In Genesis 32, there is a well-known story where Jacob is wrestling with a supernatural being. This passage gives us a blueprint of a life-changing experience with God.
In order for our lives to be truly changed by God, He will often do three things: God will get us alone, show us who we truly are, and He will do it in the valleys of our lives.
Up until this point Jacob has been dealing with God the way most of us deal with God. He's there when we're in a jam, He's there when we get sick or in trouble, but He really isn't in our life. In other words, our lives are not really being changed. However, Jacob was never the same after this encounter.
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We know that only when Jacob is in complete aloneness does he begin to have this encounter with God. It has been my experience as well as that of others that God seems to do the most work in our lives when we're isolated. For many reasons, when outside influences are removed, we tend to hear and see God more clearly. This was the case for Jacob and for most who have an encounter with God.
Secondly, once God gets us alone He has to show us who we truly are. For much of Jacob's life he gained advantage by being a con artist. Jacob got ahead by outsmarting people, and, because of it, his life did not turn out like he hoped. The incredible irony from this passage is that the Hebrew word for wrestle is "Jacob." So when looking at this passage from the original text it really reads "Jacob was left alone, and a man Jacobed with him till daybreak."
Up until this point Jacob always gained advantage over people by deceiving them, out smarting them, out-wrestling them. But not this time. God knows Jacob better than he knows himself. In other words, somebody is finally out-Jacobing Jacob. It's as if God is saying to Jacob, "You can't out-Jacob me, Jacob; I know who you are!" And this is a lesson for all of us: no matter what the world thinks of you, God knows you better than anyone else. What He desires for you is to be honest and to see yourself as you truly are, with all your strengths and weaknesses.
It's when we remove our facade and look to God for help that real change begins to take place. We no longer have to worry about living up to what we think the world wants. What matters is what God think of us.
Lastly and probably the most difficult thing is that God gets our attention when he knocks the blocks out from under us. Jacob really didn't hear God until his hip was physically devastated, his moment of greatest pain. It's when we're in the valleys of our lives that we either run from God and become bitter and cynical, or we act like Jacob and cling to God and ask him to stay with us during our moment of crisis. Perhaps through hard circumstances in life God has allowed you to limp. It's OK. Like Jacob, it is better to have a limp in life with God's blessing on you than to be healthy and outside of God's will.
These are the things he does to wrestle with us; these are the things he does to change us.