference between depending on the gifts and depending on the Giver.
Which is why once in awhile the Lord has to dislocate a hip. Or take away a voice. And you learn afresh the difference between trusting in the gift and trusting in the Giver. I was hanging on to the Giver for dear life when I preached last Sunday. Folks told me afterwards that the message came across clearly. One response on Facebook: “Uncle Soo Inn, you did alright today. We heard your message loud and clear. God is good!! ” God is good indeed.