Editor’s Note: The following column is adapted from an excerpt from the author’s recent book titled “God Never Gives Up On You: What Jacob’s Story Teaches Us About Grace, Mercy, and God’s Relentless Love” (Thomas Nelson, September 12). In the book, the author shares a personal experience and reflection on his own wrestling with God.
About twenty years ago, when I was around fifty years old, I found myself in a situation where I felt like I was wrestling with God. It seems that many of us have experienced similar divine wrestling matches at some point in our lives. At that time, things appeared to be going well on the surface. Our brand-new church sanctuary was full to the brim with new members joining every week. There was little debt and no doubt that I, as the pastor, was doing exceptional work. Our church had even become a popular tourist attraction in San Antonio, with tour companies bringing visitors to our services. I had received recognition as “America’s Pastor” from a writer at Christianity Today and was labeled the “Best Preacher in America” by Reader’s Digest. Everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
However, behind the scenes, it was a different story. Our staff was struggling, and various departments were at odds with each other. Tension filled the air, and heated emails were being exchanged. As a result, a few valuable employees quietly resigned, leaving me to deal with the mess as the senior pastor. Unfortunately, I had little time to handle internal conflicts since I was constantly preoccupied with preparing lessons for Sundays, leading midweek prayer services, and teaching at early morning men’s gatherings. The deadlines were unrelenting, and I desperately needed time to think, pray, and study. As the pressure mounted, my health began to suffer. I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart condition characterized by an irregular heartbeat. Despite being prescribed medication and advised to slow down, I felt obligated to carry on because the staff depended on me, the pulpit required me, and the publisher expected results. It seemed like the world was constantly watching my every move.
In this whirlwind of chaos, I resorted to an unhealthy coping mechanism: alcohol. I would discreetly purchase a large can of beer from a convenience store, hide it in a sack, and carefully conceal it against my thigh as I hurriedly left the store. To avoid being seen, I would choose a store far away from where I lived. Sitting in my car alone, I would pull out the can from its hiding place and drink until it numbed the demands of the day.
This was the reality of how someone recognized as “America’s Pastor” dealt with the turmoil in his life. Life has a way of presenting us with inflection points – moments that shape and define our future. They are the crossroads that force us to make important decisions. We all encounter these points in our lives, just as Jacob did. For Jacob, his pivotal moment came at a place called Jabbok, where he engaged in a wrestling match with an angel and emerged with a permanent limp.
My Jabbok experience, on the other hand, occurred in a parking lot. In that moment, I confronted God and admitted that I was trying to control everything. I believed that I could handle the staff issues, the deadlines, the stress, and even the drinking. But something inside me knew that it was all too much. I recognized the need for a change, a new direction.
In the forthcoming paragraphs, I will share how this encounter with God taught me about grace, mercy, and His relentless love. I will explore the significance and parallels between my own wrestling match and Jacob’s, and how through it all, God never gives up on us. Stay tuned for more insights and lessons from this transformative experience.