20181124 Parsha Vayishlach – Fervent Prayer
There was once a man who was very faithful in his prayer life. Every morning when he got up he would kneel by his bed and he would pray, ‘God bless me, God bless my family, God bless this day’. And before every meal he would say a prayer ‘God bless this food’. And every night when he went to bed he would pray, ‘God bless me, God bless my family, God bless this night’. And every time he prayed a prayer, he would take a walnut and place it in a glass jar. And over the years his house became full of glass jars, that were full of walnuts. They were on shelves and bookcases and window sills and everywhere. Walnuts… 1000’s of them! And the man felt very pleased with himself – ‘just look at all these jars, just look at all these walnuts, just look at all these prayers that I have prayed’ he would say.
Then one night, Yeshua appeared to him in a dream. And Yeshua took each of the glass jars, opened them, and one by one he took out the walnuts and broke them open. And inside each one it was empty, nothing but dryness and dust. And Yeshua said to him, you know your prayers are like that, although there have been 1000s of them – they are empty, they are dry, they are meaningless.
All too often we simply pray weak prayers, such as “Dear God, help me to have a nice day” and “Help me not to get so angry today.” But, Yeshua challenges each one of His followers to pray fervent prayers. They can be short, but they’re certainly not weak… If you want to maintain the status quo, don’t even begin this prayer. Or if you want to live an average life, leave it alone. But if you have a passion to make a difference in the world—if you have a longing to see Yeshua return in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords—then I invite you to learn more about fervent prayer.
Once you begin to pray fervent prayers in faith, the way will open for great and wonderful things to happen. Your life will truly be transformed, and you will never be the same again.
What is fervent prayer? Webster defines fervent as very hot, exhibiting great intensity, zealous. Does that describe your prayer life? Do you pray life changing prayers or “now I lay me down to sleep” prayers?
Now listen to this – this is important – Fervent prayer enables God to change the world–through you. Did you get that? Fervent prayer enables God to change the world–through you.
James 5:16 says the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man is very powerful.
And I want to share this morning 3 things about fervent prayer that come out from this story of Jacob. Now Jacob had not seen his brother, Esau, in a very long time. You may remember the story of how years before he had tricked his brother out of his birthright and stole his blessing. Because of that Esau wanted to kill Jacob. But Jacob’s mother found out about Esau’s plan and she arranged for Jacob to live with relatives far away. Now after many years had gone by God tells Jacob to go back home but he’s terrified that his brother Esau still wants to kill him.
And so, he comes to the Jabbok river and crossing it means crossing into Esau’s territory. So before crossing the river Jacob decides that he would try to appease his brother, that he would try to pacify him, that he would try to win him over by sending him some gifts. So, he sent his servants ahead of him with gifts for Esau, 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls, and 30 donkeys.
And as he was making these preparations, he said to himself, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me” (Genesis 32:20).
But his plan doesn’t work. His servants come back with the message, ‘We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him’. (32:6) And it says that Jacob was in great fear and distress. Well, of course he was. If you are going to go and shake someone’s hand you don’t take 400 men along with you. It was obvious Esau was unhappy, it was obvious Esau meant business.
And that brings me to the first thing I want to say about fervent prayer:
1. Fervent Prayer challenges the status quo
Things weren’t looking too good for Jacob. The situation looked hopeless. His angry brother was coming toward him with 400 men – looked like this could be the end. But fervent prayer refuses to accept the status quo. Fervent prayer refuses to believe that things have to be the way they appear.
Faced with the hostility of his brother, faced with certain death – he got on his knees and he held God to his promises.
Genesis 32:10-13 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Adonai, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you.’ (11) I am unworthy of all the proofs of mercy and of all the dependability that you have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I’ve become two camps. (12) Deliver me, please, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him that he’ll come and strike me—the mothers with the children. (13) You Yourself said, ‘I will most certainly do good with you, and will make your seed like the sand of the sea that cannot be counted because of its abundance.’”
When he was wrestling with God what do you think he meant when he said ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’. He’s not talking about prosperity, he’s not talking about God giving him more wealth – anyone who can give as a gift 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls, and 30 donkeys has enough wealth. Jacob wants to be blessed by being reconciled with his brother.
‘Look God… you said. Look God… you promised, and now I’m not going to let you go until it happens’! That’s pretty fervent! And what has God promised for us? What should the reality of this world be?
Through fervent prayer we stand against the status quo and we hold God to His word and to His promises.
In Acts 16 there’s the story of Paul and Silas in prison. They had been beaten, they had been thrown in jail, but they weren’t defeated. They didn’t sit around in chains and say ‘that’s it, we’re done for, it’s time to give up’. They didn’t moan and groan. They didn’t just accept the status quo. The Bible says, they prayed. Right there in that dark, damp, smelly prison, wrapped in chains – they prayed, and their prayers challenged the status quo. Their prayers challenged the ‘what was’.
And it’s no good us sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves and for the state of our nation and our world. Mainstream Christianity is in decline, morality is at rock bottom, Islam is taking over much of the world, there is huge injustice in the world, famine, starvation, poverty and greed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fervent prayer stands up in the face of the status quo and says things can be different – things will be different.
2. Fervent Prayer challenges and changes the status quo
That brings us to point number 2 – Fervent prayer not only challenges the status quo, it changes the status quo. Jacob wasn’t prepared to accept the status quo, he wasn’t prepared to go forward with the mentality of ‘que sera sera, whatever will be will be’. He said, ‘things can be different, things will be different’. And that night the most famous and perhaps the most bizarre wrestling match in all of history took place. That night Jacob wrestled with God. He took God to task and held him to his promises, held him to his word. ‘I will not let you go until you do what you promised, I will not let you go until you keep your word, I will not let you go until you bless me’.
