Prayer as Wrestling with God

The following quote on prayer by P.T. Forsyth rocked me today:

Let us beware of pietist fatalism which thins the spiritual life, saps the rigour of character, makes humility mere acquiescence, and piety only feminine, by banishing the will from prayer as much as thought has been banished from it…The popularity of much acquiescence is not because it is holier, but because it is easier.  And an easy gospel is the consumption that attacks Christianity….

Once come to think that we best say “Thy will be done” when we acquiesce, when we resign, and not also when we struggle and wrestle, and in time all effort will seem less pious than submission.  And so we fall into the ecclesiastical type of religion, drawn from an age whose first virtue was submission to outward superiors.  We shall come to canonize decorum and subduedness in life and worship…We shall think more of order than of effort, more of law than of life, more of fashion than of faith, of good form than of great power.  But was subduedness the mark of the New Testament men?  Our great religion may gain some beauty in this way, but it loses vigour.  It may gain style, but loses power.  It is good form, but mere aesthetic piety….

All our forms and view of religion have their test in prayer.  Lose the importunity of prayer, reduce it to soliloquy, or even to colloquy, with God, lose the real conflict of will and will, lose the habit of wrestling and the hope of prevailing with God, make it mere walking with God in friendly talk: and, precious as that is, yet you tend to lose the reality of prayer at last.  In principle you make it mere conversation instead of the soul’s great action.  You lose the food of character, the renewal of will.  You may have beautiful prayers—but as ineffectual as beauty so often is, and as fleeting.  And so in the end you lose the reality of religion.  (The Soul of Prayer, 91-92.)

I do not come close to the type of prayer that he calls for nor do I know that I’ve heard many who pray with this kind of tenacity.

Prayer is not simply submission to God, but wrestling with God.   May God raise up men and women who not only submit to God’s sovereignty, but who wrestle with him in prayer.

One thought on “Prayer as Wrestling with God

  1. “But was subduedness the mark of the New Testament men?” Subduedness before God: I think so. And since the subject is prayer, I think before-God is what’s relevant.

    In Jesus’ model prayer, did He not counsel to pray for God’s will to be done? When Jesus prayed that the cup be avoided, was He insistent — did He wrestle? In the Acts, are there examples of apostles wrestling with God in prayer, insisting that He see things their way?

    There is the parable of the unprepared host nagging his friend for food to serve his late arrival, and the woman nagging the judge. Those aren’t there for nothing. But in both cases, I believe, the nagging assumes that the underlying request does fit with the recipients’ sense of propriety (the obstacle is inconvenience, not ethical disagreement).

    I agree our prayers should not be pro forma recitations of lists. But I would not want to attempt to prevail with/over God, because I’m not God.

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