When we wrestle with God in fervent prayer, we travail as Jesus did, counting and paying the cost. But it is always birthing prayer, bringing forth His perfect will and purposes in our lives.
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. (Genesis 32:24)
Many believers are either perplexed about this particular passage or simply decide it’s a single event related only to Jacob and the Jewish nation. It obviously has specific significance to the history of Israel. But like so many Old Testament passages, it provides vital insights into our relationship with God and prayer. Its vibrant, powerful imagery has a mirror in the New Testament in Christ Himself. To overlook the foreshadowing this event provides is to miss out on a critical principle that empowers our faith and the purposes of God in our lives. That is the principle of fervent prayer – one which too many of God’s people too easily assume is reserved for a handful of individuals. Admittedly, it’s not something we are called to do every day. But unless we are willing to do it when the need arises, we will fall short of our divine purpose and destiny.
Fervent prayer is wrestling with God.
This is the message of today’s verse in a nutshell. But there is so much more to it. It’s hot, hard, sweaty stuff. There’s intimacy of one-on-one and skin-on-skin. It’s a place of pushing through every barrier to grab hold and grit your teeth and never let go, no matter what. When it’s us and God, there is no room for anything or anyone else. It’s a single-minded encounter that defies reason and logic and sees only the reality of God. Fervent prayer looks for nothing save the blessing – the answer or the promise that must come. It’s an impassioned abandonment of all to the encounter, an all-or-nothing immersion in getting so close to God that nothing can come between. Life, self, the world, everything is cast aside. There are no more pretensions, no excuses, and no hesitation. It’s the place where only God and His purposes matter.
But why, then, does Jacob state that he will not let go until God blesses him? This seems more like personal desires rather than a determination to see the purpose of God worked in him. We must remember that God had met with Jacob before. He had blessings spoken prophetically over his life, none of which had manifested. Jacob lived with a large sense of destiny, yet on that night, he faced destruction at the hands of the brother he cheated and, potentially, the end of the promises spoken into his life. He wasn’t wrestling to simply receive something he greatly desired. It was to take hold of God’s purposes which he desired. For Jacob, this was his make-or-break moment. It’s a powerful reminder that sometimes, fervent prayer is the only thing that will manifest God’s purposes in our lives.
Fervent prayer means to travail in prayer.
That little word travail is often used to describe the birth process, and it’s particularly apt in the context of today’s verse. In essence, Jacob’s wrestling was like labour. He was birthing the blessings and the promises of God in His life. His travail brought forth Israel, though this wasn’t immediately manifest. He spiritually birthed the people of God who would take his new name – Israel. Fervent prayer is birthing prayer, and this is powerfully confirmed when Christ wrestles in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. The parallels are dynamic and vivid. Jacob birthed Israel by wrestling in God’s purposes. Jesus birthed the new covenant people of God by praying in God’s will. This is the awesome power inherent in travailing prayer, but it always comes with a cost. It’s never something that can be entered into lightly. Like birth, it isn’t something you can stop until it’s complete.
Fervent prayer is also not something we can do while multi-tasking. It demands single-minded focus and participation. Nothing else matters but the expected outcome. The only priority is holding onto God with everything we have. Giving up is not an option. Letting go is not an option. If it takes all night, so be it. Whatever the cost to ourselves, so be it. And this, of course, is where the real wrestle often takes place. For us to take hold of God, to get so close that nothing separates us, we need to wrestle self out of the way. Much of our struggle is to overcome our own fleshly weakness which all too often intrudes in our usual prayers. In travailing prayer, there is no room for self. We have to overcome those things in us that seek to weaken our hold on God and His purposes.
Why God desires fervent prayer.
Both Jacob and Jesus make it clear that God desires fervent prayer. Many Christians struggle with this, quoting all the ‘simply believe’ scriptures they know as evidence to the contrary. This is partly, perhaps, because none of us like the idea of the personal cost involved in travailing prayer. It’s so much nicer to believe and receive. But faith is not a static thing, and there are times when the outcome demands a change in us in order to manifest. Fervent prayer is God’s way of dealing with self so that we are wholly and completely committed to His will in a particular thing. It’s also a way to bring us to a place where we desire it beyond all else, even ourselves. We become participants, rather than simply receivers. We’re wholly invested in what God wants to do to the point where we’re willing, like Him, to give all.
But there’s another aspect to fervent prayer which reveals why God desires it. It’s the intimacy with Him. All too often, our busy lives intrude and interrupt our ‘God time,’ distracting us despite our good intentions. We put things off until we’re less busy or have more time. Other responsibilities demand our attention, and though we desire the things of God something always seems to get in the way. This is not to say we’re ‘bad Christians’ and won’t be blessed. Our Father knows our frailties and our challenges. But when we truly wrestle with God its Him and us and nothing else. We’re created for His glory, and to live lives surrendered to His will. But we’re also created for intimacy. It’s easy to forget that God desired this kind of closeness with us so much that He literally gave His all.
Fervent prayer counts the cost.
The very nature of this kind of prayer is that it cannot ignore the cost or miraculously surmount it. This close to God is the place of absolute honesty. We weigh the reality against the purpose of God and choose. That’s when we take hold of God and wrestle free of the things we hold onto. It’s when God takes hold of us and shakes loose the things that bind us to the flesh. In fervent prayer, our pale shadow of the agony and the ecstasy of the Saviour’s perfect sacrifice and victory are mirrored. We must listen when He calls us to fervent prayer. If we truly desire His will and purposes, our moment in the dark, lonely desert will come. But He will be there with us. If we hold fast and wrestle through the cost, He will bring us to the light of a glorious dawn.
Father, forgive us for seeking the easy way when it comes to Your prophetic promises in our lives. Thank You for Your patience, and for reminding us that delays are simply You preparing us for things to come. Help us to hear Your voice and to respond. Grant us grace to enter the place of fervent prayer when You call us, and the strength to hold on through the cost of our travail. Help us, Lord, to be active participants rather than passive recipients. Most of all, help us to take hold of You, no matter what the cost, and to come to that place of intimacy where nothing can separate us from You.