I’m studying a lot about the biblical Jacob and the practice of wrestling with God. But lately there’s a big question I’m struggling with, and that is knowing when to go with the flow and trust that God in charge, and when to intervene because it depends on you.
Steve Stockman, in his book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, relates Jacob’s story to Bono’s. When I read over the passage a second time, I noticed another dimension to the story I had never grasped before. When Jacob was wrestling with God, he didn’t know who he was at first. Just some guy who comes up and starts wrestling with him. “The mysterious agressor eventually was understood to be God, and Jacob got a new name…” (p. 153-4). This is what I saw: here Jacob is, wrestling with him all night. By dawn he realizes the physical circumstance has spiritual significance and says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” He’s seeking to find the spiritual answer to what’s going on in the natural. And it’s as if God’s saying, “Do you not recognize me? Do you not see my hand at work in your life?” And this is the key: “Do you not see that when you’re wrestling with your father, your brother, your father-in-law, you’re wrestling against ME?”
God is all-powerful and sovereign, and while this doesn’t mean that we just sit back and watch the world go by, it does mean that we need to look for His hand in situations and see what he might be doing or trying to teach us, rather than being like Jacob and manipulating everything around us to conform to our own selfish desires. It was God who was wrestling with Jacob his whole life, but from birth, Jacob was struggling to get his own way. We need to see God’s hand in our circumstances. We need to hold on for his blessing in every circumstance. We need to hold on until he tells us, “This is who you are and this is what I made you for,” rather than building our own castles (made of sand) and looking out for our own interests in every situation.
I think that life is like a huge choose-your-own-adventure book: “If you want to go through the door, turn to page 67. If you want to turn around and go back the way you came, go to page 36.” God is still the author, but it’s up to us to walk through the doors. It may take any number of doors, but he’s going to keep putting doors in front of us until we learn, perhaps through painful experiences, how to pick His door. He will eventually get us where He wants us, and the ending will be what He intended all along.
I think there is another layer to this choose-your-own adventure thing, and that’s realizing the difference between regret over the past and whining about things you can’t change, versus standing up to change the things that you can. The same year I got dropped from the lineup of Lifehouse, we were getting ready for a trip to Scotland, and we were going to be hanging out in St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife, which was the same place where Tiger Woods was experiencing a rather hard time in his golf game that same year. My old pastor in Malibu compared me to him, swinging away over and over with the club, but getting nowhere because I’m stuck in the long grass by the beach. (Trying the same thing over again expecting a different result, isn’t that the definition of insanity?) Brad’s prayer in this situation was that I was actually going to find my place, and, like Eric Liddell on that same beach, experience God’s pleasure.
It’s taken me a long time to heal from bitterness over past things that were supposed to happen but didn’t because the band was not in control, but the label and the producer were. I stumbled across the blog of a Christian drummer in a well-known secular band that’s actually on the same label my former band was on. I dropped him an e-mail, and he wrote me back (blogging is so cool). He confirmed stuff I had learned about how band loyalty should be more important than label/producer/manager control, and helped solidify my position that sucky things happened to me that aren’t cool at all.
But, getting back to choose-your-own-adventure and the God-wrestle, even though God engineers our circumstances, it’s still up to us to choose what we’re going to do in the circumstance and what kind of attitude we’re going to have about the aftermath of our choice (or the thing that happens to us if it’s out of our control). Chuck Swindoll puts it this way:
Life is like a menu in the Grace Restarurant. In this new establishment you are free to choose whatever you want. But whatever you choose will be served to you and you must eat it. If you choose the wrong food and realize later just how badly your body reacted to it, don’t think that grace will protect you from getting sick. (The Grace Awakening, p. 145)
This year I was presented with a circumstance which I believed was engineered by God, and I followed my heart. But when we are seeking to follow God’s plans for our lives, we need to realize that the right way of walking involves obedience. In the words of the ancient crusader in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I “chose poorly”. The circumstance was engineered by God, but my response was the wrong one. I think God had equipped me with the discernment and scripture knowledge to know, but I still chose to go through a door that I wasn’t supposed to go through.
We have to eat what we ordered and deal with the digestive consequences. There are times when someone else ordered a bad meal for the whole table, and you just have to have the “horizontal grace” to accept that person’s choice and move on to the next thing God has for you. And there are times when you chose the wrong plate for your own self (and maybe for someone else as well), and you have to face the consequences. But the good news is the “vertical grace” that is there for us when we’re ready to get back on track and ask the Head Chef which meal is best for us.
Whichever situation we find ourselves in, I’m learning that living with regret and wallowing in guilt will get us nowhere. As my new cyber-friend pointed out, hopefully we will learn from our mistakes. But I think we need to look to the future and live in hope of what God’s going to do next rather than suffering from the wounds that He’s already healed.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a German-American Confessing Church pastor and professor at Union Theological Seminary, prayed, “God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed; give me the courage to change things which must be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”
Thanks: Brad, Pat, Sam, J.B., Zach.
Merry Christmas to all! May you, like Bono, find baby Jesus underneath the trash (wrapping paper).
Update: God engineers our circumstances, and we make choices, but he sovereignly knows what we’re going to choose before we choose it. This does not take the responsibility away from us. We are finite, God is infinite. We are fallible, God is perfect and omniscient. But we are still responsible for our sins. His foreknowledge does not let us off the hook. But we can still bring God glory when we fall when we learn from our circumstances and develop a deeper knowledge of our need for his grace.