Once upon a time, I viewed the Christian life as a series of customized painful experiences divined to refine my character. Brokenness was the attitude of heart required to endure this gauntlet. Brokenness was my cross to bear. The ruggedness of the cross correlated directly with the foulness of my wicked heart. From this view, the intensity of my obstacle course suggested that, in my case, God was working on a higher order of wretch.

To cross the finish line, as I aspired to do, my brokenness required an exceptionally passive (even fatalistic) kind of acceptance of each new shoe that dropped. I could tell my story of cross-bearing with zeal, but unfortunately, not very joyfully. My future looked bleak. How could I clear the health, relationship, and financial hurdles before me?

Jacob faced some hurdles as well. He was about to meet Esau, a sibling he had swindled, who would likely kill him and plunder his belongings. Just before Jacob was to encounter his estranged brother and realize his tragic end, he was left alone at the ford of the Jabbok River. It was there he entered into a physical struggle with God that lasted until sunrise.

This scene fascinates me. Jacob, whose story is similar to our own, in that his future was also uncertain, was anything but passive or fatalistic. There was no way Jacob was going to waste this much energy without a benefit! Then God said, “Let me go. For the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

This reminds me of a scene from the movie Patton. Listen to the dialogue between Patton (played by George C. Scott) and his chief aid, William Meeks:

Patton: (moody, intensely introspective): I’ve always felt that I was destined for some great achievement. What I don’t know.

Aid: Yes, sir.
Patton: (musing, with great pathos): The last great opportunity of a lifetime—an entire world at war, and I’m left out of it?! (With greater passion) “God will not permit this to happen! (With violent resolve) “I will be allowed to fulfill my destiny!”(With reverence, as if this has now become a settled matter in heaven): “His will be done.”

Perhaps it was.

This scene fascinates me. It mirrors a season in my life when I was expending my final reserves in a prolonged struggle with God—a long, exhausting season when I was just trying to endure the obstacle course I believed that God had laid out before me. I can’t even explain why, but something very Patton-like rose up from within me, declaring, “I will not permit this season to pass without the specific blessing of understanding God’s heart.” As egocentric as this may sound, I believed, with a peculiar certainty, that I too had a great destiny; that the last great battle was before me and that it was my destiny to contribute. This new assertive tone was unfamiliar to my own spiritual ears. It was a contradiction to my passivity and fatalism.

 And God said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And God said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:27-28)

My experience, along with George Patton’s “Amen,” affirmed the idea that God approves of our steely resolve in realizing our identities and in fulfilling our destinies. I believe our identities and destinies are a big slice of our inheritance in Christ. I can hear the spirit of this in Paul’s words: “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ.”

If we will lean into our lives (wrestle, if you will) with the understanding that it is ultimately God with whom we are wrestling (Heb 4:13) and that in Him, we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28), we will eventually discover that all the give and take, all the pressures of life, from wherever they come, is a part of our prolonged struggle as well as our unprecedented opportunity. If we will persevere in working out our lives face-to-face with God, He is going to restore our identities, lead us into our destinies, and glorify His name in the process.

I don’t view brokenness in the same light I once did. It remains with me to a degree, just as Jacob’s limp remained with him—as a revised understanding of God, myself, and the cross. Brokenness, arising from the cross, changes a heart’s orientation to God from gauntlet supervisor to Father. And, while character reform is inevitable, it is not the primary point. His higher objective is simply to reveal His love to us in Jesus—our provision of abundant life.

Father, help us to see how enjoined to and inseparable from You our live are. May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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