“You have contended with God and with men and you have at last prevailed.”—GEN. 32:28.
1, 2. What challenges must servants of Jehovah confront?
FROM the first faithful human, Abel, down to our day, loyal worshippers have struggled. The apostle Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians that they “endured a great struggle along with sufferings,” as they sought Jehovah’s approval and blessing. (Heb. 10:32-34) Paul compared the struggles of Christians to the exertion of athletes contending in Greek contests, such as footracing, wrestling, and boxing. (Heb. 12:1, 4) Today, we are in the race for life, and we face opponents who want to distract us, trip us up, beat us down, and snatch away our joy and future rewards.
2 First, we have an intense struggle (or, “wrestling,” ftn.) against Satan and his wicked world. (Eph. 6:12) It is vital that we resist being affected by the world’s “strongly entrenched things.” These include its doctrines, philosophies, and harmful practices, such as committing immorality, using tobacco, and abusing alcohol and drugs. And we must constantly fight against our fleshly weaknesses and discouragement.—2 Cor. 10:3-6; Col. 3:5-9.
3. How does God train us to fight our enemies?
3 Is it really possible to defeat such powerful opponents? Yes, but not without a struggle. Drawing on the example of a boxer of ancient times, Paul said of himself: “The way I am aiming my blows is so as not to be striking the air.” (1 Cor. 9:26) Just as a boxer fights off his opponent, we must fend off our enemies. Jehovah trains us and helps us in our fight. He provides lifesaving instructions in his Word. He also helps us through our Bible-based publications, Christian meetings, assemblies, and conventions. Are you putting into practice what you are learning? If you failed to do so, it would be like “striking the air,” not fully opposing your enemy.
4. How do we avoid being conquered by the evil?
4 Our enemies may attack us when we least expect it and kick us when we are at our lowest point, so we must ever remain alert. The Bible warns us: “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Rom. 12:21) The encouragement not to let ourselves “be conquered by the evil” shows that we can defeat evil. We can do so if we keep on fighting against it. In contrast, we could be overcome by Satan, his evil world, and our imperfect flesh if we let our guard down and quit fighting. Never allow Satan to intimidate you into dropping your hands in defeat!—1 Pet. 5:9.
5. (a) What can help us to continue in our struggle to gain God’s blessing? (b) Which Bible characters will we consider?
5 To be successful, those who are contending must not lose sight of their reason for struggling. To gain God’s approval and blessing, they should keep focused on the assurance that we read at Hebrews 11:6: “Whoever approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” The Greek verb translated “earnestly seeking” is a form that implies intensity and concerted effort. (Acts 15:17) The Scriptures provide us with fine examples of men and women who put forth concerted effort to seek Jehovah’s blessing. Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, and Paul faced circumstances that were emotionally and physically draining, yet they proved that perseverance leads to rich blessings. How can we imitate these four outstanding contenders?
PERSEVERANCE LEADS TO BLESSINGS
6. What helped Jacob to persevere, and how was he rewarded? (See opening picture.)
6 The patriarch Jacob struggled and persevered because he loved Jehovah, appreciated spiritual things, and had complete faith in Jehovah’s promise to bless his offspring. (Gen. 28:3, 4) This explains why Jacob when nearly 100 years old did everything in his power to obtain God’s blessing; he even wrestled with a materialized angel. (Read Genesis 32:24-28.) Did Jacob of himself have the strength and endurance needed to contend with a powerful angel? Of course not! But he was a very determined contender, and he proved that he would not turn aside from the challenge! And he was, indeed, rewarded for his perseverance. He received the fitting name Israel, (meaning “Contender [Perseverer] With God” or “God Contends”). Jacob gained the rich reward that we too are seeking—Jehovah’s approval and blessing.
7. (a) What distressing situation did Rachel face? (b) How did she keep contending and eventually get blessed?
7 Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, was just as eager to see how Jehovah would fulfill his promise to her husband. But there was what seemed to be a hurdle that could not be overcome. She had no children. In her day, that situation was viewed as a great affliction. How did Rachel find the emotional and physical strength to continue battling against circumstances that were discouraging but completely beyond her control? She never gave up hope. Rather, she kept contending by praying with more intensity. Jehovah heard Rachel’s heartfelt supplications, and she was eventually blessed with children. Understandably, Rachel at one point cried out in triumph: “With strenuous wrestlings I have wrestled . . . I have also come off the winner!”—Gen. 30:8, 20-24.
8. Joseph experienced what long and difficult challenge, and how did his response set a good example for us?
8 The steadfast example set by Jacob and Rachel no doubt had a powerful effect on their son Joseph, influencing how he would handle tests of his own faith. When Joseph was 17 years old, his life was turned completely upside down. Out of jealousy, his brothers sold him into slavery. He later had to endure years of unjust imprisonment in Egypt. (Gen. 37:23-28; 39:7-9, 20-21) Joseph did not give in to discouragement; nor was he so filled with resentment that he sought revenge. Instead, he focused his mind and heart on his blessed relationship with Jehovah. (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 12:17-21) Joseph’s example should help us. For example, even if we had a difficult childhood or if our present circumstances seem hopeless, we need to keep contending and persevering. We can trust that if we do so, Jehovah will bless us.—Read Genesis 39:21-23.
