Read these two prayers of Jacob. One took place prior to Jacob marrying Rachel and Leah. The other took place roughly 30 years later when he was anxious about his upcoming confrontation with Esau.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”Genesis 28:20-22
Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 11 “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. 12 “For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’ ”Genesis 32:9-12
In the first prayer, Jacob prayed like many of us do when we get in a bind. “Lord, if you will just do this or that, I promise to never ________ again.” This prayer functioned as a grocery list: Lord, do this, this, and this, and I will do such and such in return.
The second prayer, Jacob doesn’t bargain or cut any deals with God. He simply depends upon God’s promise and asks Him to be with Him during the upcoming confrontation.
This transformation indicates maturity on the part of Jacob. We would do well to learn from his growth.
Jesus told His disciples, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
The prayer Jesus taught them was focused on honoring God, asking to be a part of God’s plan, to give them the bread He promised them, to forgive them as they forgave others, and to deliver them from temptation.
Jesus’ model prayer is a lot like Jacob’s in that it does not try to cut a deal with God but trusts completely in God’s promises.
God doesn’t need a shopping list from us because He already knows what we need.
Note: I am indebted to Harold Kushner’s book “When Bad things Happen to Good People” for the material on Jacob’s transformation.