A group of Christians sits around a fireplace in a spacious living room. They are “sharing” their testimonies,” talking about their own individual spiritual journeys. The bearded man talks about a drug addiction that eventually cost him his family and business. Hitting “rock bottom” he met Christ at a rescue mission. A quiet woman in a business suit tearfully tells of an abusive past, and how she seriously contemplated suicide. Then she met Christ through a college campus ministry. Her life has never been the same. An older gentleman relates how he picked up a Gideon Bible in his motel room one lonely night in the middle of an even lonelier sales trip.
Every spiritual journey is unique. How could it be otherwise? We are as different as snowflakes. And yet, every salvation story shares some common elements. Perhaps that’s why we can all relate to the well-known story of Jacob wrestling with God (Gen. 32).
Jacob was at a crisis point in his life. Years before he had tricked his older brother out of the family’s cherished birthright and blessing. Now Esau was coming to meet him – with four hundred men. Jacob feared the worst. So, he prayed. He panicked. He sent lavish gifts in an attempt to pacify Esau. But still, he worried.
Then, all alone in the middle of the night, Jacob encountered “a Man,” who wasn’t an ordinary man, but was divine (Gen. 32:24, 30). What happened exactly is unclear. The Scripture merely says that they “wrestled” (Gen. 32:24). The text gives us few specifics about this divine wrestling match – only enough to know that it was painful, agonizing, and arduous. The Man was unrelenting, and Jacob persevered. When it was over, Jacob, wounded and weary, was a changed man. He had been given a new name, and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Every step he took from that day forward, he was reminded of his life-changing encounter with God near the ford of Jabbok.
And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But [Jacob] said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” Genesis 32:26
Isn’t this the way salvation in either temporal or eternal matters comes to each of us? Typically, we struggle to fix things, only to fearfully discover that it is with God Himself we struggle. And the struggle is not about “things” but about yielding our will to God. At long last, we let go and cry out to God, “What do You really want from me?” The reply from God is a gentle, “I want only you.”
Even then, however, letting go is terrifying. We struggle, kick, and sometimes scream. Oftentimes in the process we end up with battle scars, perpetual reminders of the way we encountered God. But when we finally give our entire lives to God, we are changed by Him. We receive a new identity; we become children of God (John 1:12), new creations (2 Cor. 5:17).
Salvation is a free gift from God, but it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it comes with a demanding encounter with God. But encountering God has its reward – the blessing of a life touched by Him.