There is a condition to answered prayer, although at first it appears to be open ended. In John 14:14 Jesus says, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” But in the next verse he says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In John 15:7 Jesus states, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you please and you will get it.” In I John 2:3 we read, “Whatever we ask we shall receive from him because we keep his commandments and do what is acceptable to him.” Obedience is connected to answered prayer.
Some of our physical dispositions such as our physique, a quick or slow reaction time, or being left or right handed, are all inherited at birth. Our character, on the other hand, is a composite of those things that we have cultivated in our lives. It is a result of the difficulties we have overcome. It is who we have become because of what we have experienced and what we have worked to change in our lives.
A person’s name implies his character. The Bible tells us that when a person’s character changes, his name changes. In the book of Genesis we find the story of twin brothers, Esau and Jacob. During the birth, Jacob grabs hold onto the heel of his brother, Esau. There is an illegal wrestling hold, a particular heel hold on the Achilles tendon that can cause real damage to the person receiving it. The name Jacob means, “One who wrestles with illegal wrestling holds.” Jacob is trying to usurp the birthright of his brother, Esau even while being born!
In a later conflict between these two brothers, we read of the deception with the porridge. Esau comes in from hunting famished, and Jacob convinces Esau to sell his birthright to him for a bowl of porridge. On another occasion Jacob deceives his father and usurps the inheritance, most of which usually went to the eldest brother. Thus Jacob lives up to his name as “one who wrestles with men.” People who lived in the biblical time hearing this story would have understood that he was a cunning deceiver who wrestled with illegal holds.
Jacob is now worried because he has deceived his brother, so he flees from Canaan. He crosses the Jordan and goes back to the Haran area from where their ancestors had come. when he gets there he goes to work for an employer named Laban. Laban is a worse “Jacob” than Jacob. Sometimes, when we are weak in a particular area, the Lord helps us change our character by putting us in situations where we must deal with someone who treats us as we treat others. We are allowed to experience our own shortcomings in the behavior of others.
This deceiver of his brother now works for a deceiving employer named Laban. Jacob tends Laban’s flocks, particularly his goats. He agrees to work for seven years, after which he will be allowed to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel, who won the beauty pageant in Haran. But after working all those years, what Jacob got was Laban’s older and not-so-beautiful daughter, Leah.
In the second contract, Jacob agrees to work seven more years to get Rachel. At the end of this time Jacob has had it with Laban and says, “I quit.” But the whole time that Jacob has been working for Laban, God has been working on Jacob. Jacob sees himself in Laban and realizes how Esau must have felt. He realizes that he deceived Esau in the same way that Laban has deceived him.
During the time that Jacob had been working for Laban, he had been blessed with a number of goats. The terms of the contract that determined which goats belonged to Jacob and which belonged to Laban, however, were always being changed by Laban. When Jacob says, “I quit,” Laban asks him to please eat a meal with him before he goes. In those days when you ate a meal together, it meant you forgave one another. Laban was saying, “Show me you will not come back and attack me for being such a deceiver. Eat a meal with me before you go.”
Jacob goes home, but on the way he wrestles with an angel. Jacob refuses to let the angel go until the angel blesses him. In response, the angel declares Jacob has a new name, Israel, or “One who has wrestled with God.” So, Jacob, one who wrestles with men, after years of wrestling wtih Laban, has his character changed. And it is appropriate for him to have a new name because he is no longer going to be a deceiver. “One who wrestled with God” comes back to the land of Canaan with a new name, Israel, because he has a new character. Part of what it means to pