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Many things could be said about Jacob — some good, some bad. But one thing must be said about him, and that is this: Jacob was a man who was able to prevail in prayer. Of that there can be no question.

Like you, I want to see my prayer life develop and deepen. I want to see my prayers be more effective and more impacting. I want to be a man of prayer. To that end, I join with the disciples who came to our Master, saying, ‘Lord, teach us to pray. They didn’t say, ‘Lord teach us to preach.’ Or, ‘Lord, teach us to heal the sick.’ Or, ‘Lord, teach us to cast out demons.’ They said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ — because they rightly understood that the key to His ministry, indeed the key to His entire life was His communion with His Father. That’s why they said, ’Lord, teach us to pray,’ (Luke 11:1).

I’m glad the Lord doesn’t simply give us theories about prayer or theological treatises on prayer — but that He gives us stories which depict prayer, for I can understand stories much more easily than I can theory or theology.

And here in our text is just such a story — one which I have found exceedingly helpful to see what it means to prevail in prayer. Here’s the situation: After being gone for 20 years, Jacob is headed back home. With two wives, eleven sons, one daughter, numerous servants, and abundant cattle in tow, his should have been a triumphant return. But there was a difficulty ahead, for Jacob’s brother Esau — the one he had cheated, the one who had vowed to kill him — was on his way to meet Jacob, accompanied by 400 men.

Once again, fearing for his life, Jacob does a wise thing: He prays. Notice two qualities which are essential to anyone who wants to prevail in prayer . . .

Jacob was insistent in prayer.

And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: Genesis 32:9

And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. Genesis 32:12

Both at the beginning and at the conclusion of his prayer, Jacob is insistent in that he says, ‘Lord, You are the One Who told me to go back home. You are the One Who promised You would save my life.’ In so doing, Jacob takes the promises given to him and lifts them back to the Lord in prayer.

Gang, this is a great, great key to praying effectively. ‘Concerning the work of my hands, command ye me,’ the Lord declares (Isaiah 45:11). ‘Command Him?’ you say. ‘That sounds an awful lot like the Name It and Claim It mentality.’ No, for contextually you will see God is talking about the promises and prophecies He had already made to the people.

Listen to what Jesus would say along the same line: ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,’ (John 15:7). In other words, ‘If you’re abiding in Me, hanging around Me, clinging to Me, you can ask anything of Me because within you will be My Word.’ What word? ‘Exceeding great and precious promises!’ (2 Peter 1:4).

It has been said that there are between 3 and 5 thousand promises given to us in the Word. And God says, ‘I want you to take these exceedingly great and precious promises — and I want you to command Me.’

George Mueller, the great prayer warrior of the last century, who founded scores of orphanages and funded them solely through prayer said this: ‘I take the promises of the Word and I argue with the Lord — not in order to convince God, but to convince myself.’

You see, as we repeat the promises God has so graciously given to us regarding provision, health, peace, salvation, understanding, guidance, direction, we are reminded of them ourselves. That’s why we come to Bible Study. That’s why we take in the Scriptures. The Word is our bank account — and we’re far, far richer than we think.

Too often, we live like spiritual paupers. We don’t see blessings in our family, for our friends, or throughout our country. Why? We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Why don’t we ask? I’m convinced it’s because we don’t know what’s in the Word. We have time to study the Wall Street Journal to figure out how we should invest; we have time to study Good Housekeeping to learn how to create a warm home; we have time to study Parents Magazine to enhance our parenting skills — but we fail to study the one Book which contains promises concerning all of these areas.

It is only as we pray the promises of God that we are able to withdraw from the inexhaustible resources the Lord has provided. Jacob understood this. That is why he was insistent in prayer.

Jacob was persistent in prayer.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. (Genesis 32:24-26)

From Hosea’s commentary on this wrestling match, we gain further insight . . .

He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us. (Hosea 12:3-4)

When did Jacob have power and prevail? When he ‘wept and made supplication’. In other words, although Jacob was the one who said, ‘I will not let thee go except thou bless me,’ Jacob was the one who was weeping; Jacob was the one who was pinned. Even though he was weeping, even though he was ‘losing’ the match, even though he was pinned to the ground in pain, nonetheless Jacob didn’t give up. He prayed with persistence.

In prayer Jacob found intimacy.

Why did God wrestle Jacob? Why does He want to wrestle with you and me? For the same reason I like to wrestle with Benny. It’s something called intimacy. God likes to wrestle things through with me and you because He enjoys us. ‘Let’s wrestle this thing through hour after hour, day after day, even month after month,’ He says to us ‘because not only will you find that I’ll come through eventually — but in the process, we will develop a wonderful intimacy.’

That’s why the original Greek text makes it clear that we are to ‘keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking’ (Matthew 7:7), for that is how intimacy is developed; that is how prayer is answered.

Through prayer Jacob made discovery.

Wrestling provides unique opportunities for discovery. As you measure your strength against that of your opponent, as you assume various positions and are held in numerous holds, you discover things about yourself and your opponent you couldn’t have known otherwise.

So too, God invites us to wrestle with Him in order that we might discover things about Him and ourselves we could learn in no other way. As you wrestle in prayer, you might find that what God gives to you and does for you is entirely different than what you expected. Jacob asked to be blessed, instead he was broken — but the answer was better, because our Father knows best. This classic prayer was found in the breast pocket of a Civil War soldier shot at Gettysburg:

I asked for strength that I might achieve. He made me weak that I might obey.

I asked for health that I might do great things. He gave me grace that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy. He gave me poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. He gave me weakness that I might feel a need for God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. He gave me life that I might enjoy all things.

I received nothing I asked for. He gave me everything I hoped for.

Keep on wrestling, gang. You’ll have intimacy with the Lord. You’ll make discoveries about the Lord. And you’ll be changed radically by the Lord in the very process of praying.