I recall the first schoolyard fight I ever got into.
It was in Junior High, his name was David and he’d been talking smack about me all day. I confronted him in the hallway, we shoved each other a few times and our friends decided it needed to be resolved after school.
If you grew up in the 80s or early 90s, you know that “after school” fights were not only commonplace, but they were our version of a UFC special event, which means, everyonein school turned out to watch one of us get beat up.
Fortunately for me, David was a terrible grappler. Encircled by a crowd of students chanting our names, David and I tussled in the dirt for a few moments before I was able to land a perfect (albeit, lucky) punch that shook him up. The crowd cheered and declared I won. I became a star for a short period until the next fight when the next guy wiped my face across the floor.
Unfortunately, I never quite learned my lesson as I got into several more fights that eventually led to my expulsion from Junior High school (not my proudest moment). In all those fights, however, I learned that there is a moment in every match when a fighter knows he’s being or has been beat. There is a moment when you judge the other person’s strength and skill and realize, “Oh boy, this dude is about to totally take me out. This is a lost cause!” I’ve seen this in street fights where the beta-male suddenly throws his hands up, backs up from the alpha male, and says, “AIGHT, you win, dawg!”
So, naturally, in my reading of the midnight wrestling match between a Biblical character named Jacob and a much tougher unnamed opponent in Genesis 32:22-31, I’m expecting Jacob at any moment to throw his hands up in surrender and declare, “Aight! You win, dawg!”
But Jacob is clearly cut from a different cloth than I am.
Jacob refuses to say "uncle" and stays in the fight from midnight till dawn.
Even when he suffers a fractured hip.
Even when he clearly knows he can’t win this fight!
Then it hit me.
PRAYER IS KINDA LIKE FIGHTING
Considering the true identity of Jacob's opponent, this strange wresting match is a metaphor for what persistence in prayer should look like in our lives.
This fight shows that God wants us to “wrestle” with Him in prayer and not let Him go until we have received what Hehas set out to do in our lives.
Allow me to introduce you to Jacob.
The story of his wrestling match is in Genesis 32:22-31 and it reads,“During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.”
THAT BOY HAS ISSUES
One of the first things you need to know about Jacob is that his life has been marked by some deep-seated family hostilities. If we were to evaluate his family life by our standards today, we would conclude that there was some serious dysfunction in his family.
Among many of the issues, his father, Isaac made no qualms about letting it be known that Jacob was his number 2favorite child. Of course, number two spot ain't bad, except for the fact that Isaac had only two sons. Genesis 25:28basically says Isaac preferred his macho older son, Esau to Jacob, a mama’s boy by comparison.
As if that weren’t enough family-junk to have to work through growing up, his father named him at birth, “Jacob” which has the connotation of “deceiver” or “liar.” Can you imagine hearing that accusatory name every time someone called you? In fact, this name became a false label that Jacob wore most of his life, so much so that he actually lives up to his name on a few occasions through his life.
Even though he experienced God’s favor and material blessings at several junctures of his life, he could never seem to shake off that identity because trouble always seemed to find him. He was a man full of fears and anxieties, so much so that when we meet him in Genesis 32, he has just escaped one nasty trial involving his dubious father-in-law (Laban) and is heading into another problem with his older brother (Esau).
20 years earlier, Jacob had deceived Esau and stolen his birthright.To retaliate, Esau had planned to murder him, but Jacob fled town. In those 20 years while he was gone, Jacob accumulated 4 wives and great wealth, and God was now calling him to head back home because he was destined to inherit his father’s homeland. Unfortunately, big brother Esau has gotten wind of his return to town and is riding to meet up with 400 men (Genesis 32:6).
This is NOT a welcome party, it’s an army!
Naturally, Jacob is scared to death. This guy can’t possibly get any lower emotionally. So, on the night before his run-in with his brother, he sends his wives, kids and all his possessions ahead of him so that he’s all alone, perhaps to gather his thoughts and weep, or very possibly simply to spend the night in desperate prayer seeking God’s protection.
Now, what is the last thing any man needs when he’s sunk to the lowest emotional low he can possibly sink to? Yup, you guessed it – a wrestling match! Which is exactly what happens next! According to Genesis 32:24, that night, a heavenly stranger visits Jacob and initiates a wrestling match with him that lasts till dawn.
The strangest wrestling match in history
You’re out in the woods camping. It’s dark and you’re by your tent praying, when all of a sudden, this swole dude shows up and assumes a wrestling stance. He doesn’t introduce himself or give a reason for his beef, he just comes at you! On your part, there’s no time for talk. All you can do is react, and fight back!
Although this stranger never identifies Himself, it becomes clear to Jacobat some point in their fight that this person He was wrestling was God Himself appearing in a human form. This is not at all improbable. In Genesis 18, God had appeared as a man to visit Abraham and even have lunch with him. Besides that, the man identifies Himself in verse 28 as God!
It is this sudden realization that energizes Jacob to go from defensive grappling to suddenly stubbornly holding on and saying, “I am not letting you go UNTIL YOU BLESS ME! I DON’T CARE IF WE’RE HERE ALL NIGHT, I AM NOT LETTING YOU GO UNTIL YOU CHANGE MY STORY!”
