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The Ingredient of Pain in Pursuing A Hunger For God

We saw last week that we must learn how to develop a hunger for God if we are going to face the crisis of life. Unfortunately, too many of us have masked our hunger for God by doing little more than nibbling on religion instead of feasting at God’s table. A feast takes time to eat and can’t be hurried or you fill up too quickly.

So let me ask you, what are you doing to develop your hunger for God? Are you at least giving it the time it needs? “Well, I come most Sunday’s, Pastor John.” Sundays are not enough. Do you hear me loved ones? You cannot grow and develop on Sunday morning worship alone. To be healthy requires eating properly everyday. And unless we commit to that individually, we eventually come to see God as our “candy man.” You know…that nice ol guy who sits quietly until you need a sugar daddy to get you through the pain of the moment. No loved ones, Father God is not interested in a causual relationship with you…Father God wants it allllll. In fact, Jesus said love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.

I asked you last week whether your relationship with God was a hobby or a passion? So let me ask if this way this week: Do you want God for God, OR do you want God for what He can do for you?

Today we continue our look at what happens when we face a sever crisis. What is our typical human response and where is God at that moment? One of the great stories of the Old Testament that illustrates this is the story of Jacob.   Jacob means “trickster” and indeed he was named accurately.  For from the early days of his birth, he knew how to manipulate people, chief among them… his own brother.  Jacob duped his brother out of his birthright, by tricking his father (who was nearly blind at the time) into giving him the birthright.  Jacob was a trickster. 

But, what goes around comes around, and when something becomes your character, sooner or later it catches up with you.  Such was the case in Genesis 32. Will open there please? Animosity and hatred have built up between Jacob and his brother Esau until we reach chapter 32. Here, Jacob knows if he doesn’t act fast, Esau’s opportunity for revenge is at hand. So Jacob, knowing he must do something, sends messengers, verses 4 and 5, to try and negotiate peace. In verse 6 the messengers return with the answer:

V 6. This was not good news to Jacob…look: VV 7-8

Jacob is in a crisis.  The chickens have come home to roost and his deception has caught up with him.  Have you ever known anyone like this?  Have you ever known someone who thought their past would never catch up with them, and suddenly their past is now the determining factor of their present?

Look at Jacob’s response, it tells us some things about a crisis:  V 9a:  Isn’t this a very human reaction?  Jacob is in a crisis, and as a result of his crisis, Jacob remembers God.  There is just something about a crisis, isn’t there?  This is why a crisis every now and then is not all bad for us. Crisis’ actually serve a couple of purposes in life. In fact, I believe God allows “Esau moments” in our lives to help us remember…

#1 God exists. Now, what follows is the prayer of a scared man.  This isn’t just a simple diddy.  Scared people, suddenly seem to know how to pray. So with his back up against the wall, Jacob says:  V 9b-10…Oh, all of a sudden God gets the credit.  Before, in his mind, it was Jacob the shrewd wheeler-dealer that accomplish all the good things in his life. But things are different now. He is in a helpless position and sees clearly, maybe for the first time …that it was God all along Who deserved the glory. And that is the second purpose of a crisis. They help us… #2 to remember we are what we are by the grace of God.

Well, he finally get’s around to telling God why he’s praying: VV11-12 What Jacob is saying is, “Lord, You made a promise.  You promised to bless me.  If my brother comes and kills and destroys…it won’t happen.  So, Lord, I’m calling on you to remember and deliver.”  Here is a man who not only needs mercy, he needs a miracle. But does he decide to trust God?

VV 13, 16, 20-21 These verses reveal 3 effects a crisis will have in our life and I want you to see them:

#1 When God puts your back up against a wall, no human effort will get you out of it.  Did you catch that in Jacob’s continued scheming? In fact, when God wants to get our attention, He will put our back up against the wall, until He has our attention.

#2 When you’re in a crisis, you don’t talk from your lips, you pray from your soul. In fact, do you want to learn how to pray?  Ask for a crisis…that will do more than a sermon.  Then…

#3 When you’re backed into a corner, you are the loneliest person in the world.  Isn’t that true? When we’re in a crisis, no matter how many people are around us, we can feel very alone.

So, what we have before us today is a man who is broken…who is spiritually naked…and helpless before God. Now that takes us to our passage.  That was all introduction to explain the crisis Jacob was facing, which leads us to one of the great events of the Bible that teaches us a profound and overarching truth of the Bible and it’s our first principle today:


Principle #1: If we are going to passionately pursue God, it is going to involve some pain.

But you say, “What??? I don’t want pain!”  Well, let me explain something.  If you are alive you are going to have pain.  I’m just offering you purposeful pain today rather than purposeless pain. So let’s continue…

VV 22-24  As if he didn’t have enough trouble, in the midst of the darkness …out of nowhere…someone jumps Jacob and they begin to wrestle. Now, he doesn’t really need this right now, you know what I mean? Have you ever prayed to God and things get worse instead of better?  That’s what just happened! When Jacob prayed, thing got worst. Jacob just prayed to God!  And instead of blessing, a man comes out of nowhere… and jumps on him forcing him to fight for his life.

Now put this picture of the wrestling ring together in your mind:  Jacob is alone, it’s dark, and things get worse.  When God allows us in this scenario, He has one purpose in mind – God wants you to meet Him in a way you could never meet Him in a group, in a service, or in a gathering. IOW’s, when God takes you to the bottom, He wants you to discover that God is your rock at the bottom.

So Jacob is now forced to wrestle, not with his brother, not with his problem, but with something unknown.  V 25… Wow…things have now gone from bad to worse. It finally looked like he was getting somewhere, that he was winning, when the man by just touching his thigh, disconnects it. 

V 26  Now, how in the world does he go from fighting for his life, to “I’m not letting you go until you bless me.”  Well, two things:

1st  Jacob now knows he is wrestling a supernatural being.  No ordinary man by just putting his finger on your hip, could cause it to pop out of the socket. So he knows this is no ordinary person. 2nd It’s daybreak.  And so now in the light of day, Jacob is able to see that the same person he saw as one who was trying to hurt him, also has the ability to bless him.

So let me give you our 2nd principle this morning. When God appears to be hurting you, or dislocating you, and letting things come up against you, I want you to know: Principle #2: The same God who appears to be hurting you, is hurting you precisely because He wants to bless you.

But did you notice at the end of that verse: the man says, “Let me go…” If He’s trying to bless me, why is trying to leave? Well first of all, if the man really wanted to get away… come on…He just touched Jacob’s hip and popped it our of the socket!  So this moment is really about how passionate Jacob is for God. In fact, it’s the 1st lesson from the wrestling match: When God puts you in pain, or you’re lonely, or depressed or it feels like there are enemies all around, whatever the scenario is, there’s only one question to be asked:  Will you hold on to God, or will you let God go?

You see, most folks in a crisis, let God go. Some folks when they don’t see a way out let God go…in other words, they leave too soon.  That is, they want to quit too early and run away.  They just don’t understand that the crisis was designed to let them see something at daybreak.  But if we let God go before daybreak; we won’t get to see all there was available to be seen.

This happens a lot in the Bible, where God wants to see if we’ll hold on to Him until daybreak.  One day Jesus was walking on the water, and His disciples were in a storm…their very lives were at stake.  Yet it says in MARK 6:48, “And He would have passed them by.”  Except that they saw Him and cried out, “Jesus!”  And the Bible says, “When Jesus heard their cry, He stopped, turned around, and joined them in the boat.  Jesus wanted to know, “Were they focusing on the crisis, or were they focusing on Me?”

On the road to Emmans LUKE 24:13, Jesus is walking with two disciples who do not recognize Him, and who are depressed because they thought He had been killed.  And so it says, “and when they came to their house, He kept on going.  But the disciples said, “Stop mister, will you come in?” You see He kept going to see, “Did they want more.” And therein lies our 2nd lesson: If God is letting you wrestle, He wants you to wrestle until daybreak, i.e. God wants you to wrestle until you get your breakthrough

IOWs, God says, “I know you’re tired, but I want you to wrestle.” Some of you are quitting at 3:00 in the morning, when the sun doesn’t rise until after 5:00, you’ve got to keep fighting until daybreak.  You see, daybreak is when God opens things up and let’s you see things you didn’t see before.

·        At nighttime you only see the problem, at daybreak you see the purpose.

·        At nighttime you only see your enemies, at daybreak you see how God wants to use your enemies to help you see what you couldn’t have seen without them.

So why does God change Jacob’s name? VV 26b-27 Which means “trickster.”  Do you see it?  All these years, Jacob’s name had gotten in the way of his blessing.  Why—because in the Bible, your name refers to your character.  His character had gotten in the way of what God wanted to do and all these years, Jacob had not faced up to his name.  So there’s our first reason: God will not give a glorious blessing to a bad character.  If our character is bad, God will not mount His goodness on it, because when our character goes down, His goodness goes with it.  The second reason is this: God wants to change Jacob’s name, because God wants to change Jacob’s character. IOWs, God wants his character to match the blessing He intends for him.

Jacob, I know that in wrestling with ‘Me the Man,’ you thought I was the problem,” God says, “but the purpose I have is for you to see Jacob, that you’re the man.”  And you thought the problem was your boss at work…you thought the problem was your mate… you thought the problem was your kids, but what God is doing in putting your back up against the wall is letting you see, the problem might just be you. 

Have you ever said, “I can’t believe…I thought that …I said that … I did that.”  In other words, you didn’t quite know your name. Tony Evans tells the story about a man talking to a woman after church one day, and as he did he thought, “This is the fouliest smelling woman I’ve ever encountered.”  As he stood there talking to her, the scent he said was about to knock him out.  Finally, he thought, “I’ve got to get away from this woman.”  So, making some excuse, he made a mad dash for his car.

