not yet, not, message-1426593.jpg

Not Until You Bless Me!

Genesis 32:22-31;   John 16:31-33


Today I’d like to talk about Mr. Jacob, one of giants of the Old Testament, someone who, I’m sure, must have inspired Jesus more than once. A true giant, for Jacob never stopped struggling. As a matter of fact, Jacob was born struggling. Even in his mother’s womb he struggled with his twin brother, Esau, and when they were born, Jacob was grabbing his brother’s heel.

That’s why he was named Jacob, “the grabber.” Jacob grabbed what he wanted as a young man, stealing his brother’s birthright and the family blessing that come along with it. And when his brother Esau felt cheated, he was so upset, he even tried to kill Jacob, so Jacob had to run for his life.

He fled Canaan, a large and prosperous ancient state covering much of what today is Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. And moved north, far away, to live with his relative Laban.


Here the story gets a little complicated, for Jacob fell in love with the beautiful Rachel. But he had to struggle with her father, Laban, to marry her. Laban let Jacob believe that he could have Rachel in marriage in exchange for seven years’ work, but on the wedding night he tricked Jacob by giving him Rachel’s sister, Leah –no Rachel, just Leah. Poor Jacob – now he was the one being cheated. And he had to work another seven years to secure Rachel.


Time went by, and after a good number of years Jacob was anxious to return home to Canaan, but Laban tricked him again, delaying his departure for several years. Yet Jacob did not give up – he kept struggling until he finally set off for Canaan with his family and servants.

Now a free and very wealthy man, he headed back home. But once again he began to worry about his brother Esau, whom he had cheated so badly. Just on the outskirts of his brother’s land, Jacob camped for the night. What a dilemma!

He could not return to Laban’s land, but he risked his life by going home, where Esau was waiting for him. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Jacob felt he needed to be left alone to face his fears, so he sent his family and his servants ahead.

But something truly weird happened to Jacob that night while he was alone in the wilderness. A mysterious visitor stopped by, and that night Jacob literally struggled with the visitor! Near sunrise, before leaving that place, the visitor struck Jacob on his hip, and he changed his name too! From that night on, Mr. Jacob would be Mr. Israel.


Jacob’s struggle with the anonymous visitor was no less than a very close, dramatic encounter with God himself. God had recognized Jacob’s undeniable skills and courage, his self-confidence and his resilience — God always needs that kind of people to help unfold his plans.

Now, was Jacob ready to be a new person, no longer a cheater, no longer so prone to cut corners? Was he willing, and ready, to be as transparent and obedient as God expects us to be? Yes, he was now ready – and he was blessed. Friends, despite his failures, I still admire Jacob, for even though he was a cheater and a grabber, he stayed in the struggle.

To struggle with God, to hold on to God and not let go until his blessing is secured, well, that certainly speaks volumes about Jacob’s spiritual conversion. It is not easy for me to stay in the struggle, let alone to be as determined as Jacob to grab God by the heel, or the elbow, or even the ponytail, until I can secure God’s blessing!


This story of struggle and blessings reminds me of Jesus’s many personal struggles and of Jesus’ attitude and response to the struggle. Never give up, never despair, trust with all your heart and all your mind on what God can do for you and with you regardless of your personal failures.

This story also reminds me of the many struggles Jesus’s disciples had to face when they suddenly found themselves without their leader and friend, not knowing where to go, what to do next. Yet they were always emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit who every day stopped by to give them all the strength they needed. Both Jacob, and Jesus, and many others to this day came out of the struggle a new person, for they learned to grab God by the heel and not let him go until they knew for sure that God’s blessing was also with them.


“I will not let you go unless and until you bless me,” a defiant Jacob said to the night visitor. So impressed was the visitor by Jacob’s faith that before leaving the scene at sunrise he gave Jacob a new name, one that expressed so vividly Jacob’s struggle. “You have struggled with God, and many others, and have prevailed,” such is the meaning of the name Israel.

That morning Jacob named the place where they had struggled Peniel, which means “face of God,” saying, “It was in this place that I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been preserved.” Changed forever, now Jacob was able to come to terms with his own sinfulness and make peace with his brother Esau. By the grace of God, he was changed from an ambitious, struggling trickster into a brave, respected forefather of a new nation.


Friends, life is no easy ride, as you well know –it was not for Jesus, it will never be for us. Sooner or later, everybody must face hardships and challenges. Some of your radiant faces here today may hide deep physical or emotional wounds. Some of your most radiant faces here today may hide deep worries about parents, spouses, children, jobs, careers, the future.

How are you going to respond when God stops by to visit with you during your struggle? Will you care to notice? Or will you grab God by the heel — or the elbow, or even the ponytail– with the same sense of trust and determination Jacob did? And then, looking at God right in the eyes, cry out as loud as you can, “Lord, I will not let you go until you bless me so that my struggle is over?


As you may know – and I close with this final illustration — the things in our homes work because of electricity, that invisible power that gives us visible privileges. It turns the lights on, turns the TV on, turns the toaster on, turns the oven on, turns our computers on – you name it. All that stuff is working in our homes because we’ve got one invisible power shooting through there called electricity. But none of those things work even though they have access to electricity until we flip on a switch.

We must make a connection before the stuff that’s there actually works. Something like that with our spiritual lives — every one of us who dwells in the Lord has some sort stuff in our lives that, very much like electricity in our homes, can work out miracles, can get everything aflame, can get our hearts and minds connected in such a way, we run on a power that keeps us going and going even in the midst of our daily shortcomings and crisis. And you know what? Prayer is the switch.

That’s what Mr. Jacob-Israel discovered one night by the rock of Peniel. God was never away from him, neither running away from him — that’s what he discovered. On the contrary, God was always with him, only waiting to be welcomed into his life.

So, Mr. Jacob turned the switch on — and he was blessed beyond belief. May our sacred time here today and everyday strengthen our faith and renew our joy.

May we walk out of this place with the blessed assurance that during our daily struggles we too have seen God face to face and our lives have been sustained and preserved.