PSALMS OF ASCENT: Perseverance  Psalm 129

Well, we’re over a week in now, which means many of us are suffering from sleep deprivation.  Talking, of course, about the Olympics.  Anybody else?  Week plus in and you’ve stayed up way too late watching sports that in a week you won’t care about!  I noticed that I’m spoiled; I don’t even want to watch the qualifying races, I just want to watch the medal races.  I also want to know ahead of time if we win, because I don’t want to watch it if we didn’t win.  I’m spoiled!  There’s been one story though…..I love the way NBC weaves in these human interest stories throughout the competition.  One of those stories that stood out to me this year is the story of the Refugee Team that’s competing.  A team of essentially homeless Olympians from different parts of the globe, but parts of the globe where, because of the strife that’s going on in their own country, they’ve had to flee.  A number of them joined together as a team of refugees competing in the Olympics.  One of those refugees is Yursa Mardini.  She grew up as an Olympian swimmer from Damascus and part of Syria.  She was training in pools where there were three or four holes where bombs had blown into the roof of the building where she was training.  She had to flee from Syria.  She traveled through Lebanon to Turkey and then left Turkey and was trying to get to Greece when the boat she was in—-a little dinghy with 20 people in it, designed for six people—-had the engine fail about 30 minutes from shore.  This young, eighteen-year-old (Yursa Mardini) jumps in the water with three other people and ties ropes around her waist and legs and starts swimming.  For three-and-a-half hours she swims.  They eventually get the boat to shore and save all 20 lives.

Can you imagine standing around the Olympic Village and someone telling you, “Yeah, it was a really long road to get here.”  If you’re Yursa……tell me more about that!  Well, I trained with top-notch trainers and coaches….   She’s like well, I’ve been homeless and running from my own country.  I swam for three-and-a-half hours, how’d you train?  (Right?)  When she got to shore in Lesbos, she traveled to Macedonia, to Serbia, to Hungary, to Austria, then finally made it to Germany where she finally had some time to train for the Olympics. Can you imagine?  So we hear a story like hers and our hearts sort of go out to her…..

As human beings, we love stories of perseverance, don’t we?  We love stories like Yursa’s where she just didn’t give up.  Where everything in her would have said just call it, give up….at least give up on the Olympic dream. Your dream now should be having a country you can call “home” and having a normal life and a normal family. There’s something in the human spirit, isn’t there, where we just absolutely relate to and we love stories of perseverance.  Stories where people just simply refuse to give up and against all odds they keep going and they make it.  It’s this universally admired and needed characteristic, isn’t it?  It’s not just in athletics or in the Olympics.  It’s in every phase of life.  It’s needed.  In athletics it’s needed.   I love how Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all times, puts it:  “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost more than 300 games.  Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again.  And that is what makes me great.”  Don’t you love that?  We think greatness comes because of success, but he would say no, no, no, no, no, my greatness was birthed in my failure, not in my successes.  It’s true in athletics.  It’s true in business.  Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, is quoted as saying: “I’m convinced that half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”  The ability to keep going when it seems like all hope is lost.  That ridiculous “I’m going to keep at this when it seems like nothing is going right.”  It’s true in athletics.  It’s true in business.  It’s true in life. Maya Angelou, the great author and poet, says it like this: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must never be defeated.  In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so that you know who who are, what you can rise from, and how you can still come out of it.”

If you were to do a word study of ‘perseverance’ in the New Testament and look at the Greek word that’s associated with it, it literally means “to remain under the weight of.”    To remain under the weight of something.  Let’s be honest this morning, none of us goes, “Oh, yeah, that sounds fun.”  If there was a perseverance course and active participation was necessary, we wouldn’t sign up, would we?  It’s why God brings it into our life uninvited.  He knows that we need it and He knows that we hate it.  We hate that we need it! But it’s something in us.  Perseverance is more than just making it through a difficult situation.  It’s more than just surviving.  I’ve had people come into my office or grab me after a service and say, “Hey, we’ve walked through this (health) issue…..  Or our company just absolutely failed….  Or the marriage ended in divorce….” And they say to me, “I couldn’t have made it without God!”  I’ll think to myself, “Well, sure you could have.” People make it without God every day!!!   Do you ever hear people say that and go, “Well, what were your other options?!”  Here’s what we often mean by that — I would not have made it without God in a way where my life was flourishing and beautiful and good.  Perseverance doesn’t just mean you make it through.  It means that you make it through with your humanity and your hope and your joy and the goodness within you intact.  You can make it through and become bitter and jaded.  We see this happen all the time.  People make it through really terrible situations, but what happens inside of their soul is that something dies.  What happens inside of their soul is something that makes you not want to be around them any more.  They made it through, but sometimes we wish they wouldn’t have!  

So what does it look like to be the type of people who walk with God in such a way that we can say that thing that I encountered didn’t destroy me, it actually shaped me.  It didn’t take me down, it actually built me up. What does THAT look like?  Psalm 129 is going to paint a picture of what that looks like.  We’re in a series this summer where we’re walking through a selected portion of the Psalms of Ascent, which are Psalms 120-134. This great section in the Psalms that Eugene Peterson affectionately refers to as the “Hebrew’s dog-eared song book.” They were songs that they sang on their way up to Jerusalem celebrating any of the three pilgrim feasts that they celebrated annually.  They would sing along the way.  It’s sort of like a backpacking trip turned into a musical.  This is one of the songs that they sang.  “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”—-let Israel now say—-“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.  The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”  The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.  May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!  Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you!  We bless you in the name of the Lord!”  

