There I was on the floor again in tears; the same problem with a new person to blame that was most definitely NOT myself. These familiar moments of desperate prayer were often experienced, not because I loved to pray, but because I had usually already tried everything else.
Typically the prayers would consist of me as the victim of some “unfair” situation that had resulted due to my own lack of wisdom, independence or foolish choices. Many people had been hurt by my reckless decision-making and refusal to truly submit my life to Jesus. Don’t get me wrong I had “Christian culture” down to a science and I genuinely believed that Jesus was real. I went to church about 5 times a week and led church teams. I cried on cue to whatever the worship song of the month was and I could tell you all about God’s purpose for my life. I would actually even give large financial offerings of money that I didn’t have on credit card because you know, we need to “build the kingdom” and everything.
Get ready: I even did three years of Bible college that taught me all about how to understand scripture… which did little more than gave me more ways to wrap theology around my sinful life and lack of repentance. The Bible can say whatever we want it to when we choose to manipulate it for our own purposes. I didn’t want God’s Word to bring conviction, so I used it to justify things in my life instead. Yikes! And God, in His grace, would still speak to me through all this, but I would brush it off as “just me” as His voice grew fainter and fainter until I couldn’t really hear much of anything. The Bible paired with the Holy Spirit will always bring life and truth to the humble heart… but I wasn’t looking to be taught. I was looking for proof to do what I wanted. There’s a very dangerous difference between the two motives.
Back to my story, [also insert eye roll at the shocking hypocrisy of my life]. A week prior to all this I was studying the life of Jacob for a theological exegesis.
Jacob was born second, gripping the heel of his brother Esau so he was named Jacob, meaning “deceiver, liar, manipulator”. To be born second was not good news because the birthright and inheritance was always given to the firstborn son. Jacob ends up manipulating his brother to sell him the birthright and deceiving his father Isaac into also taking Esau’s blessing. To keep his brother from killing him, Jacob goes to stay with his uncle in Paddan Aram, where he gets a taste of his own medicine (read the story in Genesis 27-29). Around 14 years later Jacob is about to return to Canaan. He knows there is a very real chance that his brother will try to kill him… it’s understandable. Jacob finds himself alone:
“But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint. The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.” Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.” The man said, “What’s your name?” He answered, “Jacob.”The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?” The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him. Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”
Genesis 32:24-30 MSG
Jacob’s encounter is biblically considered a Christophany, meaning a pre-incarnate encounter with Christ. As Jacob wrestles for this blessing he won’t submit himself in the struggle. In fact, he has to experience pain before he will yield. God’s reply to Jacob’s request is a strange one at first read. It’s fair to say that God knew his name. And still God asks, “What’s your name” to which Jacob responds, “deceiver, liar, manipulator”. Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. “Hey Jacob, I know who you are but let’s see if you know who you are. Then notice what God does: He changes his name to Israel, meaning “Prince with God”. In Jewish culture your name WAS your identity, the declaration over your life. It wasn’t until Jacob could recognize who he was that he could become something new. Anytime God changes someone’s name in the Bible it’s a big deal. It’s a change of identity, a new assignment. Jacob goes from being a manipulator to a prince with God. Sound familiar?
This is a picture of repentance. There is no way into the Kingdom of God without it.
We come to Jesus and we decide if we will yield to His Lordship. When we ask for all His “stuff” he responds by asking us to identify ourselves. When we humbly acknowledge who we are, He exchanges our sin for Sonship and purpose.
So there I was on the floor again in tears; the same problem with a new person to blame. God said one sentence to me that instantly broke every bit of deception and pride that I had: “What’s your name?” Suddenly, I saw myself and I yielded to the struggle. I, like Jacob, chose the painful path to humility, but at least I got there. Finally I could stop pretending, blaming and justifying. And He met me in my honest repentance and my lack of knowing how to “fix it”. I oddly experienced hope as I felt the most broken and vulnerable that I had ever allowed myself to be. I was no longer comfortable with playing the Christian game. The conviction of the Holy Spirit combed through my life as I submitted to Jesus. Suddenly, I actually hated sin, where before it had luring appeal. Once I recognized my own sin, I was able to become something completely different in His exchange. In all this brokenness I was still lovable, but more than that, He didn’t leave me broken. He began to heal me and gave me a new purpose. Everything I needed was on the other side of one honest answer to a loving Savior who was waiting to rush in the moment I chose to yield.