Prayer is often hard, it's a struggle: a struggle against distraction, doubt and despair - and a struggle, a wrestling with God. Through the life of prayer, Jesus, by His Spirit, graciously and lovingly wrestles our attachments and desires into conformity with God's will for us. And so this is a supremely worthwhile struggle, for only thereby are we changed and formed into the people God wants us to be (which is also who we really want to be deep down).
The story of wrestling Jacob (Genesis 32:22-31) has long been seen as a paragon of the struggle that is the life of Christian prayer. This was perhaps most powerfully and profoundly expressed by Charles Wesley in his great hymn, 'Come O Thou Traveler Unknown,' Hymns and Sacred Poems (A.D. 1742).
Come, O thou Traveler unknown, Whom still I hold, but cannot see! My company before is gone, And I am left alone with Thee; With Thee all night I mean to stay, And wrestle till the break of day.
I need not tell Thee who I am, My misery and sin declare; Thyself hast called me by my name, Look on Thy hands, and read it there; But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou? Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.
In vain Thou strugglest to get free, I never will unloose my hold! Art Thou the Man that died for me? The secret of Thy love unfold; Wrestling, I will not let Thee go, Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.
Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal Thy new, unutterable Name? Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell; To know it now resolved I am; Wrestling, I will not let Thee go, Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.
’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue Or touch the hollow of my thigh; Though every sinew be unstrung, Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly; Wrestling I will not let Thee go Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.
What though my shrinking flesh complain, And murmur to contend so long? I rise superior to my pain, When I am weak, then I am strong And when my all of strength shall fail, I shall with the God-man prevail.
My strength is gone, my nature dies, I sink beneath Thy weighty hand, Faint to revive, and fall to rise; I fall, and yet by faith I stand; I stand and will not let Thee go Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.
Yield to me now, for I am weak, But confident in self-despair; Speak to my heart, in blessings speak, Be conquered by my instant prayer; Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move, And tell me if Thy Name is Love.
’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me! I hear Thy whisper in my heart; The morning breaks, the shadows flee, Pure, universal love Thou art; To me, to all, Thy bowels move; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
My prayer hath power with God; the grace Unspeakable I now receive; Through faith I see Thee face to face, I see Thee face to face, and live! In vain I have not wept and strove; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
I know Thee, Savior, who Thou art. Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend; Nor wilt Thou with the night depart. But stay and love me to the end, Thy mercies never shall remove; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
The Sun of righteousness on me Hath rose with healing in His wings, Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee My soul its life and succor brings; My help is all laid up above; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
Contented now upon my thigh I halt, till life’s short journey end; All helplessness, all weakness I On Thee alone for strength depend; Nor have I power from Thee to move: Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.
Lame as I am, I take the prey, Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome; I leap for joy, pursue my way, And as a bounding hart fly home, Through all eternity to prove Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
Artwork: Marc Chagall, Jacob Wrestling with God (1963)