Recently, I was reading the story of when Jacob, one of the most interesting characters in the entire Old Testament, wrestled with God. You can read it in Genesis 32. It's one of the strangest passages in the Bible: basically, Jacob was getting ready to reunite with his brother Esau, and he was very worried about how the meeting would go because he had stolen Esau's blessing years before. The night before, he was standing alone at the ford of the Jabbok River when a mysterious man (understood to be an appearance of God) stepped out of the shadows and "wrestled with him till daybreak." The two wrestled all night long, and Jacob finally said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
I will not let you go unless you bless me. This story has always kind of bothered me, and I finally figured out why: it's so unorthodox! Wrestling it out with God and demanding that He bless us? That is not what you typically hear of as a good way to approach God (which in our times is usually done through prayer). No, we're usually told to submit to God, to demonstrate our total willingness to follow His will, and never to insist on getting our own way.
Jacob took a much more stubborn, demanding, persistent, tenacious approach. He literally fought it out with God all night long, holding on to Him and demanding that God bless Him then and there. I was tempted to think this might have just been a dream or a vision of Jacob's, but yet, there was a physical manifestation of his night of wrestling with God: in the intensity of his struggle, he injured his hip and walked away limping the next day.
But there's more to the story. Jacob received the blessing that he asked for from God. Jacob demanded God's blessing in a very physical way, holding on to the mysterious man and refusing to release his grip until He blessed him. And verse 29 tells us, "Then he blessed him there."
The most surprising thing is that Jacob's utterly unorthodox approach worked. He insisted on receiving God's blessing, and receive it He did. God's blessing and favor in Jacob's life was clearly evident when he went to meet Esau the next day and was warmly received, even though he had been fearing for his life because he was convinced that Esau hated him.
Jacob's life wasn't always the best example for us to follow--after all, he cheated Esau out of his father's blessing and was deceptive in other areas of his life. But in this passage Jacob had a moment of raw openness and persistence with God that in some ways could be a model for all of us. It is ok to ask, and ask boldly, for the blessings of God. It's ok to be stubborn in prayer and stubborn in pleading that the favor and blessing of God cover our lives. If God's response to Jacob here is any indication, it's even ok to hold onto Him for all we are worth and insist that He graciously bless us.
It won't be without cost. That kind of desperate passion with God, that raw vulnerability, strips us of our pretenses and our excuses and demands a new level of commitment, of reckless abandon. It demands that we struggle through it with God when everyone around us tells us to give up. It requires that we exert ourselves in prayer in a way that we possibly never have done before. It may be painful and difficult at times.
But although Jacob walked away limping, he also walked away blessed.