What About Prayer?

Dear Christian Counselor:

In the 12-step program, they refer to “conscious contact with God,” and I feel most of my prayer falls into this category. It’s more a constant conversation or knowing between us vs. a dedicated time of focused prayer. Is this okay? Does God change his mind based on our prayers?


Dear Springs:

I’m glad you are asking questions about prayer because that means you are not content to do life in your own strength.  There are probably as many approaches to prayer as there are praying people.  Jesus spoke spontaneously, in the intimate, immediate way you are describing.  But He also made a conscious effort to spend time alone with God.  As a parent, I appreciate it when my children touch base with me in the middle of their busy lives via text or Facebook.  But I also crave their individual focused presence.  That’s an area you could explore with God.  A recent book called A Praying Life by Paul Miller might help get you started.

There are several statements in Scripture concerning the constancy of God’s character, that He is not capricious or changeable.  But there are other illustrations of the value of repentance and prayer which seem to indicate that God is swayed by His people’s pleas (one quick example: Amos 7:2-3).  When the disciples questioned Jesus about prayer, He gave them a pattern to follow which included asking God to provide for their needs, accept their remorse and keep them from evil.  I don’t think this means God is surprised or changed by our prayers.  Rather, I think He has given us the wonderful privilege of being employed in His work as effective instruments in His hands.  This is certainly true when we show mercy or do justice in His name.  Why would it not also be true when we pray in His name?


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I am everyone in Scripture.  In reading through the Bible this year, I am taking the perspective that each character and incident reflects something about me as a human being.  A previous post described me as Barabbas.  I am also the woman who worshiped Jesus with her tears. I am Joseph, the one who experiences affliction which God intends for good.  It is easy to see that I am Peter, denying Jesus and being restored.  You get the idea.  With those new eyes I want to meditate on Jacob, who wrestled with an angel.  Sure, I see that he struggled with God in prayer, and I certainly do that.  But there is more to the story which I have found confusing.  So this post is one woman’s attempt to find herself in Jacob who was renamed Israel.


You will find the story in Genesis 32 and 33.  Jacob was on his way to meet with his estranged and powerful brother, and he had his family and all his possessions in tow.  The Bible says that he was in “great fear and distress.”  In fact, he was so afraid of his brother, Esau, that Jacob sent him numerous bribes and then lagged behind the rest of the caravan.  That is how he came to be by himself, wrestling with the angel of God at night.  The Bible doesn’t say this, but I think that he was going to bolt.  He had already done every cowardly thing short of running away, and I think that was why he wrestled God.  His name, Deceiver (Jacob, loosely translated from the Hebrew), would bear this out.  When morning came, Jacob’s helpless wives and children would find themselves inexplicably alone, in the hands of Jacob’s worst enemy.


If you read the story from that perspective, you find that by daybreak, God had still not overcome Jacob’s fear, his craven resolution to flee.  Jacob’s flesh was stronger than Jacob’s faith.  And so God crippled him.   In this hindered state, Jacob continued to wrestle for God’s blessing.  He no longer had the option to run, and so he asked for the thing he should have sought in the beginning, God’s purpose and blessing in the midst of his struggle.  Our gracious God who maims then bestowed upon Jacob, the Deceiver, his new name: Struggler.   The rest of the story reveals God’s faithfulness as Jacob assumes his rightful place at the head of his family.  I’ll let you read it for yourself.


This story is about Israel’s identity as a man and as a people.  It’s about my identity.  It’s about the many ways I deceive myself and others, the many ways I run from the hard things, the many ways I fail even to ask for courage.  If you know me, you know that I am crippled.  I have an artificial leg which is the result of an amputation which saved my life.  It has also kept me from running away when I wanted to and caused me to wrestle with God until He blessed me.  It is a visible reminder that my name is Struggler, and that is a good thing.


If you’d like to hear a sermon on this passage by Mark Driscoll, click this link: https://marshill.com/media/genesis/jacob-wrestles-god.