My series through Acts has taken me to Acts 13 and the Spirit has led me to stop and look at three things the early church did to be in a position to hear from God. Last week we look at the fact that they were worshiping, this week we will look at their praying, and next week we will look at their fasting. In my study on prayer I came across the following quote from Virginia Stem Owens about wrestling with God in prayer in several sermons and commentaries:
“Christians have always interpreted the splitting of the temple veil during the crucifixion as symbolic of their liberation from the mediated presence of God. Henceforth they were ‘free’ to approach him directly—which is almost like telling someone he is free to stick his head in the lion’s jaws. For once you start praying there is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself before Pharaoh, shipwrecked on a desert island, or in a lion’s den.
This is no cosmic teddy bear we are cuddling up to. As one of the children describes him in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, ‘he’s not a tame lion…We too must struggle with him just as Jacob did at Peniel where he earned his name Israel—‘he who strives with God.’ We too must be prepared to say, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’
Consider Moses, again and again intervening between the Israelites and God’s wrath; Abraham praying for Sodom; the widow demanding justice of the unjust judge. But in this combat with God, Ellul cautions, we must be ready to bear the consequences: . . . ‘Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and he went away lame. However, the most usual experience will be God’s decision to put to work the person who cried out to Him . . . Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his whole life at stake.’
Awful things happen to people who pray. Their plans are frequently disrupted. They end up in strange places. Abraham ‘went out, not knowing where he was to go’. . . After Mary’s magnificent prayer at the annunciation, she finds herself the pariah of Nazareth society. . .How tempting to up the stakes, making prayer merely another consumer product…How are we going to tell them that they may end up lame and vagrant if they grasp hold of this God?” (“Prayer—Into the Lion’s Jaws,” Christianity Today, November 19. 1976, pp. 222-23)