Jacob was afraid. And he probably had reason to be. He was bringing his family and everything he owned home after being away for about twenty years. He knew his brother Esau would be waiting for him. What Jacob didn’t know is how Esau would react to having his deceiving thief of a brother home again. Would Esau seek revenge for the injustices Jacob had done to him? The thought of what might lie ahead for Jacob and his loved ones scared him.
With great fear and distress, Jacob prayed. (Gen 32:9-12) I think it’s a template for prayer I could use myself.
First, Jacob acknowledge God. It wasn’t just a “Dear God,” kind of intro followed by a wish list. Jacob prayed:
O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord…
I need to stop more often and consider to whom I’m praying, verbalize the great privilege I have of actually speaking with the Creator. I see there is an important element of worship in Jacob’s prayer as he focuses his attention on God. I want to do that when I’m praying too.
Next Jacob prayed back God’s own Words, letting God know he remembers God’s promise:
O Lord, who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper”
Sometimes I find that when I pray, verses come to mind. I want that to be the case more often. Because God can say things so much better than I. (God, you promised never to leave or forsake me, You’ve said if I confess my sins You are faithful to forgive, You’ve told me You’re preparing a place for me…) I want to be in God’s Word so much that His Words are at the tip of my tongue when I’m talking to my neighbor, or to Him.
The next thing Jacob did in this prayer is to admit his own unworthiness, praising God for blessing he didn’t deserve, and crediting God with everything Jacob possessed. Jacob took a moment to confess:
I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.
I don’t want to be in too big of a rush to let God know that I recognize how much He has blessed me. I don’t ever want to take any of it for granted. I am unworthy. I am nothing and have nothing without Him. I know that. And I want to tell Him so every time I pray.
Then, after focusing on God, praying back Scripture, and confessing, Jacob finally got around to asking for something:
Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.
Jacob prayed 1) Save me, 2) I’m afraid, and 3) Protect my family. He was specific in his requests. He didn’t tell God how to make it happen. He just asked God to make it happen.
Believe it or not, this is where I have the most difficulty. Sometimes putting into words what I actually want or need is hard. It’s easier when I’m praying for someone else. Heal the cancer, God. Save that soul, Lord. Keep that missionary safe, dear Father. But when it comes to sharing the desires of my own heart, I get tongue-tied. I’m sitting here wondering why that is. It certainly isn’t because I have everything I want, or that my life is so perfect as is. It isn’t because I think God can’t give me those things, or won’t give them to me. This is a topic I’m going to have to spend some thinking-time and serious praying about. Psalm 37:4 tells me that if I delight myself in the Lord, he will give me the desires of my heart. So what am I waiting for? I’ll get back to you on that.
Finally, Jacob prayed God’s Words back to Him again:
But you have said, I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.
I think Jacob prayed believing that God is true to His Word. And he gave the situation to God, confident that God would bring about the fulfillment of His promise.
This template for prayer demonstrates that even prayer is about God. Prayer can, and probably should be, an act of worship. And the way Jacob prayed here in Genesis 32 is very much like the prayer our Lord taught us how to pray.
I believe God delights in our prayers. They are a sweet fragrance to Him, Scripture tells us. I want to learn to pray effectively and fervently so that God and I together can accomplish much.