The Power of Prevailing Prayer
Prayer is the most intimate form of communication between God and His creation, because it is the heart of man communicating with the heart of God. We need prayer, and not just prayer, but prevailing prayer. It is our lifeline to God.
Genesis 32 gives an example of prevailing prayer. In the account, Jacob was traveling home with his household after twenty years away. He was in great distress about reuniting with his brother, Esau, whom he had defrauded of his birthright. As the travelers reached the last leg of their journey, Jacob separated from his family for the night, and we read in verse 24 that he “was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” As dawn approached, the man said to Jacob, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (verse 28).
The Bible gives a few more details of Jacob’s encounter in Hosea 12:4-5, which show it was not just a physical wrestling match that took place: “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us. Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.” Jacob had prevailed with God in prayer, and as a result, his family went on to be welcomed by Esau in peace.
Prevailing prayer is prayer that has power or influence with God. It is the type of prayer that is capable of producing results, prayer that accomplishes something.
The word prevail means “to endure, accomplish, triumph or overcome, and have power or influence.” Therefore, prevailing prayer is prayer that has power or influence with God. It is the type of prayer that is capable of producing results, prayer that accomplishes something. And to prevail in prayer means to endure until you have prayed through to an answer.
Prevailing prayer can be born out of a desperate need or a hunger for the things of God. It can be born out of a heavy burden for the condition of our own souls or the souls of others. Often it involves hours on our knees. Jacob wrestled with God all night. If we are willing to do the work, we too can prevail with God through prayer; we can gain the victory over trials and temptations. To prevail takes faith, sincerity, obedience, humility, and persistence. Looking into each of these can help us when we pray.
It has been said that “God moves mountains, but faith and prayer move God.” About five years ago I received a lesson on how faith moves a father. It was my own son who taught me this. About a year after moving to Roseburg, Oregon, my wife and I discovered that our youngest child, Evan, who at that time was six years old, needed glasses. One day he told his mom, “I see you have two noses.” We realized there was a problem with his vision and took him to the eye doctor. Sure enough, the doctor prescribed glasses, and we purchased a pair. A few days later, it fell on me to take our three boys to school, and as they were getting out of the van, Evan realized he didn’t have his glasses and began to cry. I quickly evaluated the situation and thought, He has been six years without glasses; he will be fine for one day. However, Evan didn’t feel the same way and continued to cry. His older brother Ethan turned to him and said, “Everything is going to be okay. Go to class and Dad will go home and get your glasses and bring them to the office.” As the van door closed, he said again, “Dad will bring your glasses.” I drove away still convinced that Evan would be fine without his glasses, but the faith of his older brother who was only nine at the time, assuring him that Dad would come through, prevailed with me. I went home, retrieved the glasses, and took them to the school.
There are many examples in the Bible of people who had influence with God through prayer, and in every instance, we find that faith was present. The reason for this is given in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Wherever there is prevailing prayer, there will first of all be faith.
If our prayers are met with silence, we should not walk away. Our faith will be strengthened and rewarded if we will keep praying, keep prevailing.
One woman whose faith had influence with the Lord that enabled her to prevail was the Syrophoenician mother who came to Jesus crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” Seemingly untouched by her cries, Jesus “answered her not a word.” This did not dissuade the woman, however, and she persisted in faith. If our prayers are met with silence, we should not walk away. Our faith will be strengthened and rewarded if we will keep praying, keep prevailing. The disciples appeared unmoved by the woman’s pleas as well, and asked Jesus to send her away because, “She crieth after us.” Still, she pressed on. Then Jesus told her, “I am not sent but unto the house of the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman could have taken offense and given up, but instead she came and “worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” What beautiful words! Our prayers do not need to be fancy to be effective; they just need to be from the heart. Jesus addressed her again, saying, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Refusing to be put off, the woman reasoned with Him, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus was moved, and He responded, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matthew 15:22-28).
We must pray with sincerity. Prevailing prayer comes from the heart. It is not made with little commitment, and it is not a cold or careless prayer made with an indifferent attitude. Jesus rejected the prayers of the scribes and Pharisees saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
Part of being sincere is being focused and intentional when we pray. Prayer is a conversation with God, so we must be engaged mentally in what we are saying. A minister once gave some practical advice concerning this. He said we should pray out loud when we can, not because we want to be heard by others, but because it helps us to concentrate on what we are trying to communicate.