I want to share a little Hebrew with you. The phrase “and he wrestled” is the Hebrew word ויאבק . The root word of vayi-vech is avech, which means dust. So, to wrestle, meant that they had a dust up.
And while Jacob wrestled with God in prayer something quite remarkable happened. As Jacob prayed over here – something changed over there. While Jacob was praying here – a change was happening in his brother Esau over there. How do we know that?
Well in Gen 32:7 it says that when the messengers returned they said, ‘we went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him’ – fearing for his life Jacob gets on his knees and pleads with God, wrestles with God until God blesses him – and then in Chapter 33 it says, ‘Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men… (verse 4) Esau ran to meet Jacob and (killed him – NO) embraced him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.’
You see, while Jacob was praying here – a change was happening in his brother Esau over there. He went from being an angry, vengeful, spiteful, hate filled person to a loving, caring, forgiving brother. Fervent prayer doesn’t only challenge the status quo – it changes the status quo.
Many of you are familiar with the saying “Prayer Changes Things”. Through prayer, cancers disintegrate, lame people walk, deaf people hear, the blind receive their sight.
I was on a ship that visited the port of Lubek, Germany in 1971. At that time, one of the major prayers of the Christian population in Germany was about the Berlin wall which had been built 10 years earlier in 1961. Practically every service, every prayer meeting, every gathering included prayers that one day Germany would be a unified country again. Fervent prayers – refusing to accept the status quo. And then, quite suddenly, and without warning on 9 November 1989, a scene I remember vividly – the Berlin Wall was gone. Fervent prayer doesn’t only challenge the status quo – it changes the status quo.
3. Fervent Prayer Leaves a Mark
And that brings me to point number 3. When it comes to fervent prayer you need to be careful what you pray for – you might just get it – and it might just come at a cost.
Jacob wrestled with God. He challenged the status quo and through his praying he changed the status quo – but it came at a cost. Verse 26, ‘When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man’. Why wouldn’t God overpower Jacob? He could have quite easily, but because Jacob was holding him to his word, to his promises allowed Jacob to prevail. God is always faithful to his promises. Verse 31, ‘Jacob called the place Peni-el, (face of God) because he had been face to face with God.
Jacob spent the rest of his life limping wherever he went – because of the fervent prayer he prayed that night. His prayer was answered, the status quo was changed – but it came at a personal cost. So I say, be careful what you pray for – you might just get it – and it usually comes at a cost.
Have you ever seen the movie Evan Almighty – God is explaining to Noah what happens when you pray and he says, ‘If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience, or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them the opportunity to be courageous?
If you’re praying fervent prayers for the homeless people in our town, don’t be surprised if God whispers in your ear and reminds you that you have a spare bedroom or two. If you’re praying for the hunger and poverty of the world, don’t be surprised if God reminds you of your bank balance and that check book that sits in your draw unused. If you’re praying fervent prayers for the lost people in China, don’t be surprised if God tells you to book a seat on the next plane to Beijing.
You know, if you pray to God to make your Rabbi, a great Torah teacher, a visionary leader, someone who prays and gives spiritual direction. Someone who has a heart for the lost, motivating the congregation toward evangelism. Then don’t be surprised when God starts working on each one of us from the Rabbi on up with a desire to start impacting the community with the Gospel of Yeshua – even though it will cost you financially, it will cost you spiritually, it will cost you in time, it will cost you in talents, it will cost you in gifting, it will cost you in commitment. And it may even cost you in rethinking your own attitudes and belief structures.
If you’re praying for God to start moving among us by the power of the Holy Spirit – don’t be surprised if and when he does. And I can guarantee he won’t turn up the way you want him too. But he will challenge your comfort, he will challenge your attitude. He won’t just sit on the back row and be quiet. He’ll make a fuss, he’ll make a dust-up, he’ll make a noise, he’ll make his presence known – and he’ll say ‘hey now I’m here what you going to do with me’. That’s certainly what happened that first Pentecost in Acts 2.
So be careful what you pray for – you may just get it – and it usually comes with a personal cost.
Recall Yeshua’s prayer in John 17, that God would glorify Him, that the disciples would be protected, and that future believers would be unified. That fervent prayer left physical marks on the body of Yeshua that He was able to display to the disciples after His resurrection.
I’ve finished. But let me just ask you. Do you believe in prayer? Do you really believe that prayer changes things? Or is prayer for you just some kind of ritual that you go through. Some kind of religious act you do because that’s what you think you should do.
A true story is told about a small town that had historically been “dry,” but then a local businessman decided to build a pub. A group of believers from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The pub owner believes in prayer and the believers do not.”
Remember when Peter was in prison in Acts 12 and it says that the believers were
earnestly praying to God for him. And an angel appeared to him and helped him escape – so he made his way to the house where the people were praying for him knocked on the door – and it says, ‘a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door.
When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her.
They prayed but didn’t really believe.
How often are we just like that? We pray, and we pray, but we never really believe that our prayers will achieve anything. Do you believe in prayer? Do you believe in the power of prayer? Do you believe in the power of fervent prayer? ‘The angel brought Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that brought the angel.
Fervent prayer – challenges the status quo.
Fervent prayer – challenges and changes the status quo.
Fervent prayer – Leaves a mark.!
Fervent prayer enables God to change the world–through you. My prayer is that God would make us a fervent congregation –a fervent people – praying fervent prayers that will change this world.