Allen Jackson - Wrestling With God - Part 1
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It's a privilege to be with you again. We're continuing our study on "Determined Faith". In this session, "Wrestling with God". You know, I hear people say, "Following God's easy. I just love to say yes to the Lord". I don't believe those are fully transparent explanations. For me, saying yes to the Lord at significant places have been the most challenging decisions of my life. I usually do it with fear and trembling, but I'm determined to say yes to the Lord and I want to give you permission to do that as well. You can trust God with your future. He will secure your future better than anything you and I can do. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all let's listen for the Lord's invitations.
We've been doing this series on "Determined Faith". In this session I want to talk to you about wrestling with God, wrestling with God; not wrestling with the devil, wrestling with your carnal self, or wrestling with sin. You can wrestle with all those things if you want to, but I would rather wrestle with God. But I want to start with Psalm 103. My devotional, I think it was 3 weeks ago. It may have been 4 weeks ago. I was just reading through the psalms and I came to Psalm 103. You know, from time to time it's as if you read a familiar passage of Scripture but it's as if a light comes on? Well, that particular morning the light came on on Psalm 103 and I have lived with it since then. I put those first few verses in my memory. If you're not in the habit of memorizing Scripture, you're missing something. Maintain the discipline of memorizing Scripture. It will help you.
I've been saying these verses over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again for weeks now. "Bless the Lord, O my soul". Read it with me. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's". Wow. I put my name by it over in the margin of my Bible and I said, "Lord, I want to tuck that in my heart for a while".
When I wake up in the night, those verses, I start out with them again. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me". It's a conditional promise. There's two conditions there. This really isn't part of my sermon time, this is just kind of a devotional. Can we do that? But there's two conditions you have to be, "Bless the Lord, O my soul". What's your soul? It's your mind, it's your will, and it's your emotions. I will choose to bless the Lord. I will focus my emotions on blessing the Lord. Not being angry at the Lord or disappointed in the Lord or frustrated with the Lord, I will bless the Lord. I'll put my mind to it. I'll turn my thoughts to it. I won't let my mind just wander aimlessly, or run off on some track, or get caught up in a worry loop, or get caught up on a to-do list. I will focus my thoughts. I will bless the Lord.
If I have to, I'll make a list of the good things he's done. If I watch the news or read the news, I will find the things for which I can bless the Lord. If the mayor of New York City said we need to pray in our schools, I will bless the Lord for that. I will bless the Lord. My soul will bless the Lord. Are you doing that? I'm going to give you some benefits in a minute, but you don't get the benefits unless you meet the condition. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me". I will give my whole self to it. I tell you one of the things that happened to me with COVID is somehow I got over pleading with people. I am happy to set the table, to tell the truth, to give people an invitation and now we got to choose.
Folks, it's grownup time. You decide what you're going to do with the Lord. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits". That's the other condition. You have to remember. You have to give time and thought. And if you've had more birthdays, remembering is, takes more focus. Those little people that run around here and stumble and fall and still bounce, their memories are like glue. The less you bounce, the less you remember. But I will not forget the benefits. I like telling the story of what God has done in our church. I like being reminded how he began with a Bible study and a handful of people and the limit of our faith was to play a cassette tape and listen to a message and then pray for one another and go home.
I remember when the limit of our imagination was a tent and a few dozen people in the tent and worshiping the Lord. I remember when we thought carpet in the sanctuary meant we were finished. We could like mail it in. We'd done all God had to do for us. I will not forget the benefits of serving the Lord. I will recount them and tell the stories. I'm grateful for the goodness of God. He's been good to us. We live in a nation where you can plant a church, where you can share the gospel, where you can purchase a Bible or broadcast a gospel message. Do you know how many places in the world those things aren't possible? I will not forget the benefits the Lord has made available to us. We have transportation available to us. We can get in our cars and go and come, and food to eat, and our children have schools and medicine. We are blessed. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me".
I will not forget his benefits. We're grumpy and complaining and whiny, but we're changing. And then he gives us seven benefits, and this is an amazing list. This is a transformational list. He forgives all our iniquity. It's not that we don't have iniquity. He forgives it all. He heals all of our diseases. Please don't have more faith in medical science than you do with God who heals. I believe in doctors, in medicine, in science. I'm all for that. If I weren't doing this, I'd be doing that. But there's a power greater than science. For all the cries to follow the science, I have a greater one. Follow the Spirit. He redeems our life from the pit. We could all give testimony to that. We have all driven our lives into the pit and he redeemed us. He bought us out of the pit, and the price was his blood. He crowns us with steadfast love, a crown of the love of God.
