Fasting & Prayer

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

– Matthew 6:5-8 NASB

Prayer is personal and private. It is a conversation between you and God. Corporate prayer is important as well – praying collectively as a group is powerful and it is vital for our churches and communities to grow and thrive, but it can’t replace our time alone with God. We need to listen closely to the instructions of Jesus and heed his advice. It is just as relevant now as it was then. We need to enter into our prayer closets and get alone with God in a secret place. We need to examine the motivation of our hearts. Are we praying to be heard by others or to be heard by God? Are we repeating meaningless words, or are we being intentional with the words we are praying?

What is the purpose of prayer?

  • Communication – When we pray, we’re having a conversation with God. We’re talking to our Father. We’re talking to our Best Friend. It’s not intended to be impressive. We don’t need to overthink it or try to say all the right words. God knows what we need before we ask. He just wants to hear from us. He just wants to commune with us.
  • Submission – Prayer is about humbling ourselves before God. It is how we ask Him for a specific need or desire. It is how we confess our sins. It is how we honor Him and give Him reverence. We can’t take for granted the immensely undeserved gift it is to be able to enter His presence. We don’t need to physically bow down knees or lay prostrate before Him every time we pray, but we should be aware of the posture of our heart. We need to enter His presence with humility and respect, because He is God and we are not. He is worthy, and we are not. We need to surrender ourselves before Him.
  • Intercession – The Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t have the words to pray. Romans 8:26 says He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.” We pray in the name of Jesus, because it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we have access to God. We don’t need to make a blood sacrifice to enter His presence, because Jesus became our sacrifice. We don’t need a priest to forgive us of our sins, because Jesus became our High Priest. The veil has been torn. We can enter into the Holy of Holies because of Jesus. Jesus is our intercessor, and because of His intercession, we too can intercede for others. Have you ever considered that maybe you are where you are in life right this moment because someone at some point in their life interceded for you when you were far from God?
  • Transformation – The purpose of prayer is to transform us from the inside out. The purpose of prayer is to shift our focus from the object of our fear to the object of our faith. Our prayers are not intended to change God’s mind, but to change our hearts. When I pray, it puts things into clearer focus. My perspective changes because I am looking up instead of looking around. We are transformed by the power of prayer.

Jesus didn’t just tell us how to pray, He showed us how.

“Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13 NASB

“Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.”

In the first two words of this prayer, Jesus shows us how to address God in prayer. We come to God because of the relationship we have with Him. We come to Him as a child coming before their Father. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed God as Lord, but in the New Testament He is addressed as Father. Our relationship with Him is more personal because of Jesus. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed Him as “The God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Abraham, etc.” but the New Testament refers to Him as Our Father. We are adopted children. We are prodigal sons and daughters. We are heirs to the throne. He is not only the God of the patriarchs; He is our God. He is our Father.

He is our Father who is in Heaven. With these words, Jesus shows us where our prayers should be directed. Our prayers are directed upward, towards the Heavens. Looking to Heaven allows us to reflect on the greatness of God. It humbles us and magnifies Him. Looking toward Heaven puts our thoughts into perspective. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The inclusion of the phrase “Hallowed be Your Name” shows us that prayer should be entered into with a heart of worship and reverence. “Hallowed” means to be holy and set apart. His name is YHWH – a name too Holy to even be written or spoken in the Hebrew language. YHWH means “becoming one.” He becomes who we need Him to be. He is El Roi meaning He is the God Who Sees. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He is Jehovah Jirah, our Provider. He is Jehovah Nissi, our Banner of Victory. He is Jehovah Shalom, our Peace. He is Jesus. He is Yashua which means “The Lord has become our salvation.” He is Immanuel, God with us. In Exodus, God told Moses, “I am who I am.” In the book of John, Jesus issued seven “I am” statements. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the True Vine. He becomes what we need. He is all that we need. He is the I Am, and His Name is Holy.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Kingdoms represent royalty, power, and dominion. The Kingdom of God is a Monarchy. A monarchy can be trusted when the King can be trusted, and our King is worthy of trust. Matthew 6:33 tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Jesus prays for God’s Kingdom to come – meaning it must move from one place to another. Jesus prays for God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It’s important that Jesus included this, because our human will is often in opposition of God’s will. Jesus Himself in the Garden before His death prayed, “If it be your will let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

A prayer for bread is a prayer for provision and nourishment. Our physical well-being is an important part of our spiritual well-being. Pray for what you need, but know that it may not always look like what you think it should. When the Israelites were hungry in the wilderness and prayed for bread, God sent manna down from the sky. It wasn’t any kind of bread they had ever seen before. It was flaky and appeared like dew on the ground. The word Manna in Hebrew means “What is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. But it was God’s provision, and it was exactly what they needed. God gave them enough for each day and told them not to store it up. They took only enough for that day, and trusted God to supply it again the next day.

Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He didn’t pray for a week’s worth of bread, or a month’s worth of bread, or five-year supply of bread. He asked only for today. In Matthew 6:34 He tells us, “Take no thought about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” We should pray for daily provision, and trust for divine provision tomorrow. Jesus asks God to give us the bread. That tells us that God’s provision can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It’s given. It’s a free gift of grace.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A debt is that which is owed. It is justly and legally due. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of our sin is death. Your wage is that which is earned. When we work for sin, when we focus our time and energy on sinful thoughts and activities, then the payment we are due is death. A debtor was often tormented, thrown into prison, or sold as slave until the debt was paid. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was without sin, but He died to pay a debt He didn’t owe. God gives because He loves. As He loved us and forgave our debt, so should we love and forgive those who sin against us.

This is the only part of Jesus’ prayer that He expounds on later. In verses 14 and 15 He says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This tells us that we should pray with sincerity. We shouldn’t pray a prayer if we aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to make it a reality. We can’t pray for forgiveness if we aren’t willing to forgive. God knows our heart. He knows our intentions. Forgiveness is no easy task. It is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. True forgiveness is a powerful force of love. It is a powerful demonstration of the love God has for us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus covers past, present, and future needs in this prayer. The prayer for daily bread covers the present, the prayer for forgiveness covers the past, and “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer for the future. Jesus is asking for God’s leadership and guidance. He is asking for deliverance from the traps of the enemy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand. It tells us God will provide a way of escape. This is Jesus praying for that escape. If we pray for it, then we have to be willing to look for it. When we’re caught up in the moment and temptation is right in front of us, it’s easy to put blinders on to any escape sign God may be trying to direct us towards. That’s why we have to be alert, be attentive, and pray without ceasing. We have to always be watching for God’s leadership, and we can’t allow ourselves to get into situations that will try to pull us off the path He has us on. When we do fall into temptation, we have to know that true repentance means turning away. It often seems that we’re in an endless loop of prayers for forgiveness and deliverance. Once our sin has been forgiven, we have to turn away and not look back. We have to focus on where God is leading us so we won’t be led astray.

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Jesus opened the prayer with a heart of worship, and He closed the prayer with a heart of worship. In the beginning, and in the end, He acknowledged the greatness of God. He acknowledged the Holiness and reverence of God. By closing the prayer in this way, Jesus is closing the prayer with comfort, confidence, and peace in who God is and in what He is able to do. He is closing the prayer on a note of hope.

Jesus didn’t say if you fast, but when you fast.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

– Matthew 6:16-18 NASB

Fasting as a Spiritual discipline is implied in Scripture. It wasn’t commanded, because it was already expected. Fasting should be a habitual, integral part of our Spiritual lives. Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He had practiced the disciplines of study, silence, and solitude – but he fought and endured through the wilderness because He fasted and prayed. Fasting requires Self-Discipline, Self-Denial, & Self-Control. It’s a learning process. It is a way for us to exercise the power of our spirit over the power of our flesh.

What is the purpose of fasting?

  • Fasting starves the flesh to feed the spirit – The first ever temptation was a temptation to eat. Food is a foundational part of our humanity. Eve was tempted because it was pleasing to the eye. She saw it, and she desired it. Our fleshly desires are those human characteristics that instinctively draw us toward sin. We crave it. Fasting breaks up our habitual cravings and regular routines. On a regular day, we will eat 2-3 times per day without a second thought. When we fast, it redirects those thoughts and focuses them on God rather than on satisfying the needs of our flesh. Fasting and prayer move our fight from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.  Fasting from food is a way of feasting on God. We must be emptied to be filled. In Matthew 4:2-4, Jesus hungered in the wilderness. And when Satan tempted Him to turn some rocks into bread, He quoted Scripture saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the word of God.” In the next chapter, during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6, He declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
  • Fasting shifts the carnally minded to the spiritually minded – When our minds are set on carnal and fleshly things it leads to death, but when our minds set on the Spirit it leads to life and peace (Romans 8:6-7). The strongholds we face are a battle of the mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and fasting allows us to take our carnal thoughts captive and replace them with positive, life-giving, spiritual thoughts. Fasting gives us a kick-start, a reboot, to cleanse our mind and focus our thoughts on things above.
  • Fasting strengthens us through weakness – In Psalm 109:24 the Psalmist said, “My knees are weak from fasting…” When our knees are weak, it puts us in a better position to hit the ground and pray. When our knees are weak, we’re more dependent on God and leaning on Him to hold us up and strengthen us. Without weakness, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be strong. Without hunger, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be filled. Our weaknesses point us to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Words of Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Our weaknesses demonstrate God’s strength.

