The question of guidance is one that I suspect we all wrestle with. What does God want me to do with my life? What should I do with this decision or that one? What is the right way to go in a specific area of my life?
When I think about guidance I often return to the story of Jacob and his overnight encounter with an angel. In Genesis 32 Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau. It’s fair to say that the two brother’s relationship was complicated and Jacob feared that Esau might cause him harm. During the night before this encounter, Jacob went ahead alone and wrestled with ‘a man’ throughout the night. Later in story Jacob recognises that he ‘saw God face to face’ through this person, whether an angel or something much deeper in the nature of God.
Despite these deep theological conundrums, the story is a very human one. Jacob, sensing God’s presence, holds tightly onto the man and says:
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)
It seems to me that this encounter demonstrates the heart of our desire for guidance. It is a struggle, wrestling with the right thing to do or the right way to go, just as Jacob wrestled with the angel. It’s also true that a lot of this wrestling occurs at night and results in a lack of sleep before an important event!
Guidance is also connected with blessing. In wrestling with the right decision to take, what we are asking is: what is the way of blessing? What is the decision that honours God, builds his kingdom, loves others and helps us grow closer to Jesus? In other words, how can this decision best bring blessing? As we wrestle with guidance, we are like Jacob wrestling with God. In our case our wrestling is usually in prayer but we are grasping hold of God and asking the same thing: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
God does bless Jacob and his encounter with Esau the next day goes much better than he could ever have imagined. But Jacob is not left unchanged by the wrestling. First of all, his name is changed – from Jacob to Israel, which means ‘he struggles with God.’ But also his walk is changed and he is left with a limp from the encounter with the angel.
As we wrestle with God for guidance, it strikes me that we are changed by it too. As we seek the Lord and his direction, and as we think and pray over the difficult decisions, we emerge different people. We have sought out what honours God and brings blessing and our thinking, our attitude, our direction has changed.
From that day on, Jacob walked differently. His limp showed that he has sought God and been changed by it. No doubt his limp reminded him daily of the path of blessing and the person who brings that blessing.
We too are changed by our wrestling with guidance. We may not have a physical limp, but our walk is different. We live different, act different, think different for seeking out the Lord. When we seek guidance we seek blessing but we also seek change. We can never grasp hold of God and ask him to bless us without being transformed. Guidance means we will never be the same.