In verse two, you get the thesis of this psalm.  You get, in a nutshell, what this psalm is all about.  Listen to what the psalmist writes:  Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth—-let Israel now say—-Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, YET  {If you have your own Bible, circle that word.} they have not prevailed against me.   What a great picture, what a great line, what a great truth!  This word ‘affliction’ in the Hebrew means “to squeeze or to cramp or to stress.”  It’s the picture of taking something (taking a life, in this case) and just pressing on it and boiling it down and…..   You’ve had this happen to you, haven’t you?  You’ve walked through a situation in your life where you’ve felt like “I don’t think I can take any more.”  When the Hebrew people talk about being afflicted, they’re talking about 400 years in slavery to the Egyptians.  They were PRESSED like the humanity was trying to be squeezed out of them.  They’re talking about 70 years of Babylonian captivity, ripped away from their homes, taken away from their culture and everything they held dear.  They’re talking about being pressed and squished.  For us—-we could fill in that afflicted blank in a lot of different ways, couldn’t we?   Man, through no fault of my own, I lost the job….  The relationship—it crumbled.  Or, I made some really bad decisions and now I’m in the place that I’m in and I’m feeling a little bit squished and pressed….  Anybody want to go yeah, that’s my life this morning?

Affliction always does something in us—-this pressing.  It always stirs something in us.  It either creates hostility…..and you’ve met people where this has been the case.  They walk through something difficult and you don’t want to be around them, because it did something in their soul.  It hardened them in such a way that they’re not who they used to be.  Affliction either births in you and I hostility or hope.  But never both.  One of the questions the psalmist wants us to wrestle with is — listen, we all walk through affliction, but do we walk through affliction with the ‘YET it hasn’t overcome me’, it hasn’t defined me, it hasn’t shaped me in a negative way.  In fact, the really difficult thing that I walked through bore in me something that I could never have gotten otherwise.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul says it to the church at Rome:  Not only that, but we rejoice {This is one of those crazy passages in the Bible where you read it and go there’s no way, until you practice it and then you go yeah, that happens.} ….in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (or perseverance), and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame. (Romans 5: 3-5)   There’s a way to walk through affliction where you end up coming out the other side making it but feeling absolutely dead inside.  And then there’s a way to walk through affliction where actually the thing you walk through starts to create a deeper level of humanity within your soul.  The author of these Scriptures would say that’s character, that’s hope.  That’s what the psalmist is talking about.  Perseverance through pain.  So not just making it through, but making it through with God.

Perseverance through pain has this ability to turn any circumstance that wants to crush us and squeeze us down to birth life in us, to birth hope in us.  Perseverance through pain turns affliction into expansion.  It births something new in our soul, something that wouldn’t have come otherwise.  Friends, the pain that you are walking through (or have walked through) is producing something within you.  It may sound like somebody saying to you, I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but I knew that my Good Shepherd was with me and I didn’t set up camp in that valley.  It might sound like, listen, the pain that I experienced in life did not define my existence.  It might sound like, I didn’t know what to do, but I kept going and I kept trusting and I kept walking with my God.  It might sound {Ryan sings} I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it…..  Destiny’s Child.  Anyone?  No?  {Know your audience, Paulson.}  Perseverance is this sign of maturity in our faith, isn’t it? My kids are starting to develop perseverance at the age of seven, but I can tell you that they have very little of it.  They meet the slightest bit of pushback, the slightest bit of affliction—which is defined by my Legos won’t go together the way that I think they should and I’ve followed every direction and it’s not turning out right and so I’m done!  Perseverance is the sign of maturity, but I think we’re raising a generation of people who, at the first sign of pushback, just tap out.  

What does it look like to become people who walk this pathway of affliction, not just to make it through, but to flourish?  How do we become people of perseverance, where the pain that afflicts us does not overtake us in any way, shape or form?  Not just overtake us, but squelching out everything within us that it means to be human?  I’m glad you asked that.  Luckily for us, Psalm 129 invites us in to how we walk the pathway of perseverance.  I want to point out three things from this passage for you this morning, where we can go hey, we don’t just want to be people who make it; we want to be people who make it with vitality and make it with life. Listen to what the psalmist says (verse 1):   Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth {They’ve squeezed me, they’ve pressed.} ….let Israel now say—“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.  The plowers plowed upon my back; {This is a picture of them being in slavery and being beaten down and being whipped.}  …they made long their furrows.”  The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.    He points back and says, “Let Israel NOW say…..”   Can imagine you walking along…’re on this journey, this pilgrimage, to Jerusalem to celebrate one of these feasts and somebody opens to Psalm 129 and says alright, guys, now we’re going to sing.  It’s almost this liturgical call and response where the worship leader will say alright, we’re going to dive back into the story of when we were a persecuted people.  We’re going to dive back into the story of slavery, we’re going to dive back into the story of exile, and we’re going to remind ourselves along the way that the storm was never the end of the story and that God was gracious and that God was good.  But he goes, hey, let Israel now say, let them raise their voice, let them declare what’s true, let them call out the depths of pain of the affliction that they walked through.  

It’s in this that we start to see one of the aspects of how we become people who persevere.  We do not become people who persevere by holding everything down inside, gritting our teeth and making it.  We become people who persevere by being people who share our story.  So Israel not only recounts it on a corporate level, they recount it on a personal level.  They give voice to the affliction.  In giving voice to the affliction, they often weaken the power of the pain.  When they speak it out, what’s inside of them and holding them captive starts to lose its power.  Perseverance doesn’t mean we bury our head in the sand and ignore all the pain and all the hardship and all the trials.  That’s not what it means.  Perseverance means that we walk with God in a way that’s deeply and sometimes painfully honest.  We share our story.  We embrace reality.  In a way, those who have no voice, those who have no ability to speak up and say this is wrong and this is what was done to me and this is what I’ve walked through….people who have no voice oftentimes have no hope.  So there is beautiful power in simply speaking out—-this is what I walked through, this is the pain I felt, and this is the way I thought I was going to be unable to make it.  That happens on a personal level for all of us.  You read through the story of the gospels—-one of the things I love about Jesus the Messiah is that He always had room for people’s stories, especially stories that were painful.  He had this unique ability to draw it out—–tell me more about how you, woman at the well, have had five husbands.  Come here at noon, in the heat of the day; ostracized from your community, tell me more about your story of affliction.  Not with a judgmental ‘well, you probably shouldn’t have married so many guys’, but with a meeting her in the pain and in the sorrow.

