Magazine Article

Wrestle in Prayer?

Before we can be honest with God, we have to be honest with ourselves.

Ruthie Jacobsen
Wrestle in Prayer?

Years ago I heard H.M.S. Richards, Sr., longtime speaker for the Voice of Prophecy radio ministry, say, “The Christian journey is not a parade; it’s a battle and a march.” That imagery has never left me, although it feels strangely out of context in today’s shallow “name it and claim it” Christian atmosphere.

In fact, stride along with the apostle Paul (keep up if you can) around the Middle East and you get the distinct sense that he’s uncomfortable with what someone has called the socially conditioned small talk that today insinuates itself as prayer.

Listen: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:4).

Describing the intercession of Epaphras, Paul wrote, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).

What’s that all about? The struggle, I mean.

A National Platform

Recently my husband and I were in Washington, D.C., for the observance of the National Day of Prayer, an interdenominational service. It was hosted by recently appointed chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, Anne Graham Lotz, one of the daughters of Billy and Ruth Graham.

Music was provided by Wintley Phipps. United States Senate chaplain Barry Black led the packed hall in a prayer that gave us the sense we were in the very presence of God.

We can repent of having a critical spirit, and plead for God to make us healers instead of dividers.

The transformational momentwas a message delivered by Anne Graham Lotz. She led us carefully through Daniel’s prayer (Dan. 9). One of the highlights was a call to focus on some specific personal and national sins, with an earnest call to repentance, personally and for our nation.

Lotz told about a document she had been given by a pastor friend. It was a list of personal sins, and he urged her to read it through prayerfully three times. As she read it through the first time she found herself thinking, Well, Lord, these are serious sins. But thankfully, not much of it applies to me. Then she remembered that her friend had asked her to read it carefully three times.

Later she read it again. By the time she had finished it the second time, she discovered several sins that, in fact, spoke to her personally about her own spiritual needs. She told us, “By the time I had finished reading it again, God had showed me that I was guilty of all of them.

“I took the list very seriously and spoke to God with daily tears of repentance for seven days. Finally He broke my heart and said, ‘OK, Anne, now I can trust you with greater blessings.’ And He has.”

As I’ve shared this experience with others, many have asked for the list. Below is the list Lotz gave us that night.

Twelve Sins

Ingratitude: Failure to thank God for His blessings or answers to prayer. I repent.

Neglect of Bible Reading:Going for a day—or days—without reading my Bible; or reading it without remembering what I read. I repent.

Unbelief:I don’t believe God will give me what He has promised because He hasn’t given it to me yet. I repent.

Prayerlessness:I offer God spiritual chatter, fantasy, wishful thinking, or daydreaming as prayer. I often pray without fervent, focused faith. I repent.

Pride:I secretly believe I’m better than someone else. I am offended when people say I’m wrong. I repent.

Envy:I am jealous of those who seem more recognizable than me. I struggle when I hear someone else praised. I repent.

Critical Spirit:I find fault with others because they don’t measure up to my standards. I repent.

Disparagement:I tell the truth about a person with the intention of causing people to think less of him or her. I repent.

Lying:I have sought to impress someone with something that wasn’t the whole truth, or was an exaggeration of the truth. I repent.

Hypocrisy:I pretend to be something I am not. I repent.

Temper:I have lost patience with a child, coworker, friend, spouse, staff member, or another person so that I have spoken cross words. I repent.

Arrogance:I have accepted God’s forgiveness while refusing to forgive myself or someone else. I repent.

Many with whom I’ve shared the list have told me, “Thanks so much. I needed that. God spoke to me as I offered Him my heartfelt repentance.”

Think for a moment of just one of the issues to see why they are so significant. Take the sin of a critical spirit. Someone has said that criticism is so easy and yet so pathetic. It’s so injurious, so destructive. You and I have seen lives destroyed by criticism: families injured, churches divided. But we can repent of that sin, and plead for God to make us healers instead of dividers.

Caring for New Believers

Recently a pastor told us, “I realized that we were in great need in our church for members who would be willing to mentor, to disciple, new church family members.”

God laid on his heart the story of Mary, the mother of Christ. He observed to the congregation: “She didn’t leave Jesus in the manger to fend for Himself; she lovingly taught Him and cared for Him.”

He asked all those who had been baptized in the past three years to come to the front (it was a large number). Then he asked those who would like to mentor and be a caring friend to someone at the front to come forward and find someone they would be willing to disciple. The next 10 minutes was a time of warmth and significant ministry as people found each other and agreed to be friends on the journey.

After a time of prayer, the pastor concluded the service, and the worshippers prepared to head home. Just then a 10-year-old girl walked to the front of the worship center. “I’d like to be baptized,” she said out loud.

Someone in the congregation, sensing what God was doing at that moment, immediately asked, “Who’s going to take care of Emily?”

About halfway back in the center section a young woman raised her hand. Most of the people in the room knew this young woman had herself recently struggled in her walk with God. But in the past few months she had experienced a new chapter in her own trek. Now she would use that new commitment to mentor and disciple this new young convert.

That’s the way church is supposed to work. God has a special plan and purpose for building relationships with new members, and each of the others as well.

Take Lotz’s list seriously. Ask God for wisdom, for direction, for forgiveness, and for His special touch as you move to a new level in your walk with God.

Now retired, Ruthie Jacobsen served as prayer ministries coordinator for the North American Division.

Ruthie Jacobsen