Theology 101

Why We Arm-Wrestle with God

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Did you know there is a World Arm-Wrestling league? And that you can watch arm-wrestling matches on ESPN and its affiliated channels? Last year the grand prize for winning the championship was $500,000. I was reading about this the other day and it perplexed me.

I haven’t arm-wrestled since middle school. It seems silly to me as an adult. It’s just a  pure battle of strength. What’s the point?

What amazes me is that while I think actual arm-wrestling is pointless, I still arm-wrestle with God all the time. I battle him for my terms, my conditions, and for my will to prevail.

The truth is, it’s in my best interest to let God win every time. It would be even better to never begin wrestling in the first place.

But I still do it. All the time. You probably do, too. So how do we stop?

Two ways: by recognizing and accepting God’s sovereignty over our entire lives, and surrendering to his will. Every. Single. Day.

Recognizing and Accepting God’s Sovereignty

How can we stop our stupid battle of wills with God? By recognizing his sovereignty prevails over every aspect of our lives. After all, God cares about every hair on our heads. He cares about every choice we make.

Recognizing and accepting God’s sovereignty requires submitting to his will every day. Obviously, this is hard. But it bears repeating because it’s hard for everybody – even the most seasoned pastor. It’s certainly hard for me. The prevalence and depth of our sin drives us to constantly wrestle with God. We must fight this tendency.

Why is submitting to God’s will so difficult? It is difficult because we doubt God.

We doubt God is good.

We doubt God knows what is best for us.

We doubt God loves us.

We doubt God is for us.

God’s love is so pure, agape love, that it is beyond our comprehension. We think we can love ourselves better than God can love us, but we can’t.

We make decisions that appear to be full of self-love; in fact, they’re full of our turning away from God. These decisions make us victims of our own sin. We choose short-term pleasure that usually brings long-term pain.

We still need to recognize God’s sovereignty, even though sin makes it difficult. To quit arm-wrestling with God, the next step is to fully surrender to God’s will.

Fully Surrender to God’s Will

Partially surrendering to God’s will is not enough. We need to fully surrender. Rick Warren has a few thoughts on what it means to surrender our lives to God. It means:

  • Following God’s will without knowing where he’s sending us
  • Waiting for God’s timing without knowing when it will come
  • Expecting a miracle without knowing how God will provide
  • Trusting God’s purposes without knowing the circumstances

These are important principles, but how do we start surrendering on a daily basis?

I have learned a great deal on this question from the theologians with whom I collaborate at IFWE. Dr. Art Lindsley has taught me a simple but important prayer that helps. It can be said in one breath:

God be present with me in this moment.

This prayer is an important start because you are asking God to enter into that very  moment with you. From there you can receive and discern his will.

In addition to praying this prayer, growing in our knowledge of Scripture will also help us fully surrender to God’s will. Memorization is a huge help here. Romans 12:1-2 and I Peter 5:6-10 are two passages I find particularly helpful for encouraging daily surrender.

Romans 12:1-2 helps me because it recalls the silly arm-wresting image – except this time we’re arm-wrestling with the world. Do not conform to this world which is battling for my soul. Instead, be transformed by Christ. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

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.

I Peter 5:6-10 encourages me to be humble. Humility is not an attribute that comes from my supposed self-love. It only comes from relying on God and surrendering to his sovereignty.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

The humility Peter calls for reminds me that my strength comes from God, not me. When I fully surrender to God, I am stronger and better protected against the enemy.

Arm-wresting with God is a sign of our sinful nature. It makes us weaker and pulls us further away from him. To grow closer to him, we must recognize his sovereignty and surrender to it daily, going to him in prayer and Scripture every day.

And we must walk away from the wrestling match.

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