"And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, 'Let Me go, for the day breaks.' But he said, 'I will not let You go unless You bless me!' So He said to him, 'What [is] your name?' He said, 'Jacob.' And He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked, saying, 'Tell [me] Your name, I pray.' And He said, 'Why [is] it [that] you ask about My name?' And He blessed him there." (Genesis 32:22-29)
There is a fight that often occurs between God and man. This is a fight for life and death, a deadly fight of agonizing prayer and seeking God's favor in a time of fear, trouble, and difficult circumstances. I am not referring to usual prayers that we send up to God, but a battling search in desert places, a fight to pour out our souls through which we can overcome pressure, change certain situations and, most of all, ourselves.
There is a historic event that I would like to turn your attention to, and that is Jacob's fight with God. He found himself in a situation that was serious, as the Word confirms that he was terribly afraid as he sent a message to his brother Esau expressing his desire to meet with him. "So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that [were] with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies.'" (Genesis 32:7) There was nothing more terrifying to Jacob than to meet with his brother, because his brother didn't say how he would kill him, because Jacob had cheated him before their father Isaac by stealing his right to the birthright and blessing. "So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, 'The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.'" (Genesis 27:41).
The Hebrew word for afraid in Genesis 32:7 is yare, which describes Jacob's inner state. His soul was afraid, terrified. The word points to a certain terrified, emotional, and mental expectancy of certain pain. And why wouldn't he feel that way, when after twenty years he had to meet with his brother who had vowed to kill him?
Jacob took this situation very seriously; he devised a plan to divide their camp into two parts in case of an attack, so that he might save at least one camp. He went to prayer seeking God's protection while quoting the promise that he had received from God. In other words, he did what every believer would do in this sort of dangerous situation. We come up with our own plans in order to avoid trouble, quote God the promises, visions, and dreams that He has given us, and - like every good believer - we pray for God's protection and seek support from our church. And yet we see that all of Jacob's "religiosity" didn't help his fear. He still felt unrest in his heart and continued on with his plan to send people ahead of them with gifts, because he thought, "'I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.'" (Genesis 32:20)
Through this plan Jacob actually represents a typical, modern-day believer: when we face certain difficult opposition we often behave just like Jacob. We have our own plans "B" and "C", because we don't believe that God will take care of us. Naturally, as believers we will send up a prayer or two to God before we eat or sleep, often quoting His promises. After our prayer we continue on with our plans, sending "gifts" by our good intentions just in case our prayers don't work, so that God can see that we at least have good intentions, or good deeds. These things, in and of themselves, are not always bad, but if we want to overcome in our battle with God and man, gain God's favor and blessing, and win victory over the power of sin, we must have a fighting posture, because not one champion in the Word or in the world has had a mediocre attitude, rather a fighting one when facing situations in which he wanted to win.
Unfortunately, the modern church of Jesus Christ, which we find only half-filled with converted people, is in a religious state of attempting to maintain her status quo rather than arising from her spiritual quagmire and enduring in her fight with God, while overcoming all of the enemy's power resisting her so she can gain the victory while she is here on earth. Although from the outside we can appear good, measuring ourselves with those around us, I challenge you with God's Word to look at the true picture and confess that true power from above is missing; true victory over the world and sin and victory for lost souls. So, what are today's believers missing? There are a couple of key issues. Let us look at them together.
1. MUCH OF THE CHURCH AND HER BELIEVERS ARE MISSING SOLITUDE WITH THE LORD
"Then Jacob was left alone." (Genesis 32:24a)
"True faith places a person in a solitary place of sacred reflection and prayer." - Jonathan Edwards (paraphrase)
Unfortunately, despite good intentions; despite prayer and daily quotation of promises given by God and caring for his family, Jacob learned that if he wanted God's favor and victory in the face of the deadly fear of his brother Esau, he had to spend serious time alone with God.
