“…being confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
If you want to grow in your walk with God, there are some things you're going to have to learn about God, and one of them is surprising. Sometimes God will seem to pull away from you. You wouldn’t think He would work in this way with us, but He does.
Three encounters from the life of Jesus help us see this.
A Woman from Phoenicia
You can read about her in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Jesus and His disciples have traveled down by the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon where the wicked Phoenician people lived. Here comes a woman who is not Jewish and had no claim upon Israel's Messiah. But she hears—Jesus is in town! In desperation she comes crying, “Oh, Jesus, have mercy! My daughter is vexed with the devil.” What did Jesus say to her? “Do you think I would take the children’s bread and give it to dogs?”
That’s painful to read, isn’t it? Most of us would have replied, “Well, no, I don't guess so. So long. Goodbye.” But the story is far from over. Her chin started to quiver. I suppose her eyes welled with tears, and she said, “That's right. I have no right to the children's bread. But she even the dogs…” And she uses a different word for “dog” than the one Jesus used. He used a word meaning “household pet,” but she uses a word that means yellow, mangy, back-alley dog. “Even that kind of dog gets the crumbs that fall from the children's table.”
Jesus’ heart of compassion breaks, and He says, “Woman, great is your faith. It will be done.” What’s going on here? Jesus is testing her to see if she will persevere—if she will push through whatever might turn her back to pursue the Son of God.
A Poor Widow and an Unjust Judge
In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable about a poor widow who comes to an unjust judge. He won’t pay attention to her, but she keeps on asking. Finally he gives in. The Bible says (v. 1) “He spoke a parable unto them to this end that men ought always to pray and not to faint.” The point is not that God is unjust or unapproachable. Jesus is saying we need to get hold of God and say as Jacob did, “God, I'll not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
The Emmaus Disciples
In Luke 24, a third incident: two disciples on the road to Emmaus, shuffling along halfhearted and broken. Of all the places Jesus could have gone that Resurrection afternoon, look where He shows up. Jesus Himself walks along and reasons with them from the Scriptures. Then…
28 They drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
And He did. He acted like He wanted to go on, but what He really wanted was to stay. But He would not have stayed had they not constrained Him to stay with them.
From the Old Testament this time, two more incidents will cast more light.
The Angel Wants to Leave
In Genesis 32, Jacob finds himself in a familiar place: trouble. Having left his conniving father-in-law, he hopes to return to his homeland, but his estranged brother, Esau, whom Jacob has cheated out of his inheritance, just may revengefully take Jacob’s life—and those of his wives and children. Jacob is a shady character at this point. But years ago God had made a covenant with his grandfather Abraham.
In one of the most memorable events in the Old Testament, Jacob tries to rest before the meet-up with Esau, but in the night he is pounced upon by a man. Who is this man? Later on Hosea tells us that it was the Angel of the Lord, none other than the pre-incarnate Christ. [For an in-depth study of this incident, visit Love Worth Finding’s “Digging Deeper” study for March, “I’m Broken—God Can’t Use Me!”] ßDAVE—please insert a hot link to that March Digging Deeper here.
The Lord started this wrestling match. The focus is on what He is trying to do with Jacob. Finally He (the pre-incarnate Christ) puts Jacob’s thigh out of joint and says “Let Me go.” Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
What’s going on here? Could the Lord have gotten away if He wanted to? Of course. But when He says, “Let Me go,” you have to understand that in His heart, He did not want Jacob to let Him go. He was thinking,” I surely hope he doesn't. I hope he doesn't.” You see, the Lord didn't want to get away.
God did not love Jacob for what he was but for what He knew He could make out of him. For in spite of all his faults, Jacob had a heart for God. Do you?
Elisha, the Fly Paper Prophet
Do you remember when Elisha said to Elijah, “I want a double portion of the spirit that rests upon you”? Elijah replied, “Well, if you're with me when I'm taken up, you'll have it.” From that time on, Elisha stuck to Elijah like glue on fly paper. Elijah would say, “Go back now. I'm going somewhere else,” and Elisha would say, “I'm going with you!” Elijah would start for another place saying, “You stay here,” and Elisha would say, “Wherever you go, I'm going!” It seemed as though Elijah was trying to discourage Elisha, but he wasn't. He was testing him.
Learn something about how God works. Many times God will appear as though He wants to go from us, as though He does not want to hear us, as though He does not want to bless us. And if you deal with God just on that surface level, and God says, “Let Me go,” and you let Him go, you're going to miss a blessing you could have had.
When God saves us, He's not finished with us. The work has only begun. He is shaping us to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” (Romans 8:29). It is a lifelong journey. God is not letting go of His child.
But have you let go of God too easily? Oh friend, listen. God wants us to come to that place of total, absolute dependence upon Him, where we say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Doesn’t God Let Go of People Sometimes?
We are not speaking to the child of God here, but to the lost person: The Bible teaches that a person can so insult God, can say, “No” to the Holy Spirit of God so many times, that God's Holy Spirit will cease to work in their heart.
Three times in the first chapter of Romans, God speaks of giving up on people: “…and God gave them up…” “…and God gave them up…” “…and God gave them over.” The old‑time preachers used to call that “when the lights go out on the road to hell,” when the Holy Spirit no longer speaks to a man.
Before the flood, God said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” (Genesis 6:3). If you are not a child of God, don't get the idea that Holy Spirit conviction is going to always stay in your heart. You may come to a place of sudden destruction in your spirit as well as in your mind, where the Holy Spirit no longer speaks to you and God no longer draws you. God says, “If you continue to harden your neck, you'll be destroyed.”
God does convict us. We are often reproved (Proverbs 29:1). Nobody goes to hell unloved, unwarned, unconvicted. Not a one. God strives with us, God knocks on our heart's door, God reproves us, God calls us over and over again. The one God may let go of is the one has no desire to be saved.
But let me give you good news. If you have a desire to be saved, that's because the Holy Spirit of God is still working in you. He loves you with an infinite love, and that He has spoken to you over and over again, and He's speaking to you today.
The hymn writer penned,
“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”