Friends, if we cannot appreciate and listen to the story of the oppressed and the afflicted, we create space for the afflicter and the oppressor.  If we don’t say to people, “It’s a safe place to tell your story,” we tell everybody you’ve got to keep the reality and the truth buried.  You know what happens when people bury the reality and the truth?  It kills them!  68% of sexual abuse victims say NOTHING!  Because they’ve been told it’s not a safe place to tell your story.  It’s why so many people walk around with so many deep pains.  It’s because they haven’t found somebody that will listen to them without a judgmental ear…..and validate their humanity.  Let Israel say —– it’s this declaration!  What’s buried underneath needs to come out, because if you keep it buried it continues to have power, but if you speak about it the chains start to fall off.  Not only personally, but also corporately.  We want to be the type of people who say listen, tell your story…..because your story may be the key that unlocks somebody else’s prison.  So we listen to people’s stories, not only personally but corporately. {Will you look up at me for just a second.}  We are entering into a season nationally, where, as the church, we need to get better at listening to the stories of the afflicted.  Without judging, without saying well, you should have or you could have or you didn’t…..  We need to get better at saying we want to hear what the corporate story is that you live within and we want to validate its reality within you.  So I’m going to throw that out to you—-how do we do that as a church?  How do we create space to tell the story, because the story helps us sustain and the story helps shape us and the story eventually gives us hope to not stop.  When they retell this story, they remind each other we can’t stop.  God’s with us!  God was with us in slavery for 400 years and sure, it felt painful.  And He was with for 70 years in exile and we didn’t think we were going to make it.  But our God was good and He provided.

Maybe it just starts by sharing your story in a journal.  Just getting it out of you.  Maybe it’s sharing your story with a skilled, good counselor—-which I could not recommend more, by the way.  It’s been a huge help to me in my journey.  Maybe it’s sharing your story with a friend.  Maybe it’s sharing your story at Celebrate Recovery….with a bunch of people who go, “Me, too!”  But how do we get what’s in us out?  That’s the first thing Israel does.  If they’re going to walk with God, they’ve got to be people who say, “Let Israel now say so.  They’ve afflicted me from my youth!”  When I say it, it not only validates it, but it helps me admit this is what happened. 

Verse 5:  May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!  This is one of those psalms where you read it and go hmmm, I’m not sure I like it.  Or you read it and go, well, that doesn’t sound like the good Christian thing to do.  Which just shows us we haven’t read the Psalms all that much, because there’s a ton of, what they call, imprecatory Psalms.  Imprecatory means a calling out to God for justice, a calling out to God for vengeance, a calling out…hey, God, you see everything.  You know this was wrong, why don’t you do something about it.  Come on!  One of my favorite ones is Psalm 58:6-8 — O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!  Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.  Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.   Can you imagine having a coffee cup with THAT verse on it?!   Or a tattoo of Psalm 58 all the way down the arm?!  Wow!  Vicious!  It’s like settle down!  We’re suppose to love our enemies.  What do we do when we hate our enemies?  We’re suppose to forgive, but what happens when we have a hard time forgiving?  We’re suppose to fill-in-the-blank, but oftentimes our realities and our “oughts” are very different, are they not?

Walter Brueggemann, the great Old Testament scholar, points out—-and this is just beautiful and so intuitive: “When we read the imprecatory psalms as followers of Jesus, New Covenant Christians, we often don’t know what to do with them.”  Let’s just ignore that psalm and try to put it away, because it’s a little bit embarrassing. But the psalmist is simply pointing out what is real.  And you have three options when you find yourself in the psalmist’s situation.  You can act out on the vengeance that you feel in your heart and your soul.  You can go listen, not only, God, do I want you to break the teeth of those who oppose me, but I’M going to break the teeth of those who oppose me.  That’s an option.  Now this is the coping mechanism of the American church right now:  You can bury this down and go, “Well, it’s not really there.  I don’t feel that way.”  Even if we DO feel that way, we just ignore it, deny it, hope it goes away.  It won’t go away.  What it will do is come out in other ways. What we’ll find ourselves doing is exploding on people around us and people we love and people we feel safe with….they’ll get the brunt of what’s really inside of us.  So what’s the third option?  The third option is what the imprecatory psalms…..Psalm 129 included….we honestly share with God, “God, this is what’s in me and I trust you to do what’s right.”  You can act on it, you can bury it or you can dig it out and you can surrender it. Part of the pathway of perseverance means that you and I become people who surrender things readily to God and examine our own hearts and souls to honestly say, “This is in me.  God, I don’t like it, but I’m going to put it out on the table.  I’m going to be honest with it and I’m going to put it in front of you and trust that you are a God who will do with it as you see fit, but I can’t keep it in me.”

Isn’t it great to know that we don’t have to hide and play games with God and pretend like the ugly places of our soul are not there?  Listen:  Break their teeth, God!!  That’s what I’d like to see, but…..   But, but, but I’ll trust you.  It’s what David does in Psalm 73 in a beautiful, masterful way.  In Psalm 73:2-3, really the whole first half of this Psalm, he just expresses anger.  He says: {God}…my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw prosperity of the wicked.  He’s like God, I looked all around me and I’m doing my best to follow the way of Yahweh, to be a person of faith, and yet, I look all around me and it seems like the wicked prosper.  He expresses God, I’m just angry with you.  Then in the same Psalm, verses 21-22, he says:  When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.   So he goes from anger to awareness — Oh man, Lord, something got ahold of me. I don’t know exactly what it was and the situation he was walking through exactly.  You could read through his story and there’s a ton of them. But he expresses his anger, he comes to this awareness of wow, I really was going at it, wasn’t I, God?  Then at the end of the Psalm (verse 28):   But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.  I’ve surrendered it!   {Will you look up at me just a moment.}  Is there anything that you’re ignoring, instead of surrendering?  Is there anything you’re acting out on, instead of handing over?  One of the things the Psalms would invite us to do is to be honest with the deepest places of our souls and then go to God in conversation, to tell God, and then to trust God.  That’s what the Psalm does.  That’s the song that they sing.