Solitude with God is the most important part our Christian walk, which is, unfortunately in this modern age of Christianity, emphasized too little. This is the reason that today's believers cannot endure pressure, daily trials, difficult times, and Satan's attack. This is also one of the reasons why today many fall away from the Lord; apart from fellowshipping and positive, uplifting messages, few teach on endurance with the Lord in solitary places. Many have quickly become believers and members of churches without true repentance and a deep relationship with God or discipleship. What have been the results of this? We have believers who have a measure of a relationship with the church and with God, but have never come to know God's heart and won great battles for Him and for human souls, because they have never learned to seek out solitary places with God, to have a daily relationship in their "closet" where they receive needed power from God to overcome difficult situations with people, or even God.
Most of us have failed in this, which is why we are experiencing mediocre Christianity without true faith in the Lord; and why we have reserve plans in case things don't turn out as we hoped they would.
Through solitude with the Lord, many have gained great victories with the Lord.
Take the example of Moses. While he recited Israel's history to the children of Israel, he recalled to them that it was intercession in solitude with the Lord that saved them, intercession for God not to destroy them because they were disobedient to Him in Kadesh Barnea when they were to take the land God had promised. "Likewise, when the LORD sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, 'Go up and possess the land which I have given you,' then you rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and you did not believe Him nor obey His voice. You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you. Thus I prostrated myself before the LORD; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because the LORD had said He would destroy you. Therefore I prayed to the LORD." (Deuteronomy 9:23-26a)
When Samuel grieved over Saul as king, he spent the entire night alone with the Lord. "'I greatly regret that I have set up Saul [as] king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.' And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night." (1 Samuel 15:10-11)
Daniel, when he learned that a law had been signed forbidding prayer, he got alone with God to gain the victory over the law. "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days." (Daniel 6:10)
Our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, knew that power and strength lie in prayer and often went to a solitary place to pray in order to gain victory in the battles that awaited Him. After ministering to 5,000 people, He didn't go home to sleep or watch television; rather He immediately hurried with His preparations in order to get alone with His Father. "Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there." (Matthew 14:22-23)
In Mark we also see that He wanted to be alone in a certain house, likely to pray. "From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know [it], but He could not be hidden." (Mark 7:24)
In the end, He left us a command regarding a prayer closet, which today we often consider an option for some but not for all. "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Matthew 6:5-6)
Some people in that time, especially the religious leaders, wanted the people's attention; they wanted to be considered holy for praying in public places. In this way they got people's attention. Prayer at its core is a private thing, although there is a place for congregational prayer. But if we pray only when we are with other people, without exception, it is an indicator that our listeners are people, not God.
No matter how we view it, one thing is sure: a many victories are conquered in solitude with the Lord. The strength of victory for people's souls and overcoming with God is often done in privacy with the Lord. Jacob learned this after he did all he could in his own strength. He simply decided to remain alone with God in order to fight for God's favor and blessing and to resolve those things that were frightening him.
2. FOR REAL RESULTS A REAL BATTLE IS NEEDED
"And a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, 'Let Me go, for the day breaks.' But he said, 'I will not let You go unless You bless me!'" (Genesis 32:24b-26)
Today's modern church and believers do not witness and cannot see God's true work because they have not grown accustomed to, nor do they know what agonizing solitary battle in prayer, persecution and sacrificing their lives, things, and time for the Lord and His kingdom are. They grow more and more passive, wanting for Jesus to bless them in this world, so they might live to a ripe old age with a house and a nice yard. The modern church has become a big theater in which often the pastor and about 20% of believers carry the remaining 80% of the church. They often entertain people with guest speakers and various activities to keep them in the church, not realizing that while they remain in the church their hearts are backslidden.
There are several reasons for this, but one of the key reasons is that many do not have personal and solitary fellowship with God, and endurance in battle while agonizing in earnest prayer. This is why there are no visible results - it's not because God isn't working, but because the church is not praying as it ought. If the church prays rote prayers or only at public meetings, it is no wonder that the powers of darkness have overcome today's church and why the church doesn't gain new souls for Christ and is not free from the spirit of this world.
