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The Broken Beautiful

By Andy McQuitty
In eLetter
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Last Sunday I talked about the IBC core value of creativity and defined it as “making it better and making it beautiful through making needed change.” I also talked about creativity in terms of courage. It takes courage to be creative since being creative requires change and change foments misunderstanding and creates hardship. I want to bore down on that hardship part because I want you to get that the resulting pain of brokenness is absolutely worth it because of its better and beautiful result in our lives!

Now let me be clear. I hate broken stuff. I hate it when the alternator quits on our van, because then we can’t drive it. I hate it when the hard drive crashes on my computer, because then we can’t boot it. I hate it when the compressor stops running on our AC unit (in August!), because then we can’t stand it!

I am so different from God, and so are you. We think we can't use things that are broken. But God prefers not to use things until they are. He uses broken soil to give crops; broken clouds to give rain; broken eggs to give life; broken cocoons to give flight; broken grain to give bread; broken bread to give strength. It was a broken alabaster box that gave fragrant perfume to anoint the Son of God; it was the broken Son that bought salvation for the people of God. He makes it better and beautiful through brokenness.

Yes, God prefers broken things. He also prefers broken people. God only used Moses when broken of his temper, David when broken of his lust, Paul when broken of his arrogance, Peter when broken of his independence, and Jacob when broken of his self-sufficiency. And guess what? For God to use us, he must first break us as well.

“Brokenness is a yielded heart open before God, a heart emptied of pride and self-sufficiency. In brokenness we discover ourselves again to be hungry and thirsty, poor and needy when we thought ourselves to be full and needing nothing but ourselves. Along with this awareness comes a rediscovery of God's love, mercy and forgiveness -- his affirmation of us, care for us, and claim upon us.”
—Roberta Hestenes

I love the Old Testament story of how God broke Jacob to make him better and beautiful. It was OK for God to break Jacob, because it is a broken Jacob that becomes a blessed Jacob. The story is in Genesis 32. Jacob is on his way home where he must face the wrath of his brother, Esau. The night before that encounter, God brought him to a place of isolation for a confrontation that produced desperation which resulted in transformation. Until now, Jacob had mostly gotten what he wanted, but now God gives him what he needed. Jacob had been singing "I Did It My Way." Now God is telling Jacob, "Time to do it My Way."

Talk about X-Files, this is one strange story! Jacob, camped on the “Wrestle River” (“Jabbok” literally means, wrestle), is about to reenter the land of Canaan according to God’s promise at Bethel. But the night before, God jumps him! Like Cato on Peter Sellers as the Pink Panther, God appears in human form and gets Jacob in the Von Eric death grip. The mysterious wrestler here is probably a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s how he can both be human in form and yet God in effect. But Jacob doesn’t know who it is, and he’s not going to take this lying down! He counters Christ with the Hulk Hogan Scissors hold, and all-night “Wrestlemania” begins.

Jacob is exhausted--wouldn’t you be if God had you pinned?! But he won’t quit, so Christ “lightly touches” him and “Bam!” dislocates Jake’s hip. Jacob suddenly catches on--this is no ordinary mugger. This is God! Incapacitated now, Jacob stops fighting God and implores his blessing. God gives it. One minute God cripples, the next he blesses. Is this weird, or what?

Or what. In this unique event, God is teaching us through a physical illustration how he deals with his people on a spiritual level. God had great plans for Jacob, but Jacob was unusable. He had erected barriers of pride and self-sufficiency that blocked God’s grace in his life. To be blessed, Jacob’s barriers would have to be broken. Could God have vaporized Jacob at any second during that night of horseplay? Of course. But like a dad who gently wrestles with his little boy, withholding his true power, he instead deigned to engage Jacob at the level of his weakness. Jacob’s wrestling match is a spiritual parable of how God works in our hearts today. Instead of vaporizing us for our sin, he gently wrestles us through the vicissitudes of life, breaking us so that he can bless us.

