By Javan Rowe
I stared in amazement at the wrestler facing me, trying desperately to hide my fear. It was my first wrestling match ever, and I was convinced my opponent was completely insane. He stood on his line, growling and shaking like a caged animal waiting to be released. As soon as the referee shouted, “Wrestle!” he ran toward me, tackling me like a lineman breaks through the defense and puts down an unprotected quarterback.
Since I had not yet wrestled enough to internalize many maneuvers, I resorted to survival mode. My motivation came primarily through fear of looking weak in front of my peers. I found myself enduring every move my opponent attempted, and I wrestled on into the third and final period.
The tide turned favorably as I landed a move, put him on his back, and squeezed with my remaining strength. I heard the referee smack the mat indicating I had won, as my teammates roared their excitement from the bench.
READY TO WRESTLE
The Old Testament records a wrestling match between Jacob and an angel (Genesis 32). They wrestled throughout the night until the next morning, when the angel asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob refused until he received a blessing. After many years of conniving, Jacob had finally reached the point where he realized his need for God’s blessing above all else. Nothing else mattered. So he wrestled with all his might until he got his heart’s desire.
God asks us to engage in similar grappling bouts regarding our faith. Some contend that simple, blind faith is sufficient. This type of faith only hinders our growth, though, because it lacks deep plumbing of God’s Word. We are saved through faith, but this doesn’t mean we turn off our brains and refuse to grow. We are to clasp our shield of faith that is fortified when we wrestle with the difficult parts of Scripture.
Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” We do not take God’s gift of salvation, say “Thank you kindly,” and retreat into a mental coma where we expect to be spiritually fed intravenously. God wants our faith to be vibrant and active, involving every part of our redeemed being, including our brains. We must know what we believe so we can “always be prepared to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15).
Because of my Christian upbringing, I had taken for granted what I had been taught as a child. Problems began to arise when I found myself interacting with nonbelievers. I discovered I was woefully unprepared to engage them in deep, biblical conversation.
It was not as if I lacked Bible knowledge. In fact, I knew a fair amount of doctrine, stories, and lessons found in Scripture. When I was challenged with the Bible’s authenticity and inerrancy, though, I was unequipped. My knowledge was useless because I had not dissected Scripture enough to extract everything the Lord intended for me.
A coworker insisted on engaging me in verbal sparring matches. This was very intimidating because he is a very intelligent agnostic. He challenged the possibility of the ark and the flood, claimed the Bible gave contrary creation accounts, and used his knowledge of logic to say things like, “The Bible says everything is possible with God, but how can God do something impossible like make 2+2=5, or make yellow green?”
Just as my physical wrestling match was one-sided at the outset, I was also in over my head during these religious conversations. Yet the same thing happened in this spiritual contest as on the wrestling mat—I was increasingly able to hold ground. I refused to give in, learned from my opponent, and dug into God’s Word. I found that my faith was not hindered by more knowledge, but quite the opposite—mental wrestling amplified my faith.
TRAINING IN SCRIPTURE
1. Read the Bible.
It is surprising how many people claim to have the Bible as their foundation, yet fail to crack open its pages. We cannot chew on the biblical morsels God offers if we don’t even put the pieces into our mouths. The availability of the Bible is such a privilege that we simply must not take it for granted.
In order to effectively wrestle with our faith, our first step is to set aside regular time (every day, if possible) to simply read Scripture, whether first thing in the morning, before bed, or during lunch break. We must build a healthy habit of reading God’s Word. Do not “fit it in.” Rather, we must fit everything else around this vital practice, making it a priority.
2. Study the Bible.
We must not be content with a cursory reading; after all, we are talking about the Word of God. It takes in-depth study to truly comprehend its depths and deepen our faith. We learn what Scripture actually says by studying original meanings of words and how those words fit into that particular place in the Bible. I find any of the versions of Strong’s Concordance to be an invaluable reference where I can discover the fullness of certain Hebrew and Greek words.
We can also study the Bible historically by learning what its books meant to the people for whom they were originally penned. We should not pluck a verse out and make it say whatever our preset biases dictate. We should learn what it meant to the people originally and then discover its meaning for us today. Various reference books, such as Bible dictionaries and commentaries, can aid in this.
3. Practice persistence.
As with anything, we work hard at times and it pays off, while other times we become frustrated. Sometimes I get aggravated because I feel I have not gained anything spiritually substantial that day. Often this is because of interrupting thoughts that limit my openness to what the Spirit is trying to teach me.
We need to practice persistence. I say practice because steadfastness is not always easy. Persistence is making the mental assent that we are going to stick with our faith, even when we do not fully understand what the Bible is talking about. We must be persistent, regardless of how often we want to give in.
4. Get on the mat.
To truly understand God we need to be ready to suit up and wrestle (singlet not required). God is completely beyond us, but he condescends to us, enabling us to understand a great deal about him. Like Jacob, we are to spiritually grapple with Scripture to get as much out of our study as possible.
We are to work out our faith and salvation, meaning we contemplate what God is saying rather than blindly accepting everything. Sure, there are times we are to accept something even though we do not totally comprehend it, but the vast majority of Scripture can be understood if we just make the effort. God gave us his Word not to confuse us but to enlighten us. The Spirit leads us as we study Scripture, mulling over its contents. He then moves us into a deeper faith in the Lord than we ever thought possible.
It is time to get out on the mat, step up to the line, and wrestle!
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.
How to Grow in Faith
Consider what you know about faith and what remains a mystery.
• If someone asked you how to grow in faith, what beliefs or practices would you share with them? What would you warn them about?
• Be ready when someone asks. To brainstorm, divide a sheet into four sections. In the top left section list what faith is; in the top right, what faith is not. In the bottom left section list the keys to growing in faith; in the bottom right, what deters faith.