I want to emphasize that I am not speaking about the volume or intensity of public prayer, but first of all about solitary prayer, because if in solitude we do not win battles in prayer, all of our public prayer is hypocrisy regardless of how fervent or loud it is. Often people who pray long public prayers do not pray privately. These kind of public prayers will not bring about lasting results, apart from possible emotional feelings in us or in our listeners.
When speaking about battling in prayer, it is understood that we pray for hours and days in agony for our lost parents, neighbors, other souls, certain places or situations. Only in this kind of prayer can the church experience the true filling of the Holy Spirit, see hardened hearts softened to the gospel, and see Christ glorified though true signs and wonders, and not the human circus that today is passed off as revival.
Prayers like Abraham's in the book of Genesis that "harassed" and interceded for Sodom, praying in secret so long that he told God not to be angry with him for praying for Sodom so many times. "Then he said, "Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy [it] for the sake of ten." (Genesis 18:32) Or prayers, such as Moses' when he prayed for forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking, because of the sin of the Israelites. "And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger." (Deuteronomy 9:18)
Let us remember the battling and enduring prayers of the Canaanite woman who prayed for her daughter who was tormented by an evil spirit. When Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a woman came to Him crying out for mercy. Jesus didn't reply to her at all. After some time, even the disciples asked Jesus to hear her prayer because she continued after Him crying out. Jesus answered her that He wasn't sent to her, but to the Israelites. But here we see her attitude of endurance, how she battled with Jesus. She fell down before Him and said, "Lord, help me!" and contradicted him, arguing about her need.
This woman, by this kind of prayer, changed Jesus' stance. This isn't a simple prayer before breakfast or "Our Father who art in heaven", but is a fighting prayer that cries out to Him, falls down before Him, and battles for our needs. Perhaps she cut herself on the rocks as she fell down and started bleeding, but she didn't care because she wanted to be victorious in prayer. True answers to prayer can even be painful, just as they hurt our Lord Jesus Christ as He went to the cross. His prayers were not just passing prayers, He didn't pray 10 Hail Marys, and then went to coffee afterward while waiting for the cross, instead He was in pain, horrible agony while fighting alone in prayer for victory. "Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation.' And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed...Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Luke 22:39-41, 43-44)
The Greek word for agony is agonia, and the word describes a battle or conflict that results in overcoming pain and battle. The word used describes great agitation and anxiety that brings fear and tension before a battle. When the word is used in Jesus' prayer, does not describe a fear that people pull away or run from, but a fear that causes one to tremble before certain things or allows a person to stand and confront it.
Luke used this word as a doctor, describing a fighting agony and intense prayer and confirmation that this prayer was so difficult, resulting in such pressure that His sweat was mixed with blood! What kind of bloody prayer was this that Jesus didn't want to walk away, but endured through it? Oh, that we would thus endure in our secret places as Jesus did, in agony of prayer for souls, while enduring less in the emptiness of the world! We would quickly experience the victory of God's kingdom in the hearts of many around us!
Jesus confronted fear, but won the victory! Jacob likely also had fear despite the preparations he made for meeting with his brother, but he knew that he had to remain alone with God and win the victory in prayer. What kind of battling prayer was this that God had to sprain his hip because Jacob would not let go of Him until he had received the blessing that He needed? This is a victorious prayer that is battled out until it is answered. Only this kind of prayer can bring lasting results and victory in our battle with people and God. If the church would have this kind of attitude in prayer, pastors would solve hours of unneeded counseling and discipleship because people, in these kind of prayers, would gain the victory over sin, fear and even lost souls. Unfortunately, we have bowed the need to modern Christianity that does not know about secret prayer because we haven't rightly come before God through agony in prayer, but rather through various interesting activities, seminars, concerts, and fellowship gatherings that have somehow encouraged people to attend church, until they encounter their first trial at which point they fall away because they do not know how to battle in secret prayer.
