“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1,2).”
My hip aches. This is because I have a chronic back problem that causes pain there occasionally.
Thus, on some level I can identify with the character Gregory House from the medical drama that bears his last name. He has chronic pain, also, but on a far worse scale than I do.
He underwent leg surgery to save his life years ago. It is the controlling factor in his life. As blog critic Barbara Barnett wrote recently, ” to House, everything goes back to the leg”.
Barnett tracks the cause and effect of his fateful surgery. His chronic pain has led to addiction to drugs, which led to being committed for a time to a mental health facility.
His inability to deal with the pain in his life has made him self-destructive. House has regularly made oor moral choices.
Where I can really identify with House is not so much in the realm of his phyical pain, but in the emotional hurts both life and he himself have inficted.
The other night I was fed up with the failures in my life, especially related to my living as a Christian, so I drove out to a park and tried to have it out with God. I recalled that the biblical character Jacob once did that, so I figured I might as well give it a try.
While sitting in that car, I did something I rarely do. I complained to Him and told Him what I thought of Him at the time.
I wasn’t very nice, frankly. I told God that He had not come through for me.
While in the midst of my complaining to the Lord, I decided to update myself on Jacob’s story. I recalled that Jacob’s life had been characterized by moral failings.
Specifically, he was a deceiver. A person who he harmed greatly was his brother Esau.
Jacob managed through his moving and shaking to take away his brother’s rights as the firstborn. Furthermore, he tricked his father Isaac in order to gain the oral spiritual blessings that would normally be reserved for his brother.
Partly as a result of Esau’s grudge against him, their father sent Jacob away to gain a wife from among his relatives. It was in this place that Jacob begin to encounter some rough circumstances.
Jacob ended up working as a shepherd for his uncle Laban, a job he really wasn’t suited for. His uncle Laban also ripped him off in negotations regarding marriage to one of his daughters, whom he loved, and in messing with his paycheck.
Finally, after many long years, Jacob’s chickens came home to roost. Returning to the land of his father Isaac, he learned that his brother Eaau was coming to meet him, and he didn’t expect a warm hug.
In great fear for the his life and the lives of his loved ones, Jacob got alone with God. It was at this time that Jacob had a wrestling match for the ages.
Here is the story from Genesis:
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
While I was out there in my car, I told God the same thing that Jacob did. I told Him I was not going to let Him go unless He blessed me. (I also threatened to flat out quit the Christian life, but I demurred since that didn’t seem to go with the spirit of what Jacob did.)
I asked God what the blessing was that Jacob sought and was granted. To my surprise, I believe God may have answered me on that question. I think God told me that the blessing Jacob received was the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.
(Back in the Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was not routinely present in the life of believers. He was given at special times.)
Since as a believer in Christ I knew I already had God’s Spirit within me, I wondered what this “blessing” would mean for me today. It is then that I decided to read Romans, chapters 7 and 8.
I read Romans 7 because I knew Paul describes there his own spiritual struggle, one I can identify with. Paul wrote,
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death (Romans 7:15, 21-24)?”
I knew Romans 8 discusses the Holy Spirit as a solution to this dilemma, which is why I read that chapter, also. It is here I found part of the reason why I have such problems in my spiritual life.
I DO have the Spirit of God, the blessing Jacob asked for, but I do not set my mind on what He desires. Instead, I spend a lot of time on what my human flesh desires (v. 5-8).
If I let the Spirit govern my mind, then I will do what is pleasing to God in my body. If I let my flesh govern my mind, I will live.
Conversely, if I let my flesh govern my life, I will die and my Christian life will not work. I will be seperated from God (v. 9-11).
Thus, I believe I have found the source of my dysfunctional Christian life and spiritual pain. More often than not, I have let my flesh rule me instead of God’s Spirit.
As far as my circumstances go, Romans 8 tells me that the frustrations I experience are due to the nature of the Fall. This is why I spend a lot of time groaning (v. 22-23).
However, all these painful events are in the final analyis arranged by God for my good. None of them can seperate me from His love and I can gain ultimate victory over them (v. 28-39).
Knowing God is present and loves me in my tough times may not make them any less frustrating and intense. However, it can have an effect in giving me peace and contentment in the midst of them.
Barbara Barnett wrote this in discussing Gregory House:
“Chronic pain changes you, I’m told. Everything becomes about that one thing that now rules your physical and emotional life.”
With House, everything was about the leg, and it has had adverse effects on him. His pain has come close to destroying him.
With Jacob, everything became about the hip, but that symbolic injury was a reminder of how God changed his life for the better. It was a remembrance of his wrestling match with God and the blessing given to him as a result.
At the end of the most recent episode, his best friend Wilson tells House, who has almost killed himself , “Something has got to change”. House replies,”I know”.
During my time struggling with God the other night, I was telling him that something had to change and He told me the same thing. Unlike House’s friend Wilson, though, God told me how those changes would come.
“I know, God. I know.” My hurting hip is a good reminder, as it was with Jacob.
Jacob wanted to know God’s name. I believe this was so He could praise Him.
God didn’t tell Jacob at that time, but he did give his wrestling match opponent a new name to honor the struggle in the ring.
I was given a name at birth. It means “honoring God”.
I don’t believe God has to give me a new name as a result of our combat at the park the other night. I just need to live up to the old one from now on.
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