Have you heard this quote, or one of its variations? Originally made by John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard church movement which has spread across 95 countries and involves over 2,000 congregations, it is an allusion to the story of Jacob in Genesis 32. And the statement carries much wisdom by underscoring how extreme hardship produces humility and an honorable approach to God.
To fill in the gaps of what you might remember, Jacob was about to return to his homeland where – 20 years earlier – he had deceived his brother Esau, stolen his dad’s blessing, and developed the habit of regularly manipulating people and situations to get his way. The night before he was to meet his brother again with a unpromising hope to reconcile and atone for his past behavior, Jacob spent the night alone near a stream after sending across all of his family and possessions. Here, “a man came and wrestled with him till daybreak.” Since Jacob could not be overpowered, the man purposefully displaces Jacob’s hip. Jacob then refuses to let go of the man unless he receives a blessing. The man obliges, blesses Jacob, and changes his name from Jacob to Israel – which means “one who has struggled with God.”
You’ll have to read the story again – as well as the subsequent chapters – to understand all of the nuances, but suffice it to say that Jacob’s wrestling match was the turning point in his life. Previously, he was self-reliant, a schemer and deceiver, and focused primarily on himself. Now, he walks with a limp and must live with a painful reminder that God can and will humble anyone who attempts to trust in their own strength, cunning, and swagger. This forced both a change of heart and a change in perspective. And those are the two things that God waits for. When they happen, He can now use the person for grand and glorious purposes.
Previously, Jacob was self-reliant, a schemer and deceiver, and focused primarily on himself. Now, he walks with a limp and must live with a painful reminder that God can and will humble anyone who attempts to trust in their own strength, cunning, and swagger.
Time and time again, I’ve seen that the best judge of a person’s character is whether they have been “broken.” Eventually, I think life breaks all of us – and we surrender to the fact that we can’t control everything, don’t have all that much figured out, and really are at the mercy of His will and providence. But a good number of people fight it tooth and nail, and continue to exalt themselves – their own abilities, personality, strengths, skills, money, position, you-name-it. Remember that scene from Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan lashes himself to the mast of their shrimping boat in the middle of Hurricane Carmen off the coast of Louisiana, and shakes his fist at God and the wind and the waves? He was determined to go down swinging. Lieutenant Dan wanted to die because even though circumstance had been cruel to him, they hadn’t caused him to permanently humble himself and turn over control to His Creator. When Dan did make his peace, however, the rest of God’s beautiful story for him could now unfold.
When Rachel and I had our first chat about what we were looking for in a possible partner, I remember saying that I wanted someone who was “broken by the cross” and “broken by life.” To me, that meant that they had sincerely felt the weight of what Jesus did for us, and had come to the end of themselves. I didn’t want someone who still thought everything depended on them, that if they worked hard enough and tried hard enough they could be the answer to all of the questions of life. I wanted someone who knew incontrovertibly that they weren’t the point, but that God was the point.
I didn’t want someone who still thought everything depended on them, that if they worked hard enough and tried hard enough they could be the answer to all of the questions of life. I wanted someone who knew incontrovertibly that they weren’t the point, but that God was the point.
Outside of Rachel, my experience is that those I let into in my life who haven’t been broken – who don’t walk with a limp – end up disrespecting or hurting me in some fashion. I keep those people at arm’s length. Those with whom I have rich, deep, intimate relationships are those who – like me – know that God ‘s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. They know their limitations and flaws, and that He is ultimately sovereign over our lives, whether we accept it or not.
If I ever go into business with someone, I will make sure they have a limp. If I ever get to choose a mentor for this next season of my life, I will need for them to have a limp. If I ever get to hire my boss, I hope they have a limp. And even though it’s a scary prayer, I will pray that my children are both broken by the cross and by life in a way that permanently humbles them. Just like Jacob. I’ll pray that God is gentle and merciful, but I also know it has to happen for them to fulfill the calling on their lives.
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