“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
WRESTLING WITH GOD
I met John at a book signing for my book Jesus & Co. He is the pastor of a small church in rural North Carolina. He would drift over to the table and look at my book and then wander away. After a few of these short visits, I sensed he wanted to say more, so I asked a few questions to draw his story out.
He told me about his current life as a pastor and believer. But he also revealed a deeper story. With his homespun drawl, John talked about the many nights when he had wrestled with God. He described it as a mighty fight. He had been prone to staying out late and drinking, and this affected his work and his family. But he persisted in following this river in his life, despite its damaging effect. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t feel he could change. He would try, only to slip back into what he perceived to be a place of comfort.
Then that moment came when he was stripped bare. He had lost his job and become completely alienated from his family. He had reached his tipping point, and his path had left him broken and alone. His comfortable habit of going out with the boys for long hours, which had affirmed his existence for years, had now left him no place but desolation.
Over the previous few months, he had been getting hints to change. Silently he had begun to question on occasion if he was on the right path. His discourse with God had begun, but there was still too much to let go of in his current life. He liked the familiar path, so he wrestled with God and resisted. Then the day came when it all came crashing in and he was in a spot where he was so low could only go up.
“Faith is the consistent choosing of the narrow gate. Many times, following the narrow gate presents itself as a short-term loss, and its benefit is only revealed through a long-term lens.”
At first, John began to read the Bible, and through this reading to set his course to a different path. Over time this extended to his seeking to get an education and to become a pastor. Both of which he accomplished.
I met him in a bookstore, with a devoted wife and a life he was proud of and wanted to share. I saw, within both him and his wife, a faithful love for God. By wrestling with God and losing, John had been healed.
He had been blind but now he saw, and what he saw was a future that only contained a life filled with Grace. He had been trapped, not because he was bad, but because he was following a path built on bad habits. A path that was familiar, even though it was destructive. He had given into his natural human tendencies to pursue this life in which he found satisfaction, even though it was only momentary. John wanted to do good, as most do, but he believed he wouldn’t find comfort anywhere else. The apostle Paul in the Book of Romans says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans [7:15]) Even the great apostle Paul struggled with this path and his own natural desires.
So, it is always with our faith. It is a struggle to avoid doing what we shouldn’t do, to turn away from the wrong path and toward the right path. For some this may be easy, but for most it is a hard lesson to learn, that many times the wrong path we choose only reveals itself at the end.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman