It’s a spiritual discipline that doesn’t come easily for me. It takes work and time and a still mind and quiet heart. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to study it quite often – though, if I’m not careful, I spend more time studying it than actually doing it!
As I’m going through the Bible and studying various prayers, I found Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32 very interesting. He’s headed back home after being away for 20 years. It’s unavoidable that he’ll come in contact with his brother Esau. They didn’t part on the best of terms, shall we say.
He sends a message ahead, hoping to “find grace” in Esau’s sight. His messenger returns and basically says, “Esau’s on his way to meet you and he’s got 400 men with him.”
Jacob was, to quote the Bible, greatly afraid and distressed. [Verse 7] Have you ever been there? I’m sure we all have. Then Jacob goes to God in prayer, the absolute best thing he could do in these conditions.
Let’s look at this prayer and see what we can learn from it. I find six steps for how to pray when we’re anxious, afraid, distressed, or just seeking God’s direction.
1. Remind God of His promises.
“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:” ~Verse 9
It’s not like God forgets His promises, but it’s powerful to pray God’s words back to Him. Here Jacob mentions how God was present in the lives of his forefathers. Then he basically says, “I’m doing what you told me to do.” And he points out that God said He would deal well with Jacob as he obeyed.
What a comfort it is to pray the promises of God! One of my favorite promises during these years of parenting teens continues to be James 1:5. If I lack wisdom as a mom (which happens on a daily basis!) and ask God for it, He will give it to me abundantly and without reproach.
What promises of God can you remind Him of today? Isaiah 40:29 says that when we’re worn out, He’ll give us strength. Psalm 23:4 says He’ll be with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that His grace is sufficient. There are many more promises found in Scripture that we can use as we pray.
2. Acknowledge our unworthiness.
“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant;” ~Verse 10a
Jacob recognizes that he’s not worthy of how God has worked in his life. We can read in previous chapters how he tricked his father Isaac in order to take the birthright that belonged to his older brother Esau. Perhaps we’d agree with Jacob that he wasn’t deserving of God’s mercy.
And yet neither are we. As we come to God in prayer, let’s also come humbly, admitting our own sins and failures.
3. Recognize God’s blessings.
“…for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.” ~Verse 10b
Remember how Jacob left home with, we assume, only what he could carry, considering that he used a pile of rocks as a pillow on his first night out. Yet now he returns to his homeland with a large family, servants, and numerous flocks and herds of animals.
Whether we see our blessings as great or small, every one of them comes from God. It’s important to be aware of that each and every day.
4. Ask for what we want.
“Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau:” ~ Verse 11a
Jacob’s prayer here is pretty basic. Save my life!
Maybe sometimes it feels hard to just come out and ask God for what we want. But that’s a major part of prayer. Right now my husband and our older daughter are shopping for a car for her, and I’m asking God to lead them to just the right one. We can pray for our requests specifically and directly.
5. Admit our fears.
“…for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” ~Verse 11b
Jacob tells God what he’s feeling. Yes, God already knows, but Jacob tells Him anyway.
Tell God about your emotions regarding your situation. Are you angry, frightened, annoyed, hurt? Share those feelings with God as you pray.
6. Rest in the promises of God.
“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.” ~Verse 12
I think Jacob is saying, “God, if Esau kills me and my family, what you said about my seed increasing and prospering isn’t going to happen!” Here he is, once again quoting back to God what He’d told Jacob previously.
What we have to lean on in our prayer life is God’s faithfulness. Because we know He’s true to His Word and because He’s delivered on His promises in the past, we’re confident in trusting Him.
Whatever our needs are today, let’s make time to pray!