Pastor Rick Warren of Southern California's Saddleback Church shared this weekend a message on life's struggles, focusing on believers' struggle with God. It was his fourth weekend since he returned to the pulpit about three months after he lost his 27-year-old son.
Life is a three-way struggle: we struggle with other people, we struggle with ourselves and we struggle with God, Warren said as he began the message titled, "Struggle: When Life Makes No Sense," part three of a series of sermons called, "Getting Through What You're Going Through."
Saddleback announced on April 6 that Warren's youngest son, Matthew Warren, had committed suicide after suffering from mental illness for years. Warren returned to the pulpit on July 28 with the new series.
Warren, author of the international bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, shared about shock and sorrow in part one and two of the sermon series, respectively.
We struggle with other people because every relationship is broken by sin, he told the congregation this weekend. Because nothing works perfectly, we have competition, conflict, misunderstandings and disappointments, he added.
Warren said Jacob in the Bible is a perfect example of struggle. His entire life was a struggle. He struggled with his brother Esau, he struggled with his two wives, his 12 sons and his in-laws among others.
But a bigger battle is not with others, but inside you, Warren said. "You struggle with your fears, you struggle with your flaws, you struggle with your temptations, you struggle with your insecurities, you struggle with guilt, you struggle with regret, resentment... weaknesses, compulsions, sins, addictions."
We find these struggles in Jacob, who was a very insecure person. "He struggled with manipulating other people, he struggled with his conscience constantly."
Paul in Romans talks about this kind of struggle, Warren said. Romans 7:15-23 states, "I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate... No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. I want to, but I can't...But there is a law at work within me that is at war with my mind."
Our real struggle is with God, the pastor said. There are two reasons for that. "We doubt His wisdom and... we want to be in control." When you doubt God's wisdom, you want to be God, because you think you know better than Him, he said.
"You know, growing up my kids… they've never doubted my love. They've always known that I loved them. But often they have doubted my wisdom... for a lot of you, you have this with your Heavenly Father."
We know God loves us, but sometimes we just doubt His wisdom, Warren said, adding we ask questions like why did He allow that, why did that happen, why did He say "no" to this, and so on. But Jacob, of all the people, demonstrates struggle with God. He actually had a wrestling match with God.
Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob, who had bought his birthright, Warren said, explaining incidents preceding Jacob's wrestling with God. Jacob ran away to another part of the country, and married his uncle's daughter, Rachael. Years later, God told Jacob to go back home with his whole family. On his way back, Jacob heard Esau was heading towards him with 400 armed men. Jacob was scared to death, but God had told him to go home. Jacob sent his family ahead of him and went to the Jabbok River, where he wrestled with God.
Jacob was running away from God his entire life, the pastor said. But God didn't want him to run anymore and wanted to solve the issue there and then. That night, Jacob met a man, who is clearly an angel representing God.
Genesis 32:23-30 says, "That night, a Man came and wrestled with him until daybreak. When the Man saw that he wasn't winning the struggle, he hit Jacob on the hip, and it was thrown out of joint. The Man said, 'Let me go; daylight is coming.' Jacob said, 'I won't let you go until you bless me.' The Man asked 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he replied. The man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled with God and with men, and you have won; so your name will be Israel.' Then God blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.'"
It is important to note that the man said he wasn't winning, Warren pointed out. God could have overcome Jacob easily and instantly, but He let his struggle go on and let him think he was winning.
"Very important lesson for you right here." God loves to wrestle with us. "Some of you are in struggle right now with God. God loves it. Why? Because the opposite of struggle is walking away from God... God would rather have you fighting Him than fleeing Him."
Wrestling is a face to face encounter, Warren said. Wrestling is the most intimate sport, it is all about who is in control. "Have you ever said, God I won't let You go unless You bless me?" he asked the congregation.
It is also important to admit our problem, the pastor said. We want to control everything and thereby cause confusion and make a mess.
Whenever God asks a question, He already knows the answer, Warren said. He wants you to know the answer. God wanted Jacob to admit he had a problem – Jacob means a manipulator, a deceiver. But after he admitted it, Jacob was given a new idea, a new name. Israel means, "struggles with God," and it also has a secondary meaning, "a prince with God."
"So God told him, you were a manipulator, but now you're going to be a prince. This whole struggle with God changes his identity." When you change the way you think about yourselves, it changes you. A change in life starts with perspective, Warren said.