True results are found in warring, agonizing prayer and nowhere else. We may need to pay the price of physical health, such as Jacob paid as he was left with a limp, but it is worth being victorious in prayer and saving our souls, rather than going straight to the jaws of the enemy.
One well-known missionary who endured in intense, agonizing prayer warfare for souls was David Brainerd, who served the American Indians. We can see from his personal journal what he has to say about the intensity of his prayer and victory over souls. Let's take a look at just the intensity of his prayers:
Wednesday, April 21: "...and God gave me strength to fight for several souls, I had much passion in sweet obligation of pleading..."
The Lord's Day, April 25: "This morning I spent two hours in secret duty and had special strength more than usual to intercede for souls. Although it was early morning and the sun had barely risen, my body was drenched with sweat..."
Saturday, November 15: "I spent much time in prayer in the forest; it seems as if I have risen above the things of this world..."
Thursday August 4: "...I could have prayed much more...through the whole day"
Thursday November 4: "...I spent the day in secret fasting and prayer, from morning to evening"
He was often a witness of God's intervention. One Sunday, November 29 he writes, "After we finished the service, I went home to take a break until the next service, but nearly everyone went with me one by one in tears in their eyes as they said, "What must we do to be saved?" This was the power of God's work and it seemed as if God had lowered heaven on earth. It appeared as if God had saved the whole world..."
What all can warring, enduring, agonizing prayer do? Only in this kind of prayer can people be saved, converted, and be changed.
3. WE MUST ENDURE IN BATTLE, NOT ONLY SO THAT GOD WILL CHANGE DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT SO THAT HE WILL ALSO OUR CHARACTER THAT IT ENDURES THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES
"So He said to him, "What [is] your name?" He said, "Jacob." And He said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell [me] Your name, I pray." And He said, "Why [is] it [that] you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there." (Genesis 32:27-29)
Often while praying these kinds of prayers, we not only change situations around us, or save people, but we often change our own character. Today, people want to change themselves and apply various religious techniques to assist them that only smooth out the surface of the problem, while not resolving the depth of the problem.
Although Jacob had already prayed, had a plan for his family and stock, and quoted God's promises, he knew that he had to remain alone to resolve some deeper issues with God. In this all-night battle with God Jacob did not only received God's blessing and later the favor of his brother Esau, but God was also the witness of his inner change by giving him a new name. Jacob, an ambitious cheat, now became Israel, one who fought with God and overcame!
The name Jacob comes from the Hebrew word agav that translates as: inflated, to throw something on the floor, to cheat, or hold back. God didn't just change his circumstance, concerning his brother Esau who completely forgave him and didn't take his life, but he also changed his character. Jacob was changed in that agonizing battle with God. He realized that he couldn't make only cosmetic changes, as many Christians do. When they see a problem, rather than throwing themselves in a secret closet of agonizing prayer, often they change their circumstances or turn to other life plans, changing outward personal circumstances without a change of character. Yet, if we want to change our character and be victorious in change, one thing is certain - change comes in solitary places in intense prayer and battle with God. Why intense prayer? Because man does not grow so easily, which is why he must come before God's Lordship and die to self in battle with God so that Christ can live in him and bring true life. Without dying to self, taking up our cross and repentance of sin man cannot receive God's grace and favor. Today's modern preachers and Christianity have a problem because they preach about Jesus without preaching about the cross, the law and dying to self. Today's gospel is painless. Unfortunately if everything is made easy, we must pay the difference in true conversion and God's work.
Nevertheless we must conclude by saying that those who battle with God will certainly be blessed. Without just scratching the surface, we turn to God and battle with him for victory, not just ours but other's as well. We battle in our solitary places for new souls and revival in the church. God is the only one who can change difficult circumstances, open hearts and in the end change our character. We must remain in Him and His Word in order to see our prayers answered. Without Him we can do nothing. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." (John 15:7-8)