What Does it Mean to ‘Wrestle’ in Prayer?
- Jason Soroski Contributing Writer
- 2021 30 Nov
When you think of spending time in prayer, what do you think of? Does prayer bring thoughts of quiet reflection, or time spent reading Scripture and journaling? Does it recall a time of singing and celebration, or is it more about active and fervent time with God? How about a wrestling match? There are several times in Scripture where our prayer is compared to wrestling, so what does it mean to wrestle in prayer, and how can we grow a prayer life that can be described as such?
Prayer can mean a lot of things to each of us, but the one common denominator is that we as Christians are all called to do it. Jesus set the example of regularly engaging in prayer with the Father, and on occasion, we are given a glimpse into his prayer life through what the Gospel writers have written down for us. We can know this for certain: Scripture shows us how to pray, why to pray, and what it means to wrestle and find victory in prayer.
The Example of Jacob
“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’.” - Genesis 32:28
Among the most famous “prayer wrestling” examples in the Bible is the account of Jacob quite literally wrestling with God. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles throughout the night with a man, who we discover was actually God in human form, and the ending of this struggle is unique. As the sun is coming up, Jacob says, "I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). It is then that he receives both his blessing and a new name –Israel.
Jacob’s struggle with God ended in blessing. Not because he, or we, can demand anything from God, but because it serves as an example that when we are willing to put all we are into prayer, and all we have into our relationship with Christ, we can know that he is engaged, listening, actively involved, and willing to answer.
The Example of Epaphras
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” - Colossians 4:12
When asked to name a person in the New Testament, we may think of Paul, Peter, or someone who is mentioned frequently and prominently. Yet within the early Church, which numbered in the thousands only a few weeks after the ascension of Jesus, there are many important figures who get only a few brief mentions. One of these people is Epaphras.
This faithful servant is mentioned only three times: Colossians 1:6-7, Colossians 4:12, and Philemon 1:23, yet his influence and work for the Gospel is clearly significant. According to Colossians 1:7, it was not Paul, but Epaphras who preached the Gospel to and most likely founded the church in Colossae; “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf”.
This Church leader who is little known to us was well-known to his contemporaries, and it is clear that he wrestled in prayer for them. He could not be in Colossae every day doing things for the believers there, protecting them from harm, or following them around to make sure their Christian faith remained intact. Yet his power and strength came in wrestling for them in prayer, fighting against the spiritual forces that would bring them harm. His prayerful impact continues to reach through the generations to us today.
The Example of Jesus
“not my will, but yours be done.” - Luke 22:42
When the disciples ask Jesus how they should pray, he gives them what we now refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer includes the phrase, “your will be done”, so it is no surprise that Jesus prays this exact thing on the most emotional night of his life; perhaps the most emotional night in history.
Jesus, in His humanity, is clearly wrestling with God for good reason. He knows what is coming is painful, he would prefer another way, and so he wrestles through it with his Father. He prays for himself, and for those who believe in Him. He knows that although he could easily destroy all his human enemies with a single word, that is not the Father’s plan. Yet he still wrestles.
This is such a beautiful example of how we too can spend our prayer moments, not in anger, doubt, or sadness, but we can openly place these emotions before God and wrestle with him over it just as Jesus did.
What it Means for Us
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” - Ephesians 6:12
We too often make the mistake of thinking that we can fix the world. That somehow if we elect the right people, or if we argue down those who disagree with us, things will be better and we can achieve heaven here on earth. While it is tempting to think this, this idea is nowhere to be found in Scripture, and it is among Satan’s most tempting lies.
Our struggle is not with the ‘other’ political party, the people who twist Christianity to suit their own desires, or even those who outright attack it and profane God. Our struggle is with Satan and the powers of darkness that he commands.
Our struggles with pain, sadness, and anger are not to be tackled on our own. God wants us to take those things to him, to ask questions, to cry out, to express all of our emotions that he gave us, and to allow us to work them out in and through and with him. As we wrestle in prayer, we are actively engaged in a spiritual battle. Sometimes this takes on the form of wrestling with a loving father who invites us to “cast our cares upon him”. Other times it is in direct conflict with the powers of darkness in the powerful and victorious name of Christ.
When we wrestle, it is a spiritual battle in the heavenly realm. Through such wrestling, we learn that our prayers are powerful, effective, and have results beyond what we can see.
Photo credit: Unsplash.com/BenWhite
Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and member of the worship team at matthias lot church in St. Charles, MO. He spends his free time hanging out with his family, exploring new places, and writing about the experiences. Connect on Facebook or at JasonSoroski.net.