Listen to the way it ends.  In verse 4, he says: God, you’ve cut the cords of the wicked ….. Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up…   {In Israel at this time, when they would plant a field, they would often scatter seed, but there were times where the wind would take that seed and it would blow it up on the rooftops that were made of dirt and adobe.  Some of those seeds would take root on the rooftops, but they would never grow to fruition.  They wouldn’t grow to be a harvestable field in any way, shape or form.  So he’s referring to that.}  …with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you!”   So he goes hey, when the wicked, when the people who are evil and antagonistic against us, when they’re trying to harvest the crop that’s come from the seed that they’ve planted, they come up conspicuously empty.  That’s what happens.  And he says that nobody says to them, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you,” which was a greeting Israel would give to other Israelites during the harvest.  They would be harvesting and they would look at the harvest of the field and go man, God’s hand is all over you, it’s obvious.

Here’s what the psalmist wants to invite us into—-not only to share our story and to examine our hearts, but then to look out and to recognize that there’s an ultimate reality that is deeper than what I see on the surface and the circumstance.  The wicked doesn’t prosper.  Evil doesn’t win.  Hate does not overpower love.  Darkness does not drive out light.  Oftentimes when we’re walking through those situations in life that have squeezed us and that necessitate our perseverance, it can seem like the wicked are prospering.  And it can seem like evil’s going to win.  And it can seem like everything we hope for is vanishing with the wind.  The psalmist says that’s not the case.  Three realities I want to point out:  1) There’s no harvest for the wicked, ultimately.  He says listen, you try to gather up your fields….no, no, no, no, no, the fruit of their life is obvious and it’s empty. That’s his point and you could miss it in the midst of “well, it seems like they’re prospering.”  He goes just step back.  An example would be if you’ve ever watched one of those ISIS types of propaganda videos.  Nobody watches those and goes You know what?  I think they’re filled with a little bit of joy!  There’s a lot of love there!  You go through the fruit of the Spirit and you see it’s absent on every level.  On the opposite (view), the Scriptures would say: Now the works of the flesh are evident (Gal. 5:19).  It’s obvious.  That’s reality number one.

Reality #2:  God is faithful to his people.  Oftentimes we have such a short-sighted view, we can’t see it because we want God to come through RIGHT NOW and He doesn’t work on our timeline sometimes.  So they step back into a story where they were slaves for 400 years, but God came through.  They step back into a story where they were in exile for 70 years, but God came through.  We need to step back from our circumstances to see the faithful hand of God, that’s an ultimate reality, friends.

Third reality:  There is a joy set before you that cannot compete with the circumstances that stand against you. That’s true!  The joy that’s set before us has the ability to determine the hope that is in us.  So how do we become the type of people in any situation we walk through, even if it’s one where we feel like we’re being squished down.  Where we feel….my goal here is not just to survive, because I can survive without God and you can survive without God and you can make it through, people do every single day.  But what does it look like to be the type of people who say I’m not just going to survive, but, God, by your grace, I’m going to thrive, I’m going to flourish.  I’m going to allow the affliction that stands against to develop and expand the hope that’s within me!  Because THAT’S the invitation, that’s the call.

The Scriptures are clear that the method for our perseverance, for your perseverance and mine…..    So you go, alright, Paulson, share my story, examine my heart….I get it, I’m with you.  Acknowledge ultimate reality, I get it.  But how do I really DO it?  The Scriptures will say here’s how you do it:  You endure, or you persevere, by looking to Jesus.  He’s our focus, he’s our goal.  That’s how we do it, we chase after him.  We keep our eyes on him. (Heb. 12:1-2)  The Scriptures promise that there is a clear reward or promise for those who endure.  He says endure so that when you’ve done the will of God you will receive what is promised to you. (Heb. 10:35-36) So we focus on Jesus; we remember God, there is goodness waiting for me—-that’s my ultimate reality.  Notice how this passage of Scripture ends (Psalm 129:8b):  Let Israel say, I’ve been afflicted from my youth ….. Let us be the blessing of God.  You’ve seen this happen, where people walk through affliction and either become hostile or they become hopeful.  And the people that become hopeful become people that the world is attracted to, that you’re attracted, that we can’t get enough of.  Why?  Because the things that were in our corner, as far as pain and affliction and hurt, were transformed by God into blessing.  What happens as wepersevere is that is positions us to extend the blessing of God.  We all want to be people who receive blessing and who give blessing, but the reality is that the capacity for blessing is often formed in the furnace.

I read a phenomenal book this week called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a doctor who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for three years.  He writes from a psychological stand point wanting to find out why some people are able to continue to walk with hope and why some people are giving up on life.  He has this beautiful explanation, exposition, of how that happens and why that happens and how it happens for us, but he says in his writings: “What is to give light must endure burning.”  That’s the perspective, as followers of Jesus, we walk into.  Not God, I want to make it.  But, God, I want to make it with a light.  I want to make it with hope and I want to make it with something deeply human within me that I can give to the world around me.  Friends, if God brings you TO it, He promises to bring you THROUGH it.  Let’s pray!

Let’s pray.  As we get ready to wrap up and go, what are you walking through right now that you would say back to God….God, maybe you’re inviting me share my share or examine my heart or see a deeper reality that’s all around me.  Because I, like you, want to be a person of perseverance.  Father, our prayer all across this place and all these chairs and all these rows this morning would be would you create that within us.  All of us need it, none of us want to develop it.  Lord, by your grace and by your Spirit, would you help us walk that pathway of perseverance?  There’s a story within us to share, would you help us find safe people and safe places to share it? God, there’s things within our heart we need to search out, we need You to search out and draw up and things we need to surrender and trust you with, would you show us what those are?  Jesus, would you open our eyes to the deeper reality of the wicked not prospering, of joy that’s set before us, and a God that is faithful in every generation?  Lord, we’ll do our best to walk with you, for our joy and for your glory and for the good of your world.  It’s in your name that we pray.  Amen.



