While we believe in the power of prayer, many of us find it difficult to pray. While we know we should pray, we find prayer to be a struggle. Sometimes, we say it is because we are too busy. We just don’t have time to pray. But deep down, I think prayer is a struggle because of the issue of control. We want to be in control of our lives. We don’t want to admit that we are not and we don’t want to admit we need help.
For this reason, we can easily identify with Jacob in Genesis 32. He spent his entire life wrestling with people and with God. He wrestled with his brother, his father, his father-in-law, and finally with angel. His experience teaches us that God cannot bless us until we stop wrestling him for control of our lives and start trusting him.
Jacob’s wrestling match with God (Genesis 32:22-31) is emblematic of his entire life. While God had great plans for Jacob, he refused to wait for God’s timing. He took matters into his own hands and tried to force their completion. It is only when he was crippled that he yielded control and was ready to receive God’s blessing.
The story of Jacob’s life is a five-round wrestling match. Most matches go three rounds. His needed extra periods to decide the winner.
Round 1: Genesis 25-27. From the very beginning, God planned for Jacob to be a leader (Genesis 25:23-28). Though born the second of twin boys, God chose him for prominence. Not content to wait for God’s timing, Jacob took matters into his own hands. He wrestled his brother for his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34), and he wrestled his father for the family blessing (Genesis 27).
Round 2: Genesis 28-31. Realizing he needed some space between himself and his brother, Jacob left home in search of a bride. Along the way, he encountered God (Genesis 28:10-22). He promised to return and serve God should God protect him in his journeys. Despite his commitment, Jacob spends the next 20 years wrestling with his father-in-law for his family and prosperity (Genesis 29-31).
Round 3: Genesis 31-32. Following God’s direction (Genesis 31:10-13), Jacob heads home. He is assured of God’s presence when he meets two angels at the entrance to the Promised Land (Genesis 32:1-2). Despite the assurance of God’s presence and promises, Jacob focuses on how to manipulate his brother into reconciliation (Genesis 32:3-21).
Surrender: Genesis 32-34. Finding himself alone on the doorstep to the Promised Land, Jacob spends all night wrestling with God himself (Genesis 32:22-31). After an all-night cage match, God dislocates Jacob’s hip. Unable to win, Jacob still refuses to concede. He begs God for a blessing, ironically, something he has been striving for all his life. God asks, “What is your name?” Since one’s name reveals their nature, God is waiting for Jacob to confess that he is Jacob, the heel-grabber, the cheater, the manipulator. Once he admits who he is can God bless him.
God’s blessing is a new name—Israel, one whom God fights for; a new relationship—he saw God face to face; and a limp—every step he took reminded him to depend on God for strength.
Despite these lessons, Jacob’s obedience is only partial. Rather than returning to Bethel where he first met God, he settles in Shechem among pagans. This mistake will lead to the date rape of his daughter, Dinah, and the murderous revenge of his sons.
Victory: Genesis 35. Jacob finally returns to Bethel, the “house of God.” He and his household get rid of all the idols that have held them back. The commitment that was private at the River Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31) is now public (Genesis 35:1-15).
Lasting lessons about prayer and spiritual life from Jacob:
- When we refuse God’s way or God’s timing, we refuse God’s best.
- Sometimes God has to wound us in order to help us.
- God wants to be our daily resource, not our occasional recourse. There is no gap between heaven and earth for the one who knows God.
- God cannot bless us until we stop wrestling for control and start trusting him.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 25, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.