Not every encounter with God is pleasurable. Sometimes we have a romanticized view of fellowship with God. But the famous story of Jacob wrestling with God offers us a more nuanced perspective. Sometimes God doesn’t come to us in order to encourage us, but to pick a fight with us.

Jacob has been a conman. He’s deceived his father and brother which has led to his alienation from his family. God has commanded Jacob to return home. But before he arrives, Jacob spends the night in an hours long duel with some “thug.” 

I don’t know how long it took before Jacob realized he had been ambushed by God, but once he does, the “man” lightly touches Jacob’s hip and the match is over. It’s within this context Jacob’s name is changed to ‘Israel.’ Why?

A name change signifies more than a change in title. It signifies a change of identity. Something happened in Jacob’s heart. He goes from conman to reconciler. God ambushed Jacob and made him endure a stressful and painful fight in order to reform him. 

God wants to transform your life too. Where you are now isn’t where God wants you to stay. But in order to bring about the kind of transformation God wants, sometimes he’ll ambush you. Sometimes God comes to you not to comfort you, but to disturb you, ruffle your feathers, bring pain into your life. He’s not doing it to destroy you. He’s doing it to change you. So where’s the encouragement?

There was someone else who fought with God, but instead of walking away with a sprained hip, was completely destroyed. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God against sin. Why? So we wouldn’t have to. Jesus endured the fight of all fights so all we have to contend with are the ‘sprains’ of God’s transformational discipline. The next time God picks a fight with you remember, he’s not out to get you. Jesus took care of that for us. He’s out to change you.

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