God & Grappling
The burning sensation of lactic acid coursed through every muscle fiber in my body as each one filled with liquid fatigue. I couldn’t see my opponent, but I could feel his chest against my back and his legs squeezed tightly around my waist.
Worse yet, I could see the tip of his elbow protruding just beneath my chin as I struggled to look downward. My neck was being constricted tighter and tighter into the inside of a “V” formed by his forearm and bicep.
At first, there was a little pain followed by the panic of feeling helpless. Then there was an intense feeling of pressure in the top of my head as my carotid arteries constricted and pushed blood up past my temples into my scalp.
I had received explicit instructions to “tap out” if I was in the wrong spot or in danger from a submission. All I needed to do was take my hand and “tap” on my opponent’s body or the mat to signal my defeat, but at that moment, I was so overwhelmed by the absolute dominance of my teacher that I froze.
This man, who was at least 60 pounds lighter than me at the time, had closed the distance, grabbed hold of me, dragged me to the ground, and wrapped himself around me like a mind-reading boa constrictor.
Suddenly the pain and pressure subsided, and a euphoric sense of ease set in. It was followed by a tingling sensation that began in my feet and moved upward toward my knees. The last thing I remember was looking up toward the ceiling and feeling like I was in a tunnel.
There was a light at the other end and what looked like an opening that was slowly closing. It couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds for all of this to transpire, but I had the feeling that everything was moving in slow motion as the sounds in the room became muffled and the light slowly faded to black.
When I came to, my teacher informed me that I hadn’t gone entirely unconscious, but I’d go very close, and it would be wise to “tap” next Time. I realized at that moment, my very first jiu-jitsu lesson, that this was a different kind of challenge than anything I’d attempted before.
I knew that every time I walked into that dojo and stepped onto the mat, I was at the mercy of men who had more experience and more skill than I did. They would be holding my health and life in their hands weekly for the next few years. I quickly realized the gravity of biblical truth that’s as old as time.
Grappling Brings Man to the End of Himself
Grappling brings a man to the end of himself. My body was pushed beyond the red line during the calisthenics-style warm-ups that morning. I had to retreat to the restroom to vomit more than once as my organs and muscles began to fight for the limited resources of oxygen and blood that they required.
Then we drilled a few techniques that I struggled to understand even though my teacher had done a masterful job demonstrating and explaining them.
Finally, he announced that it was “time to train.” I remember thinking to myself, “Time to train? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?” I quickly learned that one of the things that set jiu-jitsu apart from most other martial arts is called the Randori.
It’s a portion of every class that’s dedicated to living sparring, often referred to as “rolling.” Unlike martial arts that focus primarily on striking, grappling allows its practitioners to spar at 100% effort and full resistance with much less chance of significant injuries. The other thing that happens when you roll is that you find out what you’re made of. Any “quit” that resides deep within your being will boil to the surface when you’re thrown into the fire of hand-to-hand combat.
After my initial class, I limped out the door and across the parking lot to my truck. I drove home feeling completely overwhelmed by what had happened to me, and after a hot shower, I collapsed onto my bed, totally exhausted.
I was utterly spent in a way that brought me to an end myself in terms of my body, mind, and spirit. An hour and a half on that fateful Saturday morning brought a brand new sense of self-awareness that was as novel as it was painful. I wasn’t aware of just how much I didn’t know until I was put to the test.
The overpowering feeling of being inadequate quickly drove me to the conclusion that jiu-jitsu was something that needed to become a regular part of my life. In the months and years to come, I would learn just how fragile our physical health is, the weakness of the average mind, and the frailty that resides within the spirit of most men.
I would also learn what it meant to persevere and overcome, as I regularly coped with both victories and defeat. Jiu-jitsu has profoundly changed my life in so many positive ways. As a pastor trying his hand at the martial way, I quickly concluded that this was why God Himself seemed to favor grappling.
Jacob Grapples with God
Genesis Chapter 32 records the account of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Nation of Israel, wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. Many Christian theologians believe this was a theophany, a physical manifestation of God Himself to humankind.
Whether it was God Himself or an angel, one thing is sure. Jacob didn’t stand a chance in the wrestling match that ensued. Yet the narrative tells us that they wrestled throughout the night until the Angel of the Lord applied some hold to Jacob’s leg that was so impactful that Jacob had a notable limp for the remainder of his life.
The Angel of the Lord could’ve defeated Jacob instantly, so why was Jacob allowed to struggle throughout the night? God’s desire was not for Jacob to be defeated, but for Jacob to come entirely to the end of himself . . . body, soul, and spirit.
Read: Craving His Body
That’s precisely what that kind of grappling match will do to a man. Jacob came to the sobering recognition of his frailty in light of a sovereign God’s strength and power. Consequently, Jacob walked differently for the rest of his life.
This story is filled with theological truth, but there’s a straightforward, practical application I’d like to highlight. It is God’s methodology to draw men into the deep water of adversity for the express purpose of bringing them to the end of themselves through struggle.
He desires to draw us to the conclusion that we are ultimately at His mercy in all of life’s endeavors and that it’s in our best interest to submit ourselves to His purpose sooner rather than later. It’s also in these moments of struggle, these trials by fire, that we have our most meaningful personal encounters with our Creator.
Much like Jacob, many of us are forever changed by “wrestling” with God, and we never walk the same after that kind of encounter.
Josh attended seminary through Rock of Ages Baptist Bible Institute out of Cleveland, TN. He has held about every position one could hold in a local church: Sunday school teacher, Children’s Church Preacher, Bus Ministry Director/Worker, Missions Director, Choir Director, Song Leader, Janitor, etc. In October of 2005, he was ordained as an Assistant Pastor at Rest Haven Baptist Church, and that’s where he served until God called him into the Pastorate at Enon Baptist Church in Alto, GA at the age of 32. He stepped out by faith in obedience to God’s instructions and quickly received a call from Blessed Hope Baptist Church in Free Home, GA where he now serves as Pastor. In his free time, Josh enjoys spending quality time with his wife (who is his high school sweetheart) and three children: Zoey, Ava, and Jack, as well as reading, writing, hunting, cooking, weight lifting, and martial arts.