In Genesis 32:24-25 we read about Jacob and the angel of God wrestling: ‘So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.’ (Gen 32:24-25) After this incident, Jacob was known as ‘Israel’, meaning ‘he struggles with God’. There’s a sense in which prayer is often hard work; it’s like wrestling. Maybe you feel that that’s what you’re doing as you pray, that there is a struggle, a battle, that you’re not necessarily winning. I certainly feel like that right now.
Paul says to the Colossians, ‘Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.’ (Col 4:12) We are indeed in a spiritual battle and it’s not always easy, but we do need to be praying for each other that we may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Grown up. Confident in God, not in ourselves. The Message version says that Epaphras was ‘tireless’ in prayer. We too need to persevere in prayer – for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for each other, for our colleagues, for our neighbours, for our government, for our world. We need to wrestle. We mustn’t be complacent or give up now.
But we also need to rest. Prayer is not all about us. It’s not about how strong we are or how faithful we are or how good we are. It’s simply about that connection to God: bringing our petitions and our prayers to Him with thanksgiving and leaving them then with Him in simple trust. I often get so very frustrated as I pray, ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt 6:10) because I don’t always know what God’s will is in specific situations and I don’t always recognise His answers to that prayer. And so I feel that I’m not very good at prayer and I want to give up. But whilst I believe we need to persevere and wrestle, I also believe there’s a part of prayer that is simply about coming to God and resting in His presence. Not asking. Not demanding. Just being there, with Him. I believe this connection to God, which looks so unimpressive perhaps to us is just as important as any of our eloquent prayers or fancy words.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
As we pray now, let’s be aware of these different aspects of prayer. Sometimes we need to wrestle, like Jacob: ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ (Gen 32:26) But sometimes we just need to rest: ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.’ (Ps 37:7) Sometimes we just have to be still and know that He is God. (Ps 46:10) Sometimes, doing nothing except sitting in God’s presence is just the prayer we need. (‘Rest‘, Aaron Shust)