Many years ago, I walked into our Dayroom for men. About 30 homeless men were seated, having conversations as they waited for job interviews, counseling appointments and various services. As I was walking through the room, Terrence, a homeless man of approximately 30 years old asked me:
“Barry, what do you hope we learn while we are here?”
I don’t think I had ever been asked that question before, or at least in such a manner. I remember thinking what a fantastic opportunity I had before me to say something profoundly wise. Should I say, “I hope you learn responsibility,” or “I hope you gain an understanding of how loved you are,” or “I hope you get a good job and are able to move out soon,” or “I hope you know that Jesus Christ died for your sins?”
Instead of trying to come up with something wise, I stopped, prayed silently and said, “Lord, what should I say?” Then a thought came unexpectedly to my mind. It really sounded strange to me, but by faith I went on to speak it out loud. I said, “The first thing I hope you learn before you leave the Topeka Rescue Mission is that He Is!” The full room of men were listening now and Terrence said, “What do you mean He Is?” I said, “I hope before you leave every one of you knows without a doubt that God does exist, that He truly is real, and that He shows Himself to you in some tangible, personal way.”
A few heads began to nod with understanding and I heard a few voices say, “Amen”. Terrence then asked, “Is there anything else you hope we learn?”
Before I could process another thought, I blurted out, “I hope you know it’s okay to wrestle with God!”
“Wrestle with God?” Terrence repeated. “What do you mean by that? How can we wrestle with God? Is that really okay to do?”
What came to mind at that point was a story out of the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, when a man named Jacob found himself in a very difficult spot. Jacob had been a shrewd businessman who had acquired great wealth, property and fame. The only problem was that he had a long history of being deceptive with others, even his own family. One day during a difficult breakup of business, Jacob found himself relocating his entire enterprise, property and family into the middle of nowhere, when he ran into a former business partner (his brother Esau) whom he had taken advantage of many years before. Basically, this former business partner was so angry that he vowed to destroy Jacob the next time he saw him. Jacob’s serious character flaws combined with poor decisions led to the potential demise of his business, property, reputation, family – even his life. Jacob was terrified and didn’t know where to turn.
Sometimes those that find themselves broken and homeless have at one time in their lives been successful in relationships, employment, reputation and so on. However, due to various circumstances and at times from their own doing, they have made poor choices resulting in devastating loss. Stability in their life began to dissolve and they started to lose their grip, eventually becoming homeless, hopeless, depressed and destitute.
While Jacob hadn’t lost everything, he had become fearful of his future and was now desperate for answers. One night while he was looking for answers to his dilemma, he met God face to face. (Genesis 32:22-32) At that moment Jacob came to the full realization that in fact “God Is!” Jacob’s years of deception and getting by on his own schemes and abilities were no longer sufficient. He was devoid of ideas and to make it all worse, he was now standing in front of the Holy God as a sinner without excuse or hope. Sometimes amid our failures we make things worse by running away toward poor decisions that just compound our problems. At times, we do this with alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, and even at times hurting others to make ourselves feel in control.
22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. – Genesis 32:22-32, NASB
However, this time – instead of manipulating others and running from his problems – Jacob began to face his failures and started to wrestle with God. God saw Jacob’s determination to do it God’s way instead of his own and allowed the wrestling match to go on all night. Jacob was so desperate for God in his life that he refused to let go of God, even when God tested his sincerity and told him to do so.
Finally, at daybreak, God demonstrated His power with a touch to Jacob’s hip, causing it to dislocate. Through the pain of being transformed from his old self into his God-given destiny, Jacob let go. God wasn’t upset with Jacob, but rather pleased with his perseverance and hunger for God to bless him. God not only blessed Jacob that night, but He would change his name to Israel, which means in Hebrew “Triumphant with God”, or “He who prevails with God.”
Though this deceiving and stubborn man once called Jacob (meaning “one who supplants, undermines, the heel, a deceiver”) God would change his name and identity and bring forth the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to transform the world forever.
I said to Terrence and the men in the room that day, “Yes. It’s not only okay to wrestle with God – it’s inevitable. Sometimes when we have tried our own ways over and over only to find that they do not work, and cry out to God through despair and resignation, it’s then He will meet us there and begin the process of remaking us in His image.”
Our struggle then begins anew, now wrestling with the Creator of the universe as He remakes us. Discovering that His way of doing business is not our way.
I went on to say, “Yes, it’s okay to wrestle with God, but know this – you will lose every time. But that’s okay too, because when we lose our wrestling match with the “He Is,” we actually win.
In this month’s report, we highlight the Education Services Division, one of the nine ministry divisions of TRM Ministries. Regardless if it’s through one of our thirteen-week employment readiness classes, the one or two-year Biblical studies programs, or the Dare to Dream Leadership initiative, we see God’s loving, patient hand at work. “He Is” loving and molding each of us, one person at a time into His image, even when we might feel like it’s a bit of a wrestling match. When we lose, we win!
Thank you for your prayers and ongoing support as we attempt to bring help, hope, comfort and education to the many who like you and me are being transformed into the beautiful image of “He Is!” †