But as he sat in the car, the scent was still with him.  He said, “Wow, that woman was really rank.  I am still smelling her, in my car.”  In fact, in the car it was worse than when he was talking to her in person. And so he said, “I’ve never experienced that kind of long lasting stink in my life!”

But after sitting there all that time thinking how stinking that woman was, he looked down at his shoes… somebody knows where I’m going… he looks down at his shoes and discovers he had stepped into some dog leftovers.  Do I need to make the point of the story: the problem might just be you.

Jacob is asked, “What is your name?”  V 28 God says, “I’m going to change your name.”  It’s a wonderful thing when God changes your name.  A while back I did a wedding in which the young lady was thrilled to change her name.  Before her name change she lived in an apartment, afterward she lived in a house.  Before her name change, she had to work two jobs to maintain; afterward she had to work only if she wanted too.  She said, “Change my name honey.  No hyphens needed with this girl.”  You see, for her, a change in names meant a change in situations.

And for Jacob the change of his name meant a new identity.  He was being made brand new.  I know you want your breakthrough, I know you want your situation to change, but…and this is #3…God NOT only wants to change your situation for you, God wants to change you for your situation.  He wants to transform you.  Israel means, “I have striven with God.”  It’s a new identity.  But look, it says striven with God and with men.  You have striven with God – that’s the spiritual realm, and with men that’s the physical realm and you have won both.  And both are essential. 

So many times we feel that striving with the human side of the problem is enough.  But every time we choose to strive on the human level, while at the same time, run from God, we are setting ourselves up for a re-test.  Why— because God loves us too much not to mold and shape and discipline us.

V 29 He didn’t answer the question, but He did leave behind the blessing.  So, the question is, what is the blessing?

From a teenager, Jacob wanted one thing:  He wanted the inheritance of his father Isaac so that the birthright would pass to him.  The problem is, that was a big blessing for a messed up man.  You see loved ones, and here is the final principle today: Principle #3 What God is going to do for you has already been determined, but He will not do it until you are ready for it.

The blessing was the official transference of the birthright that he sought, but this time, instead of deceit and human effort, he gets it from God.  You see, the things you get without God, you cannot enjoy.  You can have it, but you won’t enjoy it.  But when God gives it to you, no one else can have it.

We come to a close now: V30 You never know how God is going to show up.  That’s why the Bible says, “We entertain angels unawares.”  Because sometimes God shows up in strange ways.

Now, sometimes He shows up as God—you know it’s God, it’s nothing but God.  But sometimes, He shows up in a wrestling match. There’s a couple of lessons here: #1 Sometimes God shows up as your enemy, only to show you He is really your friend.  #2 That bad situation you’re in, it could be the greatest opportunity of your life…IF you wrestle till daybreak.

But if you quit too soon, you’ll never know if it was God; you’ll never know if it was God Who dislocated you….or got you fired….or Who is the One giving you a hard time.  In fact, we are fast to assign all our problems to the devil.  In other words, when we’re in trouble we tend to think it’s nothing but the devil, when in fact, you better strive long enough to make sure its not God.

And let me tell you dear ones, in the end and here’s lesson #3 it is nothing short of wonderful to know the One who was fighting against you, was also the One fighting for you.  Are you not sure of what I mean?  Isn’t it that way with our children?  Our children say, “Momma, Daddy, why do you make it so tough on me?”  “Because we love you.” “Why do I have to be in so early, when my friends stay out so late?  Why can’t I go to that movie, when all of my friends are there?”  “Get new friends, we love you.”  “Momma, Daddy, why are you always on my back?!”  “Because the one who is on your back the most, is the one who loves you the best.” That’s lesson 4 by the way.

Jacob was planning to have a conversation, give gifts to his brother, try and do whatever it took to manipulate the situation, just as he had with every other situation in the past.  But it was a conversation he never had to have, because when he strove with God long enough to let God change him, God took care of the rest.

There’s just one more point: V31 Now you and I, looking at Jacob, if we didn’t know anything about him, we might say, “Oh look at the poor man, I wonder if that could be fixed, maybe we could take a collection and get him a hip replacement.”

But if we turned the pulpit over to Jacob and said, “Jacob, tell us about your limp because people here at Apostles feel bad for you.”  Jacob would say, “Don’t feel bad for me!  This limp is the best thing that ever happened to me.  This limp means I met God.  This limp means God touched me!  This limp reminds me.  In fact every time I start to act like I don’t need God, I remember my limp.  And when I remember my limp, I remember I can do nothing without God.”

So loved ones, when God gives you your breakthrough, He may also give you a limp.  He is going to give you something to remind you that it’s not by might, it’s not by power, it’s by my Spirit says the Lord!

So every time you feel your limp you ought to praise God.  Every time you feel the pain of your limp you ought to glorify Him, because that limp means He loved you enough to dislocate you so you would never forget Him again.  Praise God for our limp here at Apostles, because it means God loves us.  Bless His Holy Name!!!

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