Even after God causes Jacob to suffer a dislocated hip in verse 25, Jacob is so desperate to receive to receive a blessing that he still refuses to let go! “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” v.26.
Let’s pause here for a moment and agree together that this match was rigged. In other words, you can’t see God with your naked eye and live, much less wrestle with Him and win! (Exodus 33:20). Although it says in verse25 that this heavenly wrestler “could not overpower” Jacob, a more accurate statement would be, “God ALLOWED Jacob and even strengthened him to stay in the fight because of what Jacob would gain as a result of having wrestled with God.”
THIS FIGHT, THEN, SERVES AS A METAPHOR OF WHAT PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN OUR LIFE.
Persistence in prayer requires a certain amount of godly-stubbornness that is daring and unrelenting.
How many of us pray about something once or twice, and then just let it fall by the wayside? Or how many of us have told someone, “I’ll be praying for you”, but then, never actually prayed or literally prayed just once in between several tasks that occupied most of our mental space?
Is it possible that we're not seeing a great move of God in our day NOT because God is powerless, but because we're actually NOT praying?
Here’s the fact of the matter when it comes to prayer:
GOD RESPONDS TO PERSISTENT PRAYER
Jesus Himself encouraged it!
In Luke 11:1-12, Jesus tells a story about a friend who pesters another friend about his need for some bread, to the point that his incessant request almost becomes embarrassing. But then, Jesus uses that story to illustrate how persistent we should be in our prayers. He says, “I tell you, even though [the first friend] will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
There is an invitation here for you and I to WRESTLE WITH GOD IN PRAYER!
What is it that you’ve been seeking God for in prayer, but have thrown in the towel because He hasn’t moved as quickly as you had hoped? What if God wasn’t saying NO to your prayer request? What if God was simply saying, “Hang on a little more and keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. You’re almost there and what you’re asking me for will soon be given. Stay in that place of prayer a little longer and this door is about to be open to you.”
Listen, GOD IS NOT RELUCTANT TO BLESS YOU.
We don’t persist in prayer because we’re trying to wrestle something out of God’s hand that He is unwilling to give. NO! In the story about Jacob's fight, please note that Godwas the One who initiated this fight with Jacob, because in it, Jacob would receive a greater blessing than what he was seeking for.
In other words, God allows us to wrestle in prayer for lengthy periods because IN OUR PERSISTENCE, He reveals more of Himself to us, He reveals MORE about OURSELVES TO US, and He reshapes us in a way that readies us to receive whatever blessing He is intending to pour into our lives.
The man Jacob was PRIOR to that fight was DIFFERENT than the man He became right after the fight.
It’s interesting to note that Jacob went into that quiet night alone seeking God for one thing (protection from his brother riding to meet him with an army of 400 men), yet, God gave Jacob something completely different, something Jacob would never even have thought to ask for, but what he was most desperately in need of.
God gave Jacob A NEW IDENTITY
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Verse 28).
God just essentially said, "You will no longer wear this false label of 'liar' and 'deceiver' that associates you with your ugly past, but you will NOW and forever be identified by your time spent with me, Your name shall now be called, 'Israel, the one who strives with God.'"
How great is that? His new name means, “Triumphant with God.”
Think about the implication of this new name. First of all, in its immediate context, when Jacob eventually runs into his brother Esau in Genesis 33, God had so touched his heart that Esau had let go of his anger and was actually tearfully joyful to finally see Jacob again.
But beyond that, God blessed Him greatly (v.29). Through Israel would be born the 12 tribes of Israel. Through Israel would come great kings, poets, and one of the wisest kings who ever lived [Solomon]. Presently, the nation of Israel remains one of the most resilient and technologically advanced market economies in the world, and of course, most importantly is the fact that through Israel’s bloodline would be born a child who would become the Savior of the world!
What God accomplishes in our hearts in those days, months, and years of persistent prayer is not only about us receiving what we most desperately need, but it is also about God positioning us so that we may be a blessing to others!
GET IN A GOOD FIGHT WITH GOD
As you look back over the last few months, possibly years, what is it that you’ve been seeking God for, but have thrown in the towel because He hasn’t moved as quickly as you had hoped? Like Jacob, you may have been experiencing what feels like your own version of a displaced hip (and you’re ready to give up). BUT:
- What if like Jacob, you persisted in your prayer and decided, “I’m not letting you go God until you hear my prayers, change my story, and bless me!”?
- And what if God wasn’t saying NO to your prayer request, but was simply saying, “Hang on a little more and keep asking. You’re almost there and what you’re asking me for will soon be given. Knock and Seek me a little longer and this door is about to be open to you?”
I have discovered in many instances in my life where I have persevered in prayer and wrestled with God that it WAS indeed God’s ambition to bless me with the things I was seeking Him for. I have also learned that God needed me to wrestle with Him because in my struggle, He would end up shaping me in a way that would prepare me so I could get the best out of what He was about to do in my life.
Might I challenge you with this?
Don’t just become a man/woman who prays, but BECOME A MAN/WOMAN OF PRAYER.
Let your life be marked by persistent, relentless, stubborn faith-filled prayer, even if it means you have to pray through some dark nights of the soul.
Stay in that place of prayer constantly, and like Jacob, adopt the prayer attitude that says, “I WILL NOT LET YOU GO, O GOD, UNTIL YOU BLESS ME!”