Wrestling with God

I was meeting with a young person earlier this summer. And I shared my concerns for the lack of worship attendance among young people. When I asked him why his peers were absent from the church, his response shook me up. “Tim, it’s just not a thing anymore.”

I believe he speaks the truth from the perspective of his age demographic. How did we fail to teach or inspire our children to value what happens in worship? How did this “thing” that I hold so dear simply become “not a thing” among friends I hold so dear?

Let’s review. What is worship? The word “worship” is first recognized in England around 1300. The first syllable, “Wor” comes from the word “worth” and refers to that in which we hold value. What do we find significant, important and valuable? What do we revere? The second syllable “ship” comes from the same as the word “shape.” This means to provide form, structure or a pattern. Together, the two words refer to a process for organizing  ourselves around that which we hold dear. Worship is both a noun, something we attend, and a verb, something we do. I wonder, has worship become “not a thing” because we showed our children the noun but didn’t teach them the value of the verb? 

For this moment, I would like to offer my own little perspective on what happens in worship, both the noun and the verb. And I would like to use the story of Jacob to bring “shape” to that which I hold valuable: my active relationship with God.

Genesis 32:22-28 22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, 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 likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob 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 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Jacob has found himself alone and afraid in the wilderness and he struggled with God. Is Jacob in a physical battle with God or a prayerful battle? Certainly he struggled with guilt or shame over the way he has betrayed his brother and deceived his father. Certainly he wanted direction, guidance, protection and wisdom from God. Certainly he stayed up all night, wrestling with options and got up the next morning with a limp in his step over the encounter that changed the course of his journey. I have had similar experiences with God on many wrestful/restless nights.

I have taken this story and created my own little rosary. It is a beaded key chain which reminds me of the important things that happen in my own wrestling with God. This rosary guides my thinking, modifies my prayers, and brings “shape” to my worship of God.

W    white bead      Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

Right underneath my keyring, is a white bead. As my thumb passes over it, the white bead reminds me of the word “worship.” I begin my meditation by listing attributes I ascribe to God: Creator, Redeemer, Glorious, Awesome, Omnipotent, Everywhere, Amazing Grace, Omnipresent, Unrelenting love, etc. By naming who I think God is, something important happens. I put God on the throne and take myself off. This act of praise is not important because God has a low self-esteem and needs to hear my adoration. It is important because my ears need to hear me say it. This is not to be underestimated because I spend most every moment of my day putting myself on the throne making all of my life about me, my agenda, my wants, my desires, my hopes and my dreams. What happens when I put God on the throne and take myself off? I remind myself of who God is. I remind myself that God has a divine perspective which might be different than my human agenda.

W     white bead Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead           Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

As my thumb passes the second bead, red, I am reminded to “reveal” my humanness. I look in the mirror and confess that I may not have lived up to God’s expectations of me. Confession is not something I often do and when I do it I usually don’t do it well. Every month in the communion liturgy I confess in plural as a community. “We have not been an obedient church. We have rebelled against your love. We have not heard the cry of the needy. We have not done your will.” It is amazing to me that I can say those words and not fully grasp that I, Tim, have not been spiritually obedient. I have rebelled against God’s love and not chosen a loving gesture. I have ignored the cry of the needy. “God, forgive me. I confess my selfishness. I repeat my sin. I have held on to anger. I have used sarcasm and humor with a smile on my face to say something negative or belittling or hurtful. I have nursed resentment. I have justified my inaction regarding mission. God, I’m so sorry. This is not who I want to be.”

It is interesting to me is that my articulated confession is not something God needs to hear. God already knows my sin. God never left my side and has seen every bit of it. The truth is that I need to articulate it. Because unless I see it, unless I name my sin, until I’m aware of my weakness, I cannot grow. Confession, self-examination takes work. It takes vulnerability. It takes courage. It takes time.

Now is when the prayer gets interesting. When my thumb rubs over the white bead I worship who God is and proclaim God’s agenda. And then immediately after I rub my thumb over the red bead and I focus on my humanness, who I am and my agenda. And here is where the wrestling begins. My human agenda, my red bead, is in direct contrast with God’s purpose, my white bead. The more I grow, the more I learn about God, the more I am aware of the confusion between my agenda and God’s. The wrestling begins.

W     white bead     Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead         Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

E     clear bead       Erase, Forgiveness

For the next bead I chose a non-color, clear to represent “erase.” After every confession I receive absolution. After every moment of seeing my sin, after my apology, after my recognition of selfishness, after I name my sin, then I am ready for God to pour unfathomable grace upon me and I am cleansed. It is all erased. My sin is gone and I stand free of the burden. Through Jesus Christ and salvation on the cross I am released. I accept this amazing grace redundantly and repetitively and it humbles me and overwhelms me.

Now is an important moment. God can do something incredible in me. I stand in the midst of this forgiveness and I am compelled and inspired to offer forgiveness to others where I have withheld. And this wrestling continues between sin and forgiveness.

W     white bead      Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead          Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

E      clear bead       Erase, Forgiveness

S      sapphire bead  Supplication, Request

The next bead is sapphire, a beautiful blue and it represents supplication.  This is the moment of my request. This is when I express my desire. This is what I need from God. I do this well. I do this often. Sometimes, I think this is the only purpose of prayer; to make requests of God. Yet, the more I grow in my relationship with God, the more I understand God’s purpose for my life, the more it alters my informed supplication. Slowly, as I grow, I begin to understand that many of my requests are a direct result of my selfishness. Slowly, as I grow, I begin to make my requests more about what I perceive to be God’s purpose for my life than my purpose for having a God. And the beautiful wrestling continues.

