“Would you call yourself a ‘control freak?’”
A friend asked me this recently in a conversation. It caught me off guard.
My initial reaction was, “Of course not! Ha ha! Why would you even think of such a thing!”
Image via Pixabay
We had been talking about “control” in general, and a well-known Bible passage from Genesis 32:
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.”
In reading this passage last fall, it struck me that at the beginning, the text says that Jacob wrestled with “a man” throughout the night (v.24).
Somewhere throughout the encounter, Jacob realizes that it wasn’t a man at all – he was wrestling Almighty God Himself.
So he wants God to bless him, and refused to let Him go until He does – a beautiful picture of our own dependency on God. Do not let Him go!
It is a life-changing encounter for Jacob.
Up until this point, Jacob has always taken things into his own hands, attempting to advance his position in life through any means necessary, including manipulation and deception, if it would get him what he wants (see Gen 25.29-34; Gen 27; Gen 30.35-43).
But in this encounter with God, Jacob has a light-bulb moment: what he really needs is God’s blessing.
His own shady hard work and industry have prospered him to a point, but he now realizes that God is ultimately the one in control, and seeks Him instead.
Jacob limped after this encounter (v.31), affected both physically and spiritually from the experience. He was not the same again.
What was most fresh for me, however, was the idea that Jacob thought he was wrestling a man, who then turned out to be God.
God wrenched Jacob’s hip and brought him into realization and submission – Jacob finally acknowledged the God of his father, and acknowledged that He alone is the source of blessing.
God wrestled Jacob to this place.
It got me thinking – where have I been wrestling with something, mad at something, exhausting myself trying to overcome something, but it turned out I was wrestling with God all along?
Where has God been using the circumstances of my life to wrestle me to this same place of submission?
Where have I been thinking I was battling something, but in actuality the Lord was behind it all, bringing me to that place of peace and submission and trust in Him?
Jacob was a control freak, doing anything and everything (including sin) to make things happen in his life.
God wrestled him out of that thinking, and Jacob was never the same.
As I shared these things with my friend, I talked specifically about pastoring during COVID.
Without hashing it all up (we are all sick of talking about COVID!), I said that somewhere around Christmas of last year, I’d been forced to come face-to-face with my weaknesses and inadequacies when it came to this pandemic.
I can and should take measures, but I can’t stop this virus or totally protect my flock from it.
I can’t control whether the people I lead take measures seriously or not.
I can pray and influence, but there are severe limits to where I can affect a person’s decisions.
I don’t have very much weight with the government when raising concerns.
I don’t have any idea what ministry post-COVID will look like.
I don’t know if some of the wandering sheep will come back or are gone forever.
I can do my part, but obviously have very little impact on a pandemic or an economy or a government.
Scripture says my life itself is but a vapor, a mist that appears for a moment and then disappears (Jam 4.14).
I actually have control over very little in this life.
There are many things far beyond my reach.
But of course, that has always been the case.
And our hope comes from the fact that God is in control, and He is God, and we are not, and we can rest in the peace that comes from abiding in this truth (Ps 131.2)!
I feel like God has used this pandemic to wrestle me to this place of submission and peace.
I thought I was battling a virus/restrictions/angry people/government/church divisions, and those things were all real – but it turns out that I was wrestling with God all along.
God was using these things to force me to the ground.
Like Jacob, I have needed to take my hands off the wheel, acknowledge that my own efforts are not enough, and give up that sense of control, replacing it with seeking God and His blessing.
I “knew” these things before, but I have lived them out in a new way now.
So when my friend asked me if I was “control freak,” it still threw me. I tend to think of that person as one who tries to control others, and I don’t think that I do that.
But yes, in my humanness, I do want to be in control.
I do want to achieve things by my own efforts and industry.
I do want to feel like I am “on top” of things.
I do want to manage life on my own.
Praise the God of Jacob, who wrestles with us to bring us to a place of submission.
Praise the God who does this in order to bring us into communion with Him.
Praise the God of all control, the source of all blessings and all peace.
Praise the God over all.
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