The Blessings of God Are Released Through Persistent Prayer

Martin Luther pointed out that the story of Jacob wrestling with God (in Genesis 32) gives us a picture of wrestling with a seemingly hostile God in prayer.

This is a startlingly common image in Scripture. Think of the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus to get healing for her daughter. Jesus’ response is downright harsh: “Woman, it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). Yes, you read that right; Jesus called the woman a dog. (I’ve read commentators try to explain this away, as if the word he used meant a cute, little dog. I’m unconvinced. No woman has ever wanted to be called a dog, even if it’s a cute one.) Does Jesus actually want to send the woman away? No. He is going to heal her, but at first he appears hostile and indifferent.

Or think of the parable Jesus once told about a poor widow (Luke 18:1–8). She needed a legal case heard, but couldn’t get the judge to pay attention to her because he cared nothing about justice and she was too poor to bribe him. So she goes to his house day and night and wears him down through her complaining. He finally says to himself, “I don’t care about this woman, and I don’t care about justice, but she has flat worn me down, so I’ll give her what she asks.” And Jesus says, “That’s what prayer is like sometimes.”

What is going on here? God is clearly not someone who cares little about justice or about us. The cross shows us how far he was willing to go for both! But Jesus is showing us that praying often feels like God is indifferent and uncaring.

Why is this so? Luther says that God often appears hostile to test the strength of our faith in his goodness: “Like a child trying to push against the hand of a parent, the parent gives only enough resistance to test the resolve of the child. So God resists us in prayer, to see our resolve in his goodness.”[1] Will we press through what looks like hostility to see the rushing river of God’s goodness that runs underneath?

Some answers are only given after a night of wrestling. So press through. This is the God who went through the darkness of Gethsemane and the pain of Golgotha for you. So press through. Do you feel like God is distant or uncaring? It’s an illusion—press through. Do you feel like he doesn’t care about your broken marriage, or your unsaved husband, or your wayward child, or your lost friends? He does! Press through!

Do not doubt the goodness of God: there is so much grace that flows off of his table that even if you have only the worthiness of a dog, there is enough for you. Do not measure the compassion of God on his apparent distance: measure the compassion of God by the cross and his power for your situation by his resurrection.

[1] Martin Luther, as quoted by David Steinmetz, prof of OT at Duke Divinity School, sermon given at Beeson Divinity School in 1996, “Calvin and Luther on Interpreting Genesis.” Beeson Divinity School podcast, 10/9/12.