I spent this past week in DC. Whenever I go somewhere, I always try to ask questions and get a “feel” for it. Of all the people I spoke to about DC, one of my friends captured well whatever everyone was saying:
“If you’re ambitious, you come here.”
Obviously, the government and government contracts form the epicenter of DC, but the theme beneath the theme is ambition. People trying to prove themselves, climb the ladder, and, in many cases, find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s way too simple, but still fair.
As I listened, it reminded me a lot of our medical culture here in Philly. Healthcare defines Philly like the government defines DC. There are some obvious differences, but for many (Christians included), medicine can be a way of validating yourself and making a lot of money (even if it’s not as lucrative as it used to be).
Politics and medicine, both legitimate in their proper place, can also serve as false pathways to “blessing”, pathways to meaning and value apart from God. Many times, our good and less noble motives can oddly co-exist alongside one another in ways that are subtle, but real.
As I’ve been processing this, I was reminded of the story where Jacob wrestles with God (Genesis 32:22-32). In many ways, Jacob’s entire life was about finding blessing – affirmation, validation, for who he was and what he did. Sadly, he never really received that from his father, who favored his older, tough-guy brother Esau (Genesis 25:27-28). He tried finding meaning in wealth (see 25:29-34; 27:27-29) and women (see 29:16-18), but that didn’t satisfy him. Ultimately, he needed something much bigger and more stable.
It’s similar for us. The things we tend to trust in can never fulfill us. Every relationship will eventually be disappointing, however wonderful it is. No matter how respected and proficient we become in our work, it will never be enough. Eventually, we’ll hurt patients we’re trying to help, and even the ones we heal will ultimately die. We need a better, more permanent “blessing.”
Jacob finally finds his the night before he was to meet his brother Esau after 20 years of separation. The last time they saw each other, Esau was (literally) ready to kill him for taking away the blessing of their father through trickery. This time, God pursues Jacob in the form of a man who wrestles with him (Gen. 32:24). They wrestle all night, but the match reaches a stalemate. Strangely, Jacob’s opponent merely touches Jacob’s hip, resulting in its dislocation (v. 25). At that point, the man asks Jacob to let him go, probably because the dawning day will reveal his face, which could be deadly for Jacob (see Exodus 33:20: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see me and live.”).
After his injury, though, Jacob senses this is no ordinary man. And so, faced with the prospect of God leaving him, he insists on the blessing he’s always needed. “I will not let you go until you bless me” (v. 26). He’d rather risk death than leave without a blessing.
This is the place God where God wants to bring each one of us. The place where we’ll want him so much that we’d rather die with him than live without him.
Often, he does this through confronting us through pain. Like Jacob, sometimes we need to ‘limp’, to have something stripped away, to “get it” in a deeper way. For our family, it was our son’s autism. Matthew is a daily reminder that we can’t solve our own problems, and that we need God to truly live.
Through this passage, God is inviting you, too, to take a look at your life. Is there something, or someone, you’re looking to for “blessing” more than him? How would you know anyway?
One of the ways you can tell is by identifying those places where you’re willing to take foolish risks. For Jacob, his father’s approval was so important that he was willing to risk Esau’s wrath for it, and almost died. Where are you taking risks that, on some level, you know are not worth it?
Another way to uncover the imitation blessings in your life is by looking at those areas where you’re spending resources that are disproportionate to what you’re getting. Jacob, for example, was willing to pay a bridal price for Rachel of seven years’ work, way higher than the typical prices of the time. She was too important to him. Where are you spending time or money in ways that don’t fit what you’re receiving in return?
We all have these things we’re looking to for the blessing only God can give. The good news is that God is committed to pursuing us and giving us his blessing. Although this process of renewal and blessing may hurt, it will leave us satisfied beyond belief.