"That one's mine. That one belongs to me," he says. Then he crowns us with mercy. Mercy means we didn't deserve it, we didn't earn it, we didn't qualify for it. He loves us because of his character, not because of ours. Why would God use you? Because he's that kind of God. He's such a bizarre God he'd even use you, and I'm the evidence of that. Then he said he satisfies me with good. You have to think about that a little bit. The overwhelming majority of the people don't believe doing what is good will satisfy them. They think it would be more satisfying to do what is wrong, to do what is evil, to do what is immoral. They think greed would be more satisfying than sacrifice. They think immorality would be more satisfying than purity. They think getting would be more satisfying than giving. But God helps us understand we can be satisfied with good. We can be satisfied with humility and not pride. And then he says he renews our youth like the eagle's.
If you're young, that doesn't matter to you yet. Hang on. God renews our youth. He doesn't give it to us to do it over again, he gives us the strength to finish our days. Now, that's an amazing promise. God created you for a purpose. Don't get caught up in your age or your life stage. I think we spend way too much time talking about the differences in the generations. I've lived long enough. It feels like to me the rhetoric is pretty similar. Every generation rolls in and announces that they are unique on the face of the earth and their parents and their grandparents will go, "Absolutely". But it seems to me most of our generational differences tend to melt as we collect years. Amen or oh me.
Now I give that to you as a devotional, but psalm, that's a beautiful psalm to put in your memory. And if you're walking through a stressful season or you have some challenges, let it become a proclamation that comes out of your mouth. I'd say it morning, noon, and night. I would say it through the night. I would say it until it became so settled in me that I was more confident of that than I was whatever the threat is before me. Maybe it's because my job it helps, people call when they're threatened. I had a dear friend call this week with a tumor on their optic nerve, and there's just not a simple resolution. And I've been thinking about my friend going, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me. He heals all our diseases". It's good to know.
Now, I'll take the balance of our time. I want to walk through this little notion of wrestling with God. I'll tell you why I think it matters. Part of it is the season we're in as a church. We're in a season of decision. It's a season. It's going to pass pretty quickly. I understand 'cause I lived with it a bit before you did. I lived with it before it was a public part of our discussion, but it's also a part of what's happening in the broader world around us. You know, as a congregation we're taking a few days, a few weeks to make some choices that will determine our future, but it's really a response to something broader than that. We've acknowledged a changing world, a need for a more determined faith. The way we practiced our faith a decade ago is not adequate today. It just isn't.
The world has changed. They weren't mutilating our children a decade ago with the brazenness they are today. They weren't filling our public school libraries with pornography a decade ago like they are today. They weren't defending the indefensible a decade ago like they are today. That's just true. The spiritual conflict around us has broken into the open to such a magnitude that it's unsettling. It's just awkward you want to look away. You'd rather not be bothered with being reminded. There's been a desperate attempt to cling to patterns from the past which brought us all comfort. Maybe if we don't notice and we don't talk about it, maybe if we just do the familiar things the way we've always done them maybe things will go back to zero. I don't believe they will. All about us are expressions of denial, attempts at distraction. Maybe we can remodel, or maybe we can travel some more, or maybe let's just do something.
Let's not pay attention. The desire to deny any real threat is as great as I've ever seen it. Our reality is a new horizon. You see, I believe when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Lord will raise up a standard against him. So I think what we have before us is a new opportunity, a new invitation. The most relevant question isn't about the depravity of the wicked or the depth of the darkness, it's about our choices. Are we going to embrace a determined faith and say yes to the Lord? And that's not about sanctuary of Scripture, folks. That's about the fundamental choices of our lives, what we're going to do with our time and our energy and our thoughts.
Look in Colossians chapter 4. I've been reading ahead a little bit. I came across this the other day. Do you do the daily Bible-reading with us? If you're not doing the daily Bible-reading, you're backing up. You don't have to use our plan, but you need a systematic, intentional, purposeful reading of the Bible. The benefit of doing it together in community is it's easy to talk about, it's easier to share. You're on kind of a common journey. There's a value in that. But in Colossians chapter 4 Paul's writing to a church, but he's commenting on one of the people that is from their fellowship: Epaphras. And he says, "Which is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus sends his greeting. He's always wrestling in prayer for you".
That is an unusual choice of words. I've spent much of my adult life amongst the Christians and we don't think of prayer as a wrestling event. We will wrestle with evil, but we don't think of wrestling in prayer. There's no form of athletic competition that is more all-encompassing than wrestling. There's just nothing that compares with it. So when you talk about wrestling in prayer, you're talking about a full-contact sport. Wrestling is done in brief little minutes. They don't have wrestling matches that last hours. You don't have the physical strength or endurance to survive it. And Epaphras, Paul says, is wrestling in prayer for you and the purpose is that you might stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I don't believe any one of us will be able to stand firm fully experiencing the will of God unless someone has wrestled in prayer for us.
