My Dear Shepherds,
Ever since I staggered through a sermon early in my career on Jacob wrestling with the man/angel/God in Genesis 32:24-32, I’ve been drawn to this mysterious, profound story. One of the vexing puzzles was this: The whole struggle came down to Jacob , “I will not let you go until you bless me,” so I’d expect to hear a blessing, but it seems like we never do.
This is not a one-off story. It is archetypal, repeated in the lives of all those blessed by God. In the upside-down world of his grace, God surrenders his blessing only to those whom he defeats. His blessing for Jacob and for us has three parts. We’ll take the first this week.
“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip,” crippling him. There’s the first blessing: the limp. Verse 32 says that ever after the Israelites were not to eat that tendon (sort of like the way we save the wishbone) so they would not forget the painful way God blesses his people.
Jacob’s dislocated hip reminds us that God will do what he must to bring us to our knees before him. This happens to every believer, perhaps not because of sin, but always to bless us. C. S. Lewis wrote, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Famously, it happened to Paul. He described his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Cor. 12:7-10 and how God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Ministry life, especially, comes with crippling times because, like Paul, we must not only experience the value of weakness for ourselves but become living evidence of God’s strength for those we shepherd. Our failures, inabilities, heartbreaks, sicknesses, griefs, even our besetting sins—all these “messengers of Satan,” whispering and wheedling their words of defeat—have been the hip-wrenching, merciful work of God to bring us low, to make our souls child-sized.
Every Christian biography, written, told, or only held silently in our hearts—every single one—has a chapter telling the story of the blessed limp. In his autobiography, Love Hunger, my friend and classmate, David Kyle Foster, wrote how after an amazing saving by Christ and a superb theological education, he could find no place to minister. He writes,
One night, I poured out my heart to God, telling Him that I could not take it anymore. Since He had placed this powerful call on my life, He needed to give it an outlet or just take me home. My heart was weighed down with heaviness, as if an elephant were sitting on it. I cried out, “Lord, I’m literally dying inside.” In His still, small voice, He gently replied, “That’s what’s supposed to be happening.” As soon as He said it, I knew that it was not only true—it was wonderfully true. As if I were looking in a mirror for the first time, I saw that I was full of myself—my ardor, my training, my need to be affirmed. Yes, I needed to die. Otherwise, my service for the Kingdom would be polluted with self rather than being a selfless overflowing of my love for Him.
Undoubtedly, some who read this right now groan over the wrenching pain God has inflicted upon you. You will never again walk without that God-given limp. None of us do. But that limp will be your boast and blessing when day breaks.
Be ye glad!