I was a college pastor for five years before the Lord led Kelly and I back to Colorado to pastor this church.  As a college pastor I would walk onto college campuses and had the chance every single week to engage college students with questions about faith.  I started to hear this resound that echoed off of university campuses all across southern California.  It was this resound:  I used to go to church.  I just didn’t get it.  I started to ask more questions and you know what was interesting?  It’s not Jesus that they didn’t like.  It’s not necessarily even YOU that they didn’t like.  Or me.  What they didn’t like was that church never felt like a safe place to struggle. What they didn’t like was that church never felt like a safe place to doubt.  What they didn’t like was that they felt like, in order to enter these doors in any sort of church, they had to have life figured out and they had to have it together.  In order to come (to church), they had to arrive at a place where they knew intuitively, if they were honest, that they would never get to.  They didn’t know that we all just play games!  Or do we?  They didn’t know that THIS is a safe place to struggle, a safe place to wrestle.  The question I want us to engage with this morning is: What happens when life falls apart?  What happens when we have questions that we don’t have answers to?  Do we push in or do we run away?

I have three kids: seven, five and three.  I have a boy, a girl and a boy.  My boys absolutely love to wrestle with me.  They love it!  My son Reid, who’s three years old, will come and jump on me unexpectedly.  Anybody else have that blessing on a daily basis?  I’m sitting there minding my own business and it’s like a cannonball and he lands on my lap!  He grabs my shoulders and says to me, “Daddy, I’m a jaguar!  Rowr!!”  For a few moments I pretend to be scared and then I go, “Well, I’m a lion!”  Then we’re rolling around and we’re wrestling on the floor.  I had a friend a number of years ago tell me, “I measure my parenting effectiveness by how much time I spend on the ground.”  I like that.   Our kids love that!  What is it about wrestling that our kids love?  They love the contact.  They love the clinging.  They love the physical interaction.  They love to feel you.  I think they also love to know that you’re stronger than them, even though they resist that.  They love to know that at a moment you could just flip them over, pin them, done, no conversation, no questions asked.  They love that! They desire that contact, that interaction.  

What if God was the same way?  What if God loved the wrestling? What if far more than answering questions, God loved authentic doubt?  What if faith looked far more like wrestling than it did certainty?  What if?  What if church once again became a safe place to say, “I don’t have it all figured out.”  “I don’t know all the answers.” “There’s some things that haunt my soul.”  “I can’t figure out why we’re following God and they passed away.”  “I can’t figure out why I lost the job.”  Why the relationship crumbled. Why the health report didn’t come back the way we wanted.  I can’t figure it out.   What if church became, once again, a safe place to wrestle?

If you have your Bible, turn to Genesis 32:22-32.  We going to look at a passage where Jacob is going to wrestle with God.  Over the past few weeks we’ve been walking through this narrative of the patriarch Jacob. Remember, Jacob is born as a second born in a first-born society.  He’s loved way more by his mother than he is by his father.  He prefers to cook in tents rather than hunt in the fields.  All three of those things were stacked up against him from birth.  From birth, he’s trying to prove himself.  He’s trying to say, “I’m okay and I’m deserving of any love that should come my way.”  Throughout the course of his life, he has some successes.  He goes and lives with his uncle for 20+ years.  His uncle is coercive and manipulative, but Jacob prospers even there.  God’s hand is on him.  Now, he’s being led back home, the place that he left over two decades ago.  On the way there he’s going to have to encounter his brother, who he ran from 20+ years ago.  It’s this picture of….you and I know this journey….to face the things on the deepest level that haunt our souls.  We can’t run from them forever.  Jacob is throwing things ahead.  He’s sending gifts to his brother to try to appease him and to be accepted by him.  It’s on THIS journey, before he meets his brother, that he has an encounter with God.

Here’s how the encounter looked.  The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.  And Jacob was left alone.  And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  And he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

What’s going on?  What a strange passage!!  Can we all admit that that’s a weird passage?!  We don’t have to pretend that the Bible always makes sense at face value!  What a strong passage!  Jacob is camping.  He’s on a solo camping trip, he’s all alone.  He’s got his tent pitched and he’s ready to go and somebody shows up out of nowhere and goes MMA on him.  They wrestle through the night.  At some point, this man/God just touches his hip and he’s out of joint in his hip for the rest of his life.  Couldn’t you have done that earlier?  If all he had to do was touch his hip, was this really ever any sort of wrestling match worth betting on?  What in the world is going on here?!  I think if you read the passage from the perspective of God, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But if you read the passage from the perspective of Jacob, it starts to make more sense.  Jacob saying: Oh yeah, we were wrestling and it was……we were face-to-face and we were going at him and I almost had him. If you were to ask my kids if they could beat me in wrestling matches, both of my sons, three years old and seven years old…..and I’ll admit I’m not exactly a physical specimen, but I’m pretty sure I can take them…..most of the time they would agree with you.  They’d go hey, I think it’s 50/50.  We’re hearing this interaction (of Jacob) from the perspective of Jacob.  We read it through the lens of our enlightened minds and go, “Come on!  That would never happen.”  God just appears out of nowhere and wrestles with Jacob throughout the night?  Come on!  The Bible is so ancient, it’s so primitive, it’s so out of touch.  And yet….  We’ve all have those seasons in life where we’ve wrestled with God, haven’t we?  We’ve all had those questions that we can’t seem to get resolution for.  We’ve all had these mysteries that sorta sit on our shoulders and weigh us down where we go God, I don’t get why you did that or didn’t do that and God, I don’t understand why that’s happening.  All of us, whether you’re a follower of Jesus this morning or not, have had these questions where we’ve wrestled with God.

