The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

Persistent prayer

 Linda Brooke 16 Oct 2016

 

It is such a short parable, this one that it scarcely seems to warrant the title.  Indeed, it is usually read in conjunction with the one that follows – giving two examples of lessons on prayer.  It is a story of prayer, not giving up or losing heart, justice and finally faith.

 

First we have the widow – the persistent widow.  Widows feature often in bible stories.  Widows in Bible times were vulnerable women, But whenever they appear, they bring to the narrative a particular gift, which, because of their vulnerability, stands out.  There is prophetess Anna, who first saw Jesus when he was 8 days old and she was 87, with nothing except her faith, her testimony is not influenced by any force other than God. The impoverished widow who gave her last two coins – because of her poverty, Jesus showed us the value of the gift is more to do with us and our faith, than our earthly wealth.  The widow in this parable is forceful and determined.  A vulnerable widow, with no one to take her part, and yet she does not give up. She wants justice – it does not matter to the point of the story what the justice was for – she wants justice but is hampered at every turn because a lazy uncaring judge would not hear her case.  Vulnerable people are so often ignored or sidelined by the powerful.  Women have always fallen into this category and still are – just look at the furore over Donald Trump’s recent remarks.  In his world, women are just playthings, not taken seriously at all.

 

The widow keeps asking and eventually her persistence pays off; the judge stirs himself to dispense justice – just to shut her up.  Persistence is not the same as nagging.  Our prayer does not need to nag at God, but we do need to keep on with our prayers. We should not give up if it seems that God isn’t answering.  God always knows what is right for us.  If we are open to his will, if we listen to his words, take notice of his wishes; then our prayers will be answered.  Surprisingly at times.

 

Justice is what God offers in answer to our prayers.  And Faith is the price we pay, it is our side of the bargain – if we want justice, we need faith.

 

Now let’s go back to the extraordinary story in Genesis of Jacob and his struggle with God.  This is one of those stories in the bible that does not easily bear scrutiny.  It is probably allegorical – it certainly has a lesson for us.

 

Jacob was a tricky customer.  He tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing – in other words his birthright. Jacob, as a younger son, would not have inherited all his fathers land.  He tricked his father on his deathbed into giving him what should have gone to the older son, Esau.  Esau, naturally, was upset and held a grudge towards his younger brother. Jacob ran away – ostensibly to visit distant family members and to seek a wife – but really he was just keeping clear of his older bro!

 

He reaches the extended family, and there, Jacob is tricked by Laban so he ends up with the wrong wife, and has to work an extra 7 years before he gets what he wants.  Then he has to live with the jealousy between his wives.  Had he learned about honesty in his dealings? It would appear that he did not. In chapter 30, we learn how he tricked Laban with the markings on the sheep, that he was disrespectful and had to leave again. Running away from trouble! Jacobs’s wife Rachel was a thief, she stole the household gods (the idols) from her father and then tricked him – Jacob may or may not have been complicit in the cover-up, I’m guessing she knew he would not disapprove.  (Gen 31)

 

So, Jacob heads off homewards and knows that he will have to meet his brother Esau again.  Esau, it seems, is prepared to forgive – but Jacob judges by his own standards and is afraid – he suspects trickery and deceit. 

 

Then there is the story of this strange encounter.  There is a sudden change of pace in the telling, which alerts us to its significance.  Up to now the narrative in Genesis has been quite straightforward, detailing events and people and places.  But now – “that night … Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until daybreak!”  That’s all it says.

 

There is no mention of who this man is, where he comes from or why he and Jacob wrestle.  This is a passage that has defeated commentators, preachers and even poets for years.  Does it relate to the prayer that Jacob has just made – recorded in verses 9-11 of this chapter? Jacob appears to recognise all his previous faults and says he is ‘unworthy’ of all the kindness that God has shown him.  He appears to realise that he might just deserve Esau to come with vengeance in mind and Jacob asks God that his family will be kept safe.  He reminds God of his earlier promises. Then he gets on with what he needs to do, selecting animals as a gift for his brother and giving instructions to his servants and his family. We can learn from this too: repentance, humility, asking.  Remind God of his promises - then let God get on with it.

 

Back to Jacob; he has made sure the caravan of wives, children servants and possessions were safe and he is alone.  Being alone with God gives God the opportunity to connect with us.

 

There is this sudden attack by an unknown stranger.  They wrestle all night.  It does not end until 2 things happen – Jacob gets a blessing and an injury. 

 

Jacob first came to our notice tricking his father into giving a blessing (which included Esau’s birthright) now he seeks a blessing from this stranger.  He has learned that while you might get an undeserved blessing by tricks and faithlessness; the only real and worthwhile blessing comes from God.  It takes courage to ask God for a blessing – for there is a price to pay. 

 

Jesus himself was blessed by God – he was his son, with whom he was pleased – but Jesus had to pay with his life.

 

Jacob is injured – the man “touched his hip” and forever after Jacob walked with a limp.  When we meet God we are changed, there is a recognisable difference in us.  You might know that – when you meet a stranger, there is something that just seems to tell you that that person is a Christian a fellow believer. I think it is in the smile, but you may have other ideas. 

 

Jacob is renamed.  Names in Bible times, were more than just a label of identity – they told a story about someone and when God changes a name it signifies the complete change of that person’s character.  Just look at Jesus’ renaming of Simon – a humble fisherman became Peter, the rock that the church is built on.

 

So Jacob the cheat, the trickster, the liar – will be known as Israel (this name means he who struggles with God)  and Jacob is a man whose struggle with God has marked him forever as someone who is intimate with God, is mature in his belief and has God’s blessing.

 

Sometimes our struggles in prayer feel as if we are in a vacuum – like the widow dealing with the judge.  We need to be persistent, not give up, not fall by the wayside.  We need honest and sincere repentance like Jacob and we might need to work at our prayers, giving time for God to answer, being alone and letting God do what he wants with us.  Remember always that God is faithful and just – he might make us work for our blessing and we may be marked by the struggle – but ultimately we will carry the blessing of God forever in our lives.  It is worth the struggle, it is worth persevering, and it is certainly worth being marked by God.