So I have a question for you. How often do you wrestle in prayer on behalf of someone? I can tell you without question one of the greatest components of the story of our congregation and our community of faith is the people who so faithfully pray. For more than 17 years they didn't miss a single morning. They were on campus at 6:30 in the morning 7 days a week, 365 days a year praying for us. There's still people here praying 7 days a week. We got to learn more about prayer. We've begun, I feel like we've just begun to kind of open the book on prayer. We're going to go back to work on that in the next few months. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 and verse 27, Paul's writing to the church in Corinth and he's describing his relationship with them. He's describing what it means to serve the Lord.
If I ask you to describe your journey in serving the Lord, most of us would do it in terms of the church we attend, perhaps classes we've taught or attended, ways we have volunteered. Listen to Paul's, and this is, some of you know the passage. This is just the brief conclusion of it. He said, "I've labored and toiled. I've often gone without sleep. I've known hunger and thirst". This is all in the context of his faith of serving the Lord. "I've often gone without food. I've been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Not just a church, not just my congregation, not just for the people with whom I worship," he said, "on a daily basis I face the pressure of a concern for the churches".
See, I believe one of the things we should have is a concern for the church in the earth. We're too competitive. We have too much selfish ambition. We're too determined to be right. We argue too much about secondary things. We won't even stand together. We'll divide one another over things that, listen, here's the general rule I would submit to you, that if we can disagree on a point and still both go to heaven you better join hands in fellowship. We've got to get over this. We're too divided, we're going to lose something. "I press, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches".
Romans chapter 9, this is Paul again. This time he's talking about the Jewish people, his own people. Prior to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was a Pharisee, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His own self-awareness was he said with regard to legalistic righteousness, with regard to keeping the rules he said, "I was faultless. I was the best rule keeper of all the rule keepers". And then he met Jesus and he said, "I consider all of that as if it were dung, refuse compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".
You see, Jesus has to make it to the place in our self-awareness, in our own personal estimation that everything else that could describe us, that would promote us, that we would put on our resume is secondary to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. I know we're in church and the answer is Jesus, but that takes maturity to get there. You have to wrestle with that. You'll have to take points of your pride and points of your self-promotion and you'll have to pin them to the mat in order to let Jesus rise above them. That takes constant attention. It takes a determination. I want to be known as a person who is yielded to the authority of Jesus first and foremost. I want to be willing to follow him recklessly, boldly, with determination.
The Lord says of King David in the Book of Acts, "He would do anything I ask him to do". I would like to become that person. Wouldn't you like for the Lord to say that, "He'd do anything I ask him to do"? Can you imagine? I mean, I have to argue about it and I have to say, "Well, you need to explain that to me. Why would you want me to do that? Have I told you what I think you should be doing? I have some thoughts on how you could fix this problem. I'm a little unhappy with the way you're processing things. I mean, I know you created the heaven and the earth and I know you know the beginning and the end and you know what's hidden in darkness, but with all due respect your timeline is messed up". Right? "I mean, I know you got a lot to look over, billions of people, lots of languages. I could help you. If you just focus with me for a minute, I could point some things out".
We don't always say it to the Lord, but I think we carry it on the inside of us. And we've got to take those things and say, "No, I will not. I will yield to the Lord. I'm going to wrestle that part of my carnal nature to the ground. I'm not going to give it the ascendancy". I was listening to a little brief clip from a basketball coach talking to his team, and he had the freshman in and he said, "I don't want to hear you're tired". He said, "I'd rather just say you're a quitter". He said, "You choose. You choose". And I'm thinking how often with the Lord do we go, "I don't want to"?
Romans 9, I got to do this. We got more to cover. Paul's talking about the Jewish people, and he said, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart". I believe him. I don't think they're empty words. He said, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my hearts". To the Corinthians he said, "I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches". He wrote to the Colossians and he said, "Epaphras wrestles daily in prayer for you". He's walking us down a pathway that does not sound like the contemporary discussion of our faith. "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off for Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race". That's an intercessory statement. That's wrestling with God. "God, if I could forfeit my standing and see this broad group of people gain status, I want to negotiate".
I think we come with far more criticism and more condemnation. Listen to the appreciation he has for the people. They're the people that are destroying the churches he's planted. The Judaizers are coming behind him in all of these cities with these fledgling churches and they're trying to convince him to stop believing in the gift of Jesus and to come back under legalism. He calls them mutilators of the flesh, but listen to the compassion he has for the people of Israel. "Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised". He said, "We are indebted to them, and I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. I would take the curse if it would bring open to them the kingdom".
If you're watching the world around us and you're not grieving for the spiritual condition of our generation, you're not paying careful enough attention. We are watching a tug of war between good and evil and we have a role to play. Let's pray:
Father, give us the discernment to recognize what you're doing and the courage and the boldness to stand for the truth. Forgive us for our ambivalence. We choose you with our whole hearts. In Jesus's name, amen.