My experience has been that those questions revolve around two primary things: 1) God, who are you?  Because I believe you are all-powerful and I believe you are all good and the Scriptures really teach me that.  But if you’re all-powerful and you’re all good, then do you not care?  That’s one of the questions we have.  For well over a year after my mom passed away, I wrestled with this: God, who are you?  The second question is like it. God, who am I?  Who am I to you? Do you love me?  Do I have worth?  I think all of the questions that we wrestle with as human beings—-and those are human questions—-if we were to boil them down and tear away all the layers, what we’d get down to are two primary questions:  God, who are you? and, in light of that, God, who am I?  So here’s what I want to do this morning.  I just want to give you the freedom to say, “I don’t always understand what God is doing.”  I want to give you the freedom to say, “I have questions.  I have doubts.”  I know, I get it.  In modernity and a version of Christianity that’s been entrenched in modernity, we have equated faith with certainty, but I want to assure you the Scriptures never do.  They never do.  People who walk by faith, they wrestle with God.  They struggle with God.  You read through the book of Job, ok?  Job interacts with God.  He wrestles with God.  It’s only when his friends come and they have all the answers that Job gets off track.  His friends start trying to answer the questions that aren’t intended to be answered.  They want to say, “Job, here’s why it happened.  And here’s how it happened.  And here’s a resolution.”  And God goes no, no, no, no, no, just wrestle with me.  This stinks!  Draw near.  

David, the man after God’s own heart, will say to us in Psalm 73:3, why in the world do the wicked prosper? He’s like I don’t get it.  I’m trying to do everything right here, God, and the people that are against you, antagonistic towards you, are the ones you seem to be blessing.  What’s the deal?  You have John the Baptist, a friend and relative of Jesus the Messiah, sitting in a jail cell (Matthew 11:4-6) knowing that his days are coming to an end.  In fact, days later his head, literally, will be on a platter at Herod’s party.  He sends his disciples to go ask Jesus, “Hey, are you the one that we were waiting for?  Because this doesn’t look like it’s going to turn out good.”   What’s he doing?  He is wrestling!  He’s wrestling with God.  He’s not settling for easy answers.  You have the apostle Paul, once called Saul, who has this thorn in his flesh and he says:  Three times I pleaded….. (2 Corinthians 12:8).  It’s not this hey, three times I politely asked you, “Jesus, would you please take this away?” In the Greek it carries with it this emotive, deep longing of…..God, COME ON!! ACT! MOVE! DO!  I believe that you can.  Why aren’t you??

If you read through the Scriptures and look at people who follow Jesus, here’s what I think they would testify to you and to me — they would testify that the only faith worth having is an honest faith.  A faith that’s mixed with confidence and questions.  A faith that doesn’t always have it all figured out, but that says I’m unwilling to let go even when there’s questions.  I’m clinging to you.  I’m wrestling with you.  God, I am in this for the long haul.  Here’s the truth of the matter, friends—-Wrestling with God is essential towalking with God.  It’s not some sort of nice addendum to the Christian life.  It is central in who we are as followers of Christ.  That there’s things that are going to come up in our life where we’re not going to have the answers and we’re going to have to enter into seasons of struggling and seasons of wrestling and we are better for it.  I think a lot of the narrative that we’ve embraced as a church culture in the West is:  walking by faith means that you’re always certain, that you’re always confident, that you’re always sure and if you aren’t, then you’ve gotta get it figured out before you really consider yourself a follower of Jesus.  Dallas Willard, sort of tongue in cheek, said the way that we teach theology, typically, is you should believe this whether you believe it or not.   And that’s true, isn’t it?  We know we’re not suppose to doubt, but what happens when we do?  We know we’re “not suppose to question,” but what happens when we have questions?  You show me a strong friendship and I will show you two people who have the ability to wrestle with each other.  To disagree and to still say, “We’re in this together.” You show me a marriage where one person has just shut down and another person makes all the decisions, tells everybody what to think and what to do, and I will show you a straw man of a marriage.  It’s this question, it’s this interaction, it’s this wrestling where we really grow in relationship.

I want to show you the dynamics of how this happens in the life of Jacob.  Genesis 32:22.  Let’s look at this and sort of dissect it a little bit more to see what was going on in Jacob’s life and how did God use it.  This is after he sent all these gifts ahead of himself to try to earn the acceptance back from Esau.  The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”   Not only has day broken, but the narrator of Genesis is so poetic and it’s so beautiful…..there’s this breaking of day that’s happening, certainly, but there’s also the breaking of Jacob. Jacob’s being torn down.  Jacob’s being shown who he really is.  Over the course of this evening what’s been happening his entire life sort of comes to a focal point, to a fruition, and what we start to see is God is lowering him in order to eventually elevate him.  He’s breaking him in order to rebuild him.  It’s often in those unwelcome seasons of brokenness that we see the preceding unprecedented seasons of fruitfulness.  

Jacob’s left alone.  He is vulnerable, he’s open and what I have found over the course of my life, and maybe you would disagree, but what I’ve found is when I’m most broken I’m most open.  Anybody want to agree?  I will to cling to my own abilities until I have nothing left to cling to.  Any amens out there?  This is the human story. This is human nature.  When Jacob is left alone, here’s what he starts to do.  He starts to be open.  He starts to be vulnerable.  He starts to interact with God in a different way.  We see that his isolation leads him to a place of revelation.  Here’s the thing for you this morning.  You may be going through one of those seasons of loneliness.  You may be left alone.  The word I want to speak over you is when you’re alone you have two choices:  loneliness or solitude.  It all has to do with the attitude.  God, are we going to wrestle with you or are we going to focus on the fact that we’re all alone.  Loneliness or solitude?  Jacob chooses solitude.  He engages with God.

