“And Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham.” This prayer of Jacob in Genesis 32:9-12 shows a huge shift in the heart of Jacob, and tremendous growth from the Jacob of earlier records. It is a model prayer in very many ways. It is honest, humble, simple, and straightforward. It recognizes God’s faithfulness to Jacob’s ancestors, shows Jacob’s acknowledgement of God’s promises, and demonstrates a deep humility that Jacob only has what he has because of God’s blessing. Jacob’s prayer also contains a bold and desperate request—that he be delivered from his brother Esau—but not just for himself, as a younger Jacob might have asked, but for his wives and children as well.
The prayer is also based upon God’s covenant promise about Jacob’s seed multiplying as the sand in the sea for multitude. Although when God talked to Jacob, He had said “the dust of the earth” (Gen. 28:14), in this prayer Jacob goes back to covenant roots that are based in Abraham (Gen. 22:17), showing that Abraham had passed the promises of God down to his offspring.
Did it take being afraid for his life and the lives of his family to congeal in Jacob’s heart that he needed God, could not succeed without God, and would succeed only with God? Many soldiers testify that it was only when they thought they were going to die in battle that they got serious about God, and that is certainly the source of the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” That certainly may be the case with Jacob. However, we must not discount that it is more likely that Jacob had been maturing in his heart for years. The threat of death may have congealed Jacob’s trust in God, but the foundation of his relationship with God had been building over the years. However, God, in His grace, did not allow this newly formed sincerity in Jacob to exist without burning it into Jacob’s life. God sent an angel whose interaction with Jacob no doubt left a deep and life-long impression—even if that impression was helped along by Jacob’s newly caused limp.
One sure thing we can learn from this prayer is that a powerful prayer is one that is bold and honest, and spoken from the heart. Long, flowery prayers may seem impressive, but bold and honest prayers touch God’s heart.