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus encounters a boy with a demonic spirit. The disciples tried to drive on the demon, but they could not. Jesus cast the demon out, and afterwards the disciples came to Him asking why they could not do it. “Because of the littleness of your faith,” he said. “For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Fasting and prayer gives us the power to do what only Jesus can do. Fasting and prayer gives us the power to move mountains and drive out demons. It gives us the power to do the impossible in the name of Jesus.

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Beautiful in Time

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

– Galatians 6:9

Have you ever grown weary in doing good? You’ve planted in faith. You’ve watered the soil of that faith in tear-soaked prayers – and you’ve waited. And waited. And prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more. And waited. And waited. And still nothing. Years pass, and yet you’re still waiting with empy hands and a poured-out heart. It seems like that hope, that dream, that vision, may never come to fruition. It seems like time is running out. It seems like life is passing you by, and you’re just running in place. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. It feels like you’ve been looked over, forgotten, and left alone in the wilderness. It’s spiritually draining, and emotionally exausting. But the Apostle Paul says, “Let us not get tired of doing what is good.”

This word “good” or “kalos” in the original Greek language means “beautiful… eminent… useful… excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends… beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy… affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming” (Thayer’s Definition). The good thing is the necessary thing. The good thing, that may not feel so good in the present moment, is affecting your future in ways you can’t see or understand yet. The good thing is going to make the difference. Your situation may not be changed, but your mind is being changed. You’re being prepared and positioned. So don’t grow weary, because the good thing is needed; the good thing is beautiful, and your beautiful harvest is coming… in time.

The word “time” that Paul uses in this verse is the Greek word “kairos” which means “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment” (Mirriam-Webster Definition). Some translations say “in due time” which means “pertaining to one’s self” or “belonging to one’s self” (Thayer’s Definition). We are all created by God. We all have unique callings, and positions, and purposes within the Kingdom of God. Someone else’s due time may have been five years ago, but your due time may be five months from now. It’s your time. It’s your story. It belongs to you. And your time is coming. Maybe God is still writing it. Maybe there are missing pieces yet to be filled, character arcs yet to be developed, or settings yet to be discovered. Whatever the case may be, you can rest assured that you are not forgotten. You’re just in process. A true artist will not release an incomplete piece of art. A true author will not publish an unfinished book. Our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Asking him to release the answer to our prayers before the time has come, is asking Him to do what is not in His nature to do.

As I was reflecting on these thoughts this past week, I thought of the gardners and the farmers who plant their crops and wait patiently for the harvest. I thought about what might happen if the plant started to sprout before the right time. The fragile plant, not prepared for the bitter coldness of a lingering winter would likely wither and die shortly after breaking through the soil. And the hardwork of the farmer would be in vain, because the harvest that could have been would never fully come to be. So in order to avoid this heartache, the farmer may wait later in the season to plant the seed, and may dig deeper in the ground to place the seed. And the seed, unaware of the farmer’s true intention and purpose, may grow weary of the seemingly endless darkness. But, in due time, the harvest will come. And the season when the seed sprouts will be the season necessary, not only for it’s survival, but also for it’s growth and bounty.

Sometimes what we interpret as God saying “no” is actually God saying “not yet” – We have to trust God is a good Father who always has our best interests at heart and withholds no good thing from us. I recently heard it said that at the root of all our sin is the suspicion that God is not good. We grow weary and frustrated and feel like our prayers aren’t being heard, so we turn way and look to other sources for fulfillment. But God, in all His love and mercy and goodness, is just saying “The time is not right, the time has not yet come.”

Time is good. In the beginning, the first thing God created was the light. He seperated the light from the darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness He called night. The first thing He created was the way we track and measure time. And He said it was good.

I once heard Beth Moore teach a message on this subject, and she made the point that time does not pass like a timer counting down to a defining moment, but more like a stopwatch leading up to that defining moment. She made the point that we are not losing time, because scripture never talks about time going away, but rather always references the time to come (Luke 2:6, Galatians 4:4, John 7:8).

In this message, she also made the point that Satan is fully aware of this time yet to come, and the closer it gets, the angrier he becomes. So that battle you’re fighting, that uphill mountain your climbing, that resistance you feel – it’s because the enemy knows your victory is within reach.

One of my favorite verses in reference to time is Proverbs 31:25. There are several different translations, and I love them all equally. The King James Version says, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” The New American Standard Bible says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.” The New Living Translation says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

She rejoices. She smiles. She laughs.

Without fear of the future.

In time to come.

When you study the original language, this smile or this laughter, is described as being in jest or play. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition says it is “usually in contempt or derision” and is “to laugh mockingly.” My roomate and I used to play pranks on each other all the time. So when I think about this definition, I think about that joy you feel when you’ve laid the trap and you’re just waiting for the other person to fall for it. I think about that joy, that laughter at their expense, when all your planning and preparation has paid off. I think about when you’re playing a card game with friends, and you look down at the cards in your hand and you see that one card that’s exactly what you needed – you know the next hand you’re about to lay down is going to ensure your eminent victory, so that smile creeps across your face. I think about football players when they dance in the endzone, rubbing that victory in the face of their opponent. Maybe they haven’t won the game yet, but they’re one step closer than they were before. So they smile. They laugh. They rejoice.

This is the same word used in 2 Samuel 6:2 when David danced before the Lord. In the New Living Translation, David says, “…so I celebrate before the Lord.” It’s an act of worship. David did not care how foolish he appeared to the onlookers. The woman in Proverbs 31 did not care what the future held, because she fully trusted God.

What I find fascinating is this word – which has been translated as to smile, to laugh, to rejoice, to celebrate – it is used more frequently in the book of Job, the book of suffering, than in any of the book in the Bible. When we are found righteous by God, when we are trusted by God to endure the testing of our faith, then we can rejoice despite our circumstances. We can smile through our discouragement. We can laugh in the face of adversity. We can celebrate our eminment victory. Because we trust in the goodness of God, we can trust in the goodness of the time yet to come.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood… Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blessed. Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with His goodness, lost in His love… This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

– Fanny Crosby

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Wrestling with God

“During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking! But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’”

Genesis 32:22-28 NLT

Jacob wrestled with God.

And won.

This passage of scripture has always been one of the most difficult for me to wrap my mind around. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense. I have so many unanswered questions. Mainly: How do you wrestle with God… and win?! How did Jacob have the authority to demand a blessing of God? I’ve never been able to fully comprehend it.

But guess what?

Lately, I’ve found myself relating to Jacob. Living my story has felt a lot like reading Jacob’s story – I can’t wrap my mind around it, it’s confusing, and it doesn’t make sense. But nevertheless, there are seasons in our lives when our past seems to chase us into an unknown future. And in this period of transition, in the darkness of the night, before the dawn breaks – there is an overwelming sense of fear and loneliness. And in the holiness of this moment, so shrouded in mystery, my Spirit wrestles with God.

And guess what?

It’s okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay. I’ve come to learn that God delights in our wrestling, because wrestling with God means being real with Him. It means we stop pretending everything is okay, and start being honest about our worries and fears, our doubts and discouragment. He already knows. He is truth, afterall. We can’t conceal our heart from the One who created it. He has just been patiently waiting for us lay down our facade and welcome Him into our internal struggle. It’s not that we’re wrestling against God, it’s that we’re wrestling with Him. And we are never so close to Him as we are in these moments of wrestling.

I’ve come to realize that the only reason I’m uncomfortable with the concept of wrestling with God is because it means I have to lay down my pride. It means I have to lay down this false image of holiness and reverence I’ve constructed in my mind about myself and my relationship with God, and I have to get down in the dirt from which I was created and wrestle with Him. Wrestling with God means I have to get to the root of my fears and motivations. It means I have to be honest about my hopes, dreams, and deepest desires. Wrestling with God means I have to open myself up and risk getting hurt. Jacob won the match, but he didn’t leave without scars. So the question I have to ask myself is this: Is the risk worth the reward? And is that a risk I’m willing to take?