W    white bead       Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead          Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

E      clear bead         Erase, Forgiveness

S      sapphire bead   Supplication, Request

T     turquoise            Thanksgiving

A turquoise bead is next on my rosary. This is a moment to count blessings and to be thankful. It’s not that God is somewhere thinking “I need people to be polite and say please and thank you.” I do not offer thanks so that God feels good about being God. I need to say it. Why? Because in the middle of counting blessings it is hard to be negative. In the midst of saying “thank you” it is nearly impossible to nurse anger. And this beautiful wresting continues as I replace my human agenda with divine perspective.

W    white bead       Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead          Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

E     clear bead        Erase, Forgiveness

S      sapphire bead   Supplication, Request

T     turquoise           Thanksgiving

My rosary has now completed the root word, “wrest.” It means to be in a struggling relationship, a tug-of-war, to spar. Like Jacob, after I wrest with God, I find myself changed, altered, and my journey continues with a different stride in my step. I am ready to rise and face my human challenges, my Esau(s.) And I finish out the word by putting a cross at the end of my rosary.

L     a cross               Love

E     a cross               Everyone

At this moment in my rosary prayer, I reflect on Jesus Christ and his loving sacrifice on the cross. And that depth of that love compels me to love everyone. I have received a gift from God and I want to share it with the world.

I offer my simple rosary, as a reflection on Jacob’s experience.

W    white bead       Worship – the noun and the verb, Who is God?

R     red bead          Reveal, Confess, Who am I?

E      clear bead         Erase, Forgiveness

S      sapphire bead  Supplication, Request

T      turquoise           Thanksgiving

L     a cross            Love

E     a cross              Everyone

I am tempted to write an example of my rosary prayer; however, I can’t offer a pastoral prayer example without a disclaimer.

There is power in a corporate prayer in which one individual articulates and others listen. It is a moment when I feel scripture comes alive. Matt 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” But for the most part, I feel folks zone out during prayers when they don’t choose the words. Heads bow and ears fall deaf until miraculously the word “amen” brings everyone back to consciousness. In my gut, practically speaking, corporate prayers are an observed ritual with little investment from the listener(s). So, I offer this Jacob prayer based on my rosary with this disclaimer, its ONLY MY prayer until those who read make it their prayer through active introspection. Whenever you hear, or read, a corporate prayer, it’s on you to engage and make it your own.

W    Great God, Lord of my life, you are the definition of love. Through your omnipotence you see way more than I can even understand. You sit on the throne of my life and I seek your divine perspective of me, my choices and my opportunities.

R     I reveal my humanness as I recognize that I have not been who I want to be as your child. I have allowed myself to rehearse negativity. I have scrutinized my wounds to justify my bitterness. I am so sorry.

E     I humbly kneel before you and recognize that you forgive even though I don’t really deserve it; because I keep returning to my disappointing actions. Yet, I acknowledge your grace as it flows over me, erases my past and absolves me of my sin.

S      This is my humble supplication. This is my plea. God, take the glasses off of my eyes that cause me to see only disappointment. These glasses seem to focus on regret from the past and hopeless for something different yet to come. Replace them with your vision that I might not live under their distortion.

T     Thank you God. I am so incredibly grateful for my family and the opportunities we enjoy. Thank you for blessing me with amazing relationships that bring value to my life and remind me of what is truly important, lasting and significant.

L     I stand in the presence of your love, manifest in Jesus. And the depth of Christ’s love consumes me and calls me to allow that love to pour through me.

E     It is my greatest desire that the love that comes from you will flow through me to everyone who encounters me today, that all will experience your grace in their interaction with me. Amen.

May this example, inspires your wrestling relationship with God as wrest with who you are and who God calls you to be.

 *     *      *      *      *

Allow me to remind you of my initial question when I was meeting with a young person earlier this summer. If worship is both a noun, something we attend, and a verb, something we do. I wonder, has worship become “not a thing” because we showed our children the noun but didn’t teach them the value of the verb?

This WRESTLE prayer helps me to take something I do, pray, and move it to the verb, pray. To me, this is true worship. This has the power to change my life. Have we failed to teach our young people this amazing gift?

*     *      *      *      *

(If you would like a kit to make this rosary for yourself, simply let me know and I will send you one. Then your thumb can pass over every bead and be reminded of your wrestling with God that can change your perspective and put a sacred limp in your step.

In the opening welcome and introduction to this website, I shared the Scripture that inspired this online adventure, I Tim 6:20. This text is also the origination of the name; “Sacred Chatter.” However, my intent is not to be a singular voice. I invite your voice to be a part of the “chat” and I base this on another of my favorite Scriptures: Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I am considering how I can provoke love and good deeds in places beyond where I live. This is my attempt to enter into a Hebrews 10 conversation with you over social media.digitally. Now, I am interested in your feedback. Consider what provoking you can provide with your own Sacred Chatter.

What’s important to you? What really matters?

Add your voice in Sacred Chatter.

Love is ours to provoke. Good deeds are ours to sew.

That the wisdom of Hebrews 10 may flourish and grow.

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they’re potential mediums for the Hebrews 10 plan.

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