9. In imitating Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph, we should put forth what effort to receive Jehovah’s blessing?
9 Think of a situation that you are facing and that may be a trial for you. Perhaps it is some type of injustice, prejudice, or ridicule. Or the trial you face may be that someone falsely accuses you, perhaps out of jealousy. Rather than drop your hands in defeat, remember what enabled Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph to continue serving Jehovah with joy. God strengthened and blessed them because they kept on showing deep appreciation for spiritual things. They kept on contending and acting in harmony with their earnest prayers. We are living close to the end of the present wicked system of things; thus, we have strong reason to hold on to the firm hope set before us! Are you willing to exert yourself to gain Jehovah’s favor and, as it were, wrestle for it?
BE WILLING TO WRESTLE FOR A BLESSING
10, 11. (a) How might we have to wrestle for God’s blessing? (b) What will enable us to make the right choices and win our fight against discouragement and distractions?
10 What are some circumstances that might call upon us to wrestle for God’s blessing? One circumstance that many have faced is the struggle to overcome a fleshly weakness. Others have had to put forth determined effort to maintain a positive view of the ministry. Or in your case, it may be the need to keep enduring, even though you have poor health or are lonely. We should also not overlook the struggle some have to forgive someone who has offended them or has sinned against them. No matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, all of us must fight against things that might hinder our service to God, who rewards the faithful.
11 Frankly, it can be a real struggle to make the right choices and to follow the Christian course. That is especially so if our treacherous heart tugs us in the opposite direction. (Jer. 17:9) If you realize that you have to some extent been affected in a negative way, by all means pray for holy spirit. Prayer and holy spirit can give you energy to pursue the course that you know to be right and that Jehovah can bless. Act on your prayers. Try to read a portion of the Bible each day, and make time for personal study as well as regular Family Worship sessions.—Read Psalm 119:32.
12, 13. How were two Christians helped to control wrong desires?
12 There are many examples of how God’s Word, his spirit, and our Christian publications have helped Christians to overcome wrong desires. One teenager read the article “How Can You Resist Wrong Desires?” published in the Awake! of December 8, 2003. What was his reaction? “I am fighting to control improper thoughts. When I read in the article that ‘for many, the battle to overcome wrong desires is especially intense,’ it made me feel part of the brotherhood. I felt that I was not alone.” This young person also benefited from the article “Alternative Life-Styles—Does God Approve?” which appeared in the issue of October 8, 2003. He noted that it mentioned that for some the battle is “a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Cor. 12:7) While they continue battling to maintain righteous conduct, they can look to the future with optimism. “For that reason,” he said, “I think that as each day passes, I can remain faithful. I am very grateful to Jehovah for using his organization to help us survive each day in this wicked system.”
13 Consider also the experience of a sister in the United States. She writes: “I want to thank you for always feeding us with just what we need and at the right time. I often feel that these articles are written just for me. For years, I have been battling a strong desire for something Jehovah hates. At times, I want to throw my hands up and stop fighting. I know that Jehovah is merciful and forgiving, but because I have this wrong desire and deep down I don’t hate it, I feel that I am unable to receive his help. This ongoing battle has affected every aspect of my life. . . . After reading the article ‘Do You Have “a Heart to Know” Jehovah?’ in The Watchtower of March 15, 2013, I really felt that Jehovah does want to help me.”
14. (a) How did Paul feel about his struggles? (b) How can we successfully battle against fleshly weaknesses?
14 Read Romans 7:21-25. Paul knew firsthand how difficult it can be to struggle against the desires and weaknesses of the imperfect flesh. However, he had full confidence that he could win his internal battle by prayerfully relying on Jehovah and exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. What about us? As we struggle against giving in to our own fleshly weaknesses, we can succeed. How? By imitating Paul, by fully relying on Jehovah and not on our own strength, and by having faith in the ransom.
15. Why can prayer help us to keep faithful and to endure trials?
15 There are times when God may allow us to demonstrate the depth of our concern about a matter. For instance, what if we (or a family member) were stricken by a serious illness or we were faced with some injustice? We would show our full trust in Jehovah by supplicating him in prayer to give us the strength to keep faithful and not lose our joy and spiritual balance. (Phil. 4:13) The experience of many, both in Paul’s day and in ours, proves that prayer can help us to renew our power and build up confidence to continue enduring.
KEEP CONTENDING FOR JEHOVAH’S BLESSING
16, 17. What is your resolve as a contender?
16 The Devil would really like to see you give up and drop your hands in defeat. Be determined to “hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thess. 5:21) Be assured that you can win the fight against Satan, his wicked world, and any sinful leanings. You can do so by completely trusting in God’s ability to strengthen you.—2 Cor. 4:7-9; Gal. 6:9.
17 By all means, keep fighting. Keep struggling. Keep contending. Keep persevering. Have full confidence that Jehovah will “pour out on you a blessing until there is nothing lacking.”—Mal. 3:10.