I think it is. And I think it’s one you should take too.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Maybe there is a longing in your heart – a desire that has not yet been fulfilled, a prayer that has not yet been answered. Maybe your life has not turned out the way you hoped, dreamed, or imagined. Maybe you’re confused about your calling and purpose. Maybe you’re experiencing doubts you never thought your faith would come up against. Or maybe you’re still struggling with a particular sin you thought would be far behind you by now. Whatever this wrestling in your heart looks like, whatever it feels like, you can rest assured that you are not alone. Maybe, like Jacob, you’ve found yourself alone in the wilderness. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re running from your past. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re scared about the future. And maybe, like Jacob, you’ll leave this battle with permanent scars. But maybe, like Jacob, you’ll also leave this battle with an eternal blessing.

When you look at the definition for “wrestled” in Genesis 32:24, it means “to grapple” or “get dusty.” It’s important for us to recognize that this was not a boxing match as many of the images of this scene often depict. This was indeed a wrestling match. They were on the ground, rolling around in the dirt, stirring up dust.

Dust.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

Mankind was formed from the dust of the ground.

We are formed in our wrestling with God.

If we really want to grasp the magnitude of this statement, we have to look back at Jacob’s past.

Jacob’s name literally means “heel holder” or “supplanter” because from the time of his birth, Jacob was always trying to take what was not rightfully his. He was known for his deceptive tendencies. He was born holding on to the heel of his twin brother, trying to usurp the power and authority that came with being the firstborn in that time. Later, Jacob would take advantage of his brother in a weakened condition and essentially rob him of his birthright. Then, in his father’s last days, Jacob would take advantage of his father’s waning eyesight and deceive him in order to gain the blessing that was originally intended for his brother. When Jacob was old enough to marry, he got a taste of his own medicine. After working seven years to marry the woman he loved, he was deceived by her father, and tricked into marrying her older sister.

Lies and Deception – that was the joint and marrow of Jacob’s story. Every blessing in his life was achieved through deceptive means. But here, in Genesis 32:22-32, when Jacob is on the run for his life and finds himself in a battle for his life – He demands a blessing. He demands a blessing that is real and genuine. He demands a blessing that is freely and consciously given to him. He proves he is willing to fight for it. He proves he is willing to suffer for it and sacrifice for it. He leaves the wrestling match with limp that he will walk with for the rest of his life, but he also leaves with a new name that will carry into future generations to this very day. In Genesis 32:28 the man says, “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” The name Israel means “God prevails” because this battle was one Jacob had to fight in order to prove to himself and future generations that deception is not the way to true victory – and even when we win the battle, it’s only because of God’s prevailing power and graciousness.

What I find most fascinating about this name change is something I read in Isaiah 43:1, which says, “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.'” In this verse, what stands out to me is that Jacob was created, but Israel was formed. This is a small detail that we often skim over, but it carries with it a much deeper message.

Typically, when I have read this verse in the past, I have always imagined that “Jacob” was referencing the individual person and “Israel” was referencing the nation of people. Jacob was the created person, Israel was the formed nation. However, it’s important for us to remember that the nation of Israel was named after the person of Israel. The 12 Tribes of Israel were the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob and Israel were the same person, but with one significant difference. The blessings of Jacob were obtained through deception, but the blessings of Israel were obtained through wrestling. Israel was Jacob’s new name, his new identiy. Israel was formed in the dust stirred up by wrestling with God and with man.

Just as Adam was created by both the dust of this earth and by the breath of God, we are made of both flesh and spirit. Where the flesh meets the spirit, there is bound to be wrestling. It’s a natural part of our spiritual formation.

So wrestle.

Don’t hold anything back.

Ask the hard questions.

Be persistent in those prayers.

Don’t relent. Don’t let go.

Press through the crowd until you feel His garment in your hand.

Cry out. Scream it out loud if you need to.

Pour it out like a broken box of precious and pricely oil at His feet.

He already knows your heart. He withholds no good thing from you.

He’s not intimidated by your requests. He’s not overburdened or annoyed by your questions. He is strong enough to bear the weight of every doubt and fear. His ear is inlined to your every cry, and He collects every tear because He cares for you. He is waiting expectendly for you to draw close to Him. If you pound your fist into His chest in your anger and frustration, you will feel He is strong enough to bear it. And soon after, you will feel His outstretched arms embrace your surrender. When the battle is finished, when the dawn has broken, you’ll receive the blessing He’s been waiting to give you.

We have the victory. We have the victory because He prevails. And just as a potter may have to break apart the clay to mold it, sometimes we’ll experience the displacement of a hip to remind us of that this blessing isn’t one we lied and deceived to receive, but one that was given to us with grace and compassion from the God who prevails over sin and breathes life into dust.

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