Praying Like A Wrestler
Saying that the Bible is a book about prayer is not an overstatement. It is more than that, but certainly not less. From the earliest beginning (Gen. 4:26) until the very end (Rev. 19:6-8), God’s people call on, commune with, confess to and celebrate their God through their prayers.
These prayers are as varied as the stars in the night sky. Some feel as if you’re listening in on a good conversation with a friend. There is honesty and vulnerability. Others are more like the fireworks of a love letter, written by someone smitten with his beloved, packed with emotion and affection. The Psalms on the other hand contain prayers that are more akin to a pauper banging on the door of the king’s palace, begging for mercy: “Lord help, Lord turn you ear to me, Lord rescue me” (Ps. 6:4; 18:6).
One category that is often overlooked are those prayers that reveal a struggle, a fight. These prayers are like watching a wrestling match.
Wrestling may seem a poor metaphor for praying. We don’t do take downs or joint locks when we pray. But the image of prayer as a physical struggle is Spirit inspired. The apostle Paul told the believers in Colossae that his co-worker Epaphras was struggling for them while on his knees (Col. 4:12). And Paul himself begged the church of Rome to “strive together” for him and his ministry in their times of prayer (Rom. 15:30).
When Paul refers to struggling and striving in prayer, he uses the same Greek word: agonizomai. It means to fight or to labor fervently. The English term “agony” is derived from this word. Paul uses this description deliberately. He wants us to recognize that our praying doesn't always come easy. Praying demands work, effort and discipline.
When we pray like a wrestler, we pray persistently for something. Our prayers are not aimless but have focus. They’re not offered haphazardly or occasionally but over and over. We’re deliberate and tenacious in our asking, like a dog that doesn’t let go of her bone.
When we pray like a wrestler, we plead. We don’t just ask, we beg, we cry out, we entreat our Father. We put our finger on a promise in the Bible and say, “O God, do this. Do this for your honor, for your name”. We claim his promises. We come boldly, not hesitantly. We come in faith, not in disbelief.
There are blessings, answers to prayers, that only come as the result of this kind of persistent pleading (James 4:2). That is why God wants us to not give up. The purpose of the parable of the Persistent Widow (Lk. 18:1-8) was to encourage us to always pray and not lose heart. “For would God not give justice to his elect, who cry (plead) to him day and night (persistently)?” (Lk. 18:7).
Wrestling in prayer is not letting go of God until he blesses us (Gen. 32:22-32). The blessing may be different then what we prayed for. Praying like a wrestler doesn’t undermine the sovereignty of God. He doesn’t feel forced to give what we want because we’ve prayed a lot. He is God, we’re not. His ways are perfect and wise (Ps. 115:3, Is. 55:8,9). But when we plead persistently, he will give. It may be what we desired, it may not. Yet in the process we’ll discover that no matter the outcome, in the end he always gives the best blessing of all. Himself.