There are times when words are not enough to express what we feel inside. The woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment did not say one word; she spoke with her whole being (see Matthew 9:20-22). She touched Jesus with her heart, and that was her unspoken prayer.
Hannah is another who cried out with her heart and not words. Though her prayer was silent, it was fervent. The account found in 1 Samuel 1:1-17 relates that “she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” Her prayer was full of consecration also: “She vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and . . . give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.” Those around her could not hear her prayer for “she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard,” but God heard. Even the priest thought she was drunk, but she told him, “No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.” She poured out her soul, yet nothing came out of her mouth.
When our prayers are focused and sincere, when we cry out to God with our whole hearts, He will hear and answer.
Looking again at the account of Jacob, we see that God called him to return to the Promised Land: “And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee” (Genesis 31:3). God had given Jacob a blessed heritage with a wonderful covenant restating promises made to his grandfather Abraham, that he and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, become a great nation, and be a blessing to all mankind. By instructing Jacob to return to Canaan, God was in essence calling him to dwell in the midst of His promises, in the midst of His will. This is a place where God can bless.
Prevailing prayer must be made within the promises of God. We prevail when our entire lives are aligned to the truths of God’s Word.
Prevailing prayer must be made within the promises of God. We prevail when our entire lives are aligned to the truths of God’s Word. God blesses as we pray according to His will. We can try in prayer to wrestle God to our way of thinking, but unless our request lines up with His revealed Word, our efforts will be unproductive.
People seek revival and they want to prevail with God for it, but unless there is surrender, there can be no victory. Before there can be revival, there must be total submission. If we want to have the fullness of God, we will need to be emptied of everything that crowds out God.
The prospect of returning home put Jacob in a predicament—he would have to face his brother Esau and the consequences of stealing his birthright. Jacob was terrified for himself and his family, and with good reason, for his brother had sworn to kill him. However, Jacob knew that to be a partaker of God’s promises, he needed to obey God’s will and return home, and this meant making peace with his brother. Just because God commands us to do something does not mean it will be easy; it does not mean there will not be distress or discomfort. However, if there is no restitution, no making amends, there will be no prevailing. We will not be able to dwell in the Promised Land or obtain the promises of God until we have done everything in our power to rectify past offenses. When everything is cleared up, when all is on the altar, when all is surrendered, God will hear our prayers and we will prevail.
With much fear and anxiety, Jacob sent servants to Esau to tell him he was coming, and his message was one of humility. He addressed his brother as, “My lord,” and he described himself as, “Thy servant Jacob.” The message concluded with, “That I may find grace in thy sight” (Genesis 32:4-5). He wasn’t demanding honor as the son with the birthright; he approached his brother with humility.
When the servants returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, Jacob went alone to pray. Problems in life will drive us to God in prayer. God allows trials in our lives to bring us to Himself. May we respond like Jacob did, with humility! He cried out to God, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands” (Genesis 32:10). We can see the humility, the lack of entitlement, in his prayer. He told God that when he had left his family twenty years earlier, all he had was his staff, but because God had blessed, he was now returning with two bands of people. He was reverent, grateful, and humble, and God heard his prayer. God can do something for us also if we will humble ourselves and call on Him.
Jacob had prayed before this crisis, and God had heard his prayers, but he did not yet have peace in his heart. What do we do when we have prayed and do not have peace? We must go back to God and pray again. And maybe, just as Jacob separated himself from his family to get alone with God, we will have to separate ourselves for a time of earnest prayer. Jacob needed an assurance in his heart, and that night God met him in the form of a man—a divine representative—and they wrestled. When the man tried to get free of Jacob’s hold saying, “Let me go, for the day breaketh,” Jacob said he would not let go “except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Prevailing prayer is holding on until an answer is received.
When we need something from God, we need to grab hold with all our might and with all our faith. Then, through the Blood of Jesus, we will have victory, we will prevail.
Before departing, the man changed Jacob’s name, and this was a representation of how God had changed his character. Jacob’s name had meant “supplanter” or “ambitious deceiver,” and that is what he had been when he used trickery to steal his brother’s birthright. Now, he would be called Israel, the prince, the one who struggles with God and overcomes; the prevailer.
We want to have the type of prayer that is productive, that moves God to bless, and moves us forward spiritually. We need prevailing prayer. If we will endure on our knees, laying all on the altar, and praying according to His promises, we will see God work in our lives.