This is another part in my ongoing series looking at different types of praying. Today I want to explore what it means to wrestle with God. Let me start by saying that I don’t mean we should be trying to get him in a headlock and force him into submission. Nor am I alluding to the event recorded in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with a stranger, possibly even an incarnation of God himself. There’s so much that I would want to explore and unpack in that encounter that it would take several bloggages on their own.
What I want to consider today is that in the Bible many of the prayers that are recorded seem to involve wrestling: wrestling with conscience; wrestling with submitting to what God wants; wrestling with circumstances and so on. There aren’t many (any?) occasions when prayers are reduced only to the ‘shopping list’ style of praying that I mentioned earlier in the series.
Even in the Lord’s Prayer, where we are invited to ask God to supply our physical and spiritual needs, we are previously urged to pray that God’s will is done and that his Kingdom prevails… and that may involve us in some wrestling if it’s not what we have in mind, or involves a greater cost to us than we are willing to pay.
The prime example is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the hours just before he was arrested, put on trial and crucified he wrestled with God. He knew what lay ahead and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV)
Having gone back to his friends and found them asleep he want back again an prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42 NIV)
This looks like wrestling with God to me. The first prayer was emphatic – I really don’t want to do it, but I will submit to your will. The second has a subtle difference that suggests that Jesus knew there wasn’t another way, but hoped there might still be one, yet he was willing to do what his Father wanted. In being completely honest with God and wrestling with what he was experiencing and what he believed his Father wanted Jesus was able to be changed by his praying.
Let’s bring it to the present day. What if someone has done something that has hurt you deeply and you do not feel able to forgive them? You know that the Bible says you should, but you can’t get past the hurt. What do you do? Wallow in guilt that you can’t do what the Bible says (compounding the sense of hopelessness) or wrestle with God about it? The wrestling might look something like this (over a period of time).
“God, I know you want me to forgive, but I just can’t. You’re going to have to help me here. Help me to let go of the hurt. “
“God, I know you want me to forgive, but I just can’t, help me to want to forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt. “
“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive but I just can’t. Help me to let go of the hurt. ”
” God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive and I will – one day. Help me to let go of the hurt. “
“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive and I will – soon. Help me to let go of the hurt. “
“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt. “
“God, I know you want me to forgive, I do forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt.”
Did you notice that often the wrestling results in us changing, rather than God? The wrestling is real because we are being honest with God. If we are not being honest with God the wrestling is as fake as the wrestling that used to be on Saturday afternoon TV in the UK.
But if we are honest, God is able, by his Spirit (and sometimes with the help of a wise friend, pastor or counsellor) to help us. In Colossians 4:12 a chap called Epaphras is described as ‘always wrestling in prayer’. If you want more reflections on this read the excellent bloggage by my friend and collegue Graeme.
Be blessed, be a blessing