Here’s the deal: Jacob didn’t overcome by exercising his strength, but by recognizing his weakness. God blessed Jacob not because he was triumphant, but dependent. It wasn’t when Jacob fought God that he prevailed, but when he “wept and begged for his favor.” Let me tell you something about God: he refuses to yield to our strength, but he longs to be overcome by our repentance! He refuses to acquiesce to our autonomy, but he longs to respond to our submission. God relented and granted Jacob’s request not when Jacob fought, but when Jacob wept. Through distress and defeat, God brought Jacob to dependence, and through dependence, Jacob moved God to blessing. So. . .

“Has not ‘this man’ that wrestled with Jacob found you out? Have you not felt a holy discontent with yourself? Have you not felt that certain things, long cherished and loved, should be given up, though it should cost you blood? Have you not felt that you should yield your whole being to God, but there has been a rebellious uprising of self-will within you, as if it were impossible for you to make the surrender? Have you not felt in an agony, between the stirrings of God’s good Spirit on the one hand, and the preferences of your own choice on the others? Have you not felt as if some mighty power were wrestling with you, against you, and for your good? Surely these convulsive throes, these heaven-born strivings, these mysterious workings--are not of man, of the will of the flesh, but of God. It is God that worketh in you, and wrestleth with you. Glory be to Him for His tender patience, interest, and love!” (F.B. Meyer, Israel, p. 79).

My question for you (and me!) is this: where is your (my) strength? What in your life do you rely on so that you don’t have to rely on God? What is the source of your autonomy from Christ’s Lordship? Money, intelligence, competence, influence, skill? Be careful. God has a way with “light touches”! He may have to introduce some distress and defeat to lead you to dependence:

“Suffering reveals our creature status. We are not all-wise or infinite in strength. But God is. And we need Him--we were created to need Him. Desperately. Sometimes it takes coming to the end of ourselves to see that. . . We need to take everything we were, everything we are and everything we’ve ever hoped to be and simply place it all in the nail-scarred hands of our loving Lord. And lean hard upon His Word” (Chuck Swindoll, "For Those Who Hurt").

When God changed subsequently changed Jacob’s name after Wrestlemania Night, it was to reflect change in Jacob’s character. Jacob was now Israel. The Hebrew text here contains a great play on words. In the older versions, “Israel” is translated as “one who prevails with God,” but literally it means the opposite, “God who prevails with man.” Jacob didn’t struggle with God and won; God struggled with Jacob and won! So what does “Israel” mean? It truly has a double meaning: God is continually bringing his people to a place of surrender, but in that surrender, they are victorious. In losing, we win! Why does God take us to the mat? To initiate positive change. Alone, we’d never seek it!

“Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it” (Issac Newton, First Law of Motion).

Please note: God did not change Jacob so that he could love him. He loved Jacob in order to change him. And I'm so glad that God loves us today. With all of our weaknesses and with all of our faults, God sees something in us that he wants to make out of us. And so he just loves us. And he gets in the ring with us. Thank God for his infinite, marvelous patience. Thank God for wrestling!

In light of Jacob’s new found humility and dependence, God launched him into a life of fruitfulness. Through this blessing, the same God who changed Saul the persecutor into Paul the preacher and Simon the coward into Peter the courageous changed Jacob the cheat into Israel the champion. Through God’s blessing, limping Israel was far stronger than a lying Jacob could ever be.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (Hebr. 11:21)

Why was he leaning upon his staff? Because he'd been crippled. Everywhere he went he went with a crutch. And all of his life he worshiped leaning. Do you know what Jacob had learned? “Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, leaning on the everlasting arms.” It is better to limp through life leaning on God than to strut through life trusting in ourselves, because those who strut will eventually be brought down. The people God uses are those who limp across the finish line. Jacob worshiped leaning upon his staff. Have you learned to lean? It’s how you see God, it’s how blessing comes it’s how it gets better, it’s how it becomes beautiful!

Your leaning IBC Shepherd,

Pastor Andy

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