The second thing we see is that he’s out of joint.  Not only physically with his hip, but life just feels like it’s just been thrown upside down and spun around and thrown out there.  The attempts he’s making to win the approval of his brother are falling short.  He thinks he’s walking into a war that there’s no way he’s going to win.  He is out of joint.  God is bringing him low.  It’s the picture of a farmer tilling the soil in the springtime before he starts to plant the seeds.  The soil that’s gotten hard after a long winter.  He needs to dig deep down into in order to start to break it apart, so that the seeds will take root.  If God just throws the seeds on top of Jacob, his heart isn’t ready to receive them.  It’s this process that God leads him through where he eventually comes to the place where he’s able to receive.  I love the way that John Bunyan, the great Puritan author, puts it: “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think.  It’s wounding work; without the wounding there is no saving.”  It’s that tilling process.  We don’t like it, but we need it.  The song that Aaron just sang so beautifully for us by Jason Gray, he says, “The wound is where the light gets in.”

All of us get to that point in life where God is tilling the proverbial soil of our soul and here’s what we all have to deal with:  are we going to be the type of people in those seasons who tap out or cling on?  I call my generation the “tap out” generation.  When it gets hard, we leave.  When it’s tough, we’re gone.  What I love about Jacob is he knows he’s not going to win this battle.  He’s already lost it!  He says, “I won’t let go.”  A few weeks ago, I meet with a friend in my office.  He’s been through the valley of the shadow of death.  He’s lost some things that were dear to him.  Sitting with him in my office, I said to him, “Hey, I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know why this all happened and I don’t know why God allowed it.”  To say anything else would have been disingenuous.  I could have gone theological as far as the problem and pain and the reason of suffering, but it wasn’t what he needed.  My encouragement to him was you have two choices:  you can either push away or you can cling on.  That’s the place we all get to in the wrestling with God.  Are we going to be the type of people who cling on or are we going to be the type of people who push away?

Sometimes God invites us into seasons of mourning rather than seasons of knowing.   And that’s okay.  We don’t need to trivialize those things.  As Christians we sometimes do, don’t we?  Here’s one refrain that just drives me nuts — Well, everything happens for a reason.  It’s like the Christian trump card.  BOOM!  What are you going to say to that?!  Well, does it?  Does everything happen for a reason??  If that’s true, we’ve got to find reason for some pretty crazy things, don’t we?  Do you know what the Scriptures actually say?  You can’t find any verse that says “Everything happens for a reason.”  What the Scriptures actually say is that God weaves together good out of everything for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)  He’s able to take these things, that maybe without Him would be disjointed, and He weaves them together for your good. You know what that means?  Not everything was good until God got ahold of it. {That’s for free.}

Jacob is alone, he’s wrestling, he’s out of joint, he’s disoriented.  Verse 26:  Then he (the man/God) said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  And he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.”  Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  What’s Jacob’s deepest longing? When we gets ahold of God, what does he want more than anything else?  Blessing.  He wants a good word spoken over him.  He wants to hear the voice of God saying you’re okay, I’ve got you.   I’m good.  I’m in control.  I love you.  He wants to hear that his life matters.  You know what’s interesting?  Jacob’s already been blessed.  If you read back through the Jacob narrative, it starts with him stealing a blessing from his older brother.  Remember, he dresses up as Esau.  He walks into Isaac, his father.  Isaac lays hands on him and Isaac blesses him.  But Jacob knows that blessing was never intended for him.  For the decades that follow, those words, rather than being seeds of hope in his life and goodness, actually start to turn on him, because the words spoken over him he knew wasn’t actually for him.  When He’s wrestling with Jacob, what does God ask him?  What’s your name? You go back to Genesis 27…..Isaac, his father, asked him the exact same thing:  What’s your name?  At THAT point, he did not answer honestly.  He said, “My name is Esau.”  Because I think that’s what I have to do to get blessed.  I have to lie about who I really am.  I have to ignore the deep, painful places of my soul where I didn’t add up.  I’ve got to put on a mask.  I’ve got to put on a show.  In order to be blessed, I’ve got to lie about who I really am.  But when God gets ahold of Jacob, He says, “Jacob, what’s your name?  I need you to say it.  I need you to admit it.  I need you to step out of the shadows.  I need you to come clean, because if you’re going to be blessed, it’s only going to be as you actually are, not as you wish you were.  So, Jacob, what’s your name?”  I imagine Jacob’s mind immediately goes back to putting on all of the clothes that were Esau’s, covering himself in fur that looked like Esau’s freaky hair and lying about his name.  At this moment, Jacob says, “I am Jacob.” My prayer is that some of you will have an “I AM JACOB” moment with God today.  This is who I really am.  And in saying “I am Jacob,” what Jacob’s saying is I’ve been the swindler, I’ve been the cheater, I’ve been the liar; I’ve lived up to everything my name meant and everything my name said.  It’s in this moment—this moment of brokenness, this moment of solitude, this moment of openness to God—God says back to him, “Ok, Jacob. Here’s the thing….drum roll…..your name is no longer Jacob.  You’re wrestling with me, Jacob.  You’re interacting with me.  You’re not pushing me away, you’re drawing me in and you’re saying I won’t let go! Therefore, your name is no longer Jacob, swindler, cheater, liar, thief.  It’s no longer that.  Although you have to come to terms with the fact that that’s reality.  Now your name is Israel, which means you strive with God.” Isn’t it interesting that Jacob’s name goes from cheating people—which is horizontal—-to wrestling with God.

Here’s what we start to see—that you and I, we have to admit that so much of the time God doesn’t answer the questions we have.  We don’t have the “everything happens for a reason and here’s the reason” type of life with God, do we?  If you do, I’d love to meet and talk with you.  I’ve got some questions for you.  I don’t.  We have the type of interaction with God where we go to him with questions and longing…..hey, will you bless me?  Will you make this situation turn out well?  Will you redeem the pain?  I’m going into battle with Esau and all I want, God, is for you to tell me that I’m going to win this battle.  That’s not what he hears.  What God does, so much of the time, is he doesn’t answer the question that we ask, he answers the question underneath the question underneath the question.  He answers the thing that’s deepest within us—the longing that we have most that just occupies it.  If we were to resolve that question the other ones wouldn’t matter quite as much.  Here’s what God does.  He says:  genuine prosperity (or blessing) is only grounded in renewed identity. It’s Him saying this is who you really are.  It’s the only way we can live with and wrestle with the questions of life.  Why does this happen?  Why did that happen?  Why did that person get sick?  Why did that person die?  I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I’m going to wrestle with God and I’m going to cling to God and I’m confident that what’s more important to God is not that I gain something, but that I become someone.  That He starts to change me from the inside out.  Did you know that you’re invited to have an Israel type of faith?  The type of faith where we wrestle with God, where we strive with God.  Why is that a great and beautiful thing?  Because it means you’re clinging to him.  It means you’re saying, “I will not let you go until I hear from you—who am I?”  And, friends, that’s the gospel.  The gospel answers the question: who are you?  So if you walked in here JACOB, my hope is that you walk out ISRAEL.  You walked in maybe cheating and manipulating people.  I want you to walk out wrestling with God.  This is the gospel, because here’s what he says over you—-I have adopted you! (That’s identity, yes?)  I have called you my own.  I chose you before the foundation of the world that you would be holy and blameless in Christ.  That you would be adopted as sons and daughters of the King.  He will not always answer every question, but He always gives his blessing.  His blessing is found in the reality that YOU..Hello!!’re name is child of the one true King!!  You’ve been saved!  You have been redeemed!  That’s your name!!

As Jacob starts to walk away, he walks away with this limp.  It’s the “gospel limp,” friends.  It’s the “I have wrestled with God”….I’ve come with my questions, I’ve come with my doubts, I’ve come with my fears and I still have a lot of those, but I know who I am!  I am loved by Him and I am chosen by Him and I am called in Him and He is the rock that I am building my life on!  Struggling with God always leads to a transformation from God. He goes, “God, I’ve seen you face-to-face.  We’ve been intimate together.”  But that only happens through the authenticity.  It only happens through the wrestling and the struggling.  We often look for answers, but God just wants our honesty.  I don’t get it, God, but I know you’re good and I trust you.  Isn’t it fascinating that when Jacob wrestles with God and he comes out the other side….if you were to look at him you’d go, “Oh, man! He got the worst end of that deal! The rest of his life he’s just dragging a foot!”  But I think if you were to talk to Israel, what he would say to you is….I know it looks like an injury, but I want to tell you it’s a reminder.  It’s a reminder that I’m no longer Jacob but I’m Israel.  It’s a reminder that I can have a relationship with God that’s honest and I can wrestle with him.  It’s a reminder that I’m no longer who I was, but I am who He says I am!   I don’t know about you…I want that limp!  I want the reminder God, this is who you say I am.

If you’re thinking, “Paulson, I’m still a little bit held up on the ‘is it all right to question God?’  Is it all right to doubt?  Well, I would submit to you it is.  Jesus did.  That’s the trump card!  He’s in the garden going to the cross and he cries out, “Father, if there’s another way, let’s do it that way!  Father, I don’t get it!”  Luke 22:44 says he’s sweating drops of blood!  He’s so agonized by what he knows awaits him.  He’s wrestling with God. Then he clings to his Father and then surrenders to him — Not my will, but yours be done.  It’s interesting that in the same way that Jacob was left alone, your King, your Messiah, was left alone.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Therefore, because he was left alone, the Scriptures say that you never have to be abandoned.  The Scriptures are really clear in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Just like Jacob, Jesus was out of joint on the cross.  His bones had dislocated, his muscles moving around.  He was out of joint Psalm 22:14 says, but because he was out of joint, you can be made whole.  The Scriptures are clear in saying that by faith you are made complete in him.  Because he gave up his name…..the Scriptures say that he emptied himself of all that it meant to be God (Philippians 2:7) and that he took on the very nature of a servant and submitted to God, even to death on a cross.  He gave up his name and because he gave up his name and his glory, YOU can be filled with all of the fullness of God.

It doesn’t mean that we always get all the answers.  But it means that we have the most important answer.  The answer to the most important question:  God, do you love me?  And in the midst of all the chaos in the world, of all the pain and all the questions, His cross and His resurrection declare over you—You are loved.  You are chosen.  You’re forgiven.  That’s your new name.  You are redeemed.  So, friends, because of the work of Jesus, we can wrestle honestly with God AND walk confidently in his world!  And I would pray that you do.  My prayer is that this would be a safe place to say, “I don’t get it.”   A safe place to say, “I’ve got questions.”  A safe place to say, “God, I don’t understand why you didn’t heal this way and this time and God, I don’t understand why that didn’t work out the way that I hoped it would.”  Where the cross would hold us in such a way that it would allow us to cling to God, even when life doesn’t make sense.  Let’s pray.

Before we go running out of here, I just want to invite you to take a deep breath.  What’s going on in your life that maybe you’ve ignored and pushed down?  I don’t know about you, but I’m really good at that.  What are the things that if you were just honest with God and didn’t say what you thought He wanted to hear but what was really in you, what would you say?  This just in—he knows anyway!  Jesus, we come to you today. And in all of the brokenness of this world—we don’t have all the answers to it, we don’t have it all figured out, but Lord, in the midst of all of that and whatever life brings our way, whatever storms we find ourselves in, our desire is to be the type of people that say I’m holding on; I’m clinging to you, Lord.  We believe that you’re clinging even harder to us.  Lord, would you help us to be honest with you, to engage you not as we wish life were, but on the terms that life really is.  Father, as we’re honest with you and honest with ourselves, may we hear you speak a better name over us.  Lord, would be hear the truth that we are children of the One True King—adopted, saved, redeemed, made holy—because of the work of Jesus.  May that draw us in in every season.  May we cling to you, rather than running away.  God, as we’re honest, would you do a work that only you can do.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen.