In the past when people told me they couldn’t get through a genealogy or certain book of the Bible, my response used to be: “Skip it. Don’t let it become the reason you quit reading the Bible.” These days I’m more apt to urge people to learn to wrestle with God.
In the book of Genesis, Jacob spent a night physically wrestling with God: “The man said, ‘Let me go; for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26).
I’d guess Jacob would have preferred to sleep through the night. It’s certainly easier to stick to the straightforward parts of the Bible. Instead of skipping the hard parts, and there are many, it’s good for us to learn to struggle through them, because, like Jacob, on the other side of the struggle is blessing. Stay in that spot until you find adequate resolution.
I’ve spent long nights paging through commentaries and trying to see my own sinful nature in some of the more horrific biblical accounts. One spring I reread the last chapters of Jeremiah over and over and over, not realizing God was preparing me to stand alone. I spent nine months on one phrase of one passage, getting to the bottom of what God meant by “a quiet and gentle” spirit, which seemed so far from my natural tendency.
These days as I read my Bible front to back, I’m not afraid to stop, set up camp, and wrestle with God before moving on. There are times I seek clarification that doesn’t come even after the struggle. Those times force me to agree with God: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8,9).
But I don’t hesitate to wrestle anymore, because we so easily struggle through meaningless things. We struggle through the hard levels on a video game and stick with our favorite Netflix series despite the boring episodes. I don’t give up on my teens when they don’t understand the point behind a rule my husband and I have decided to enforce. I struggle through my time at the gym, knowing there is a benefit to my muscles and cardiovascular system.
God’s Word is worth the struggle. And at the end of the wrestling match, I’d like to think we’ve both won: I gain a little more understanding, and God sees I’m willing to stay and work on what I don’t understand.
Amber Albee Swenson is a writer, speaker, and blogger. Her husband and four children keep life exciting and give her lots to write and pray about. Mother, wife, and author are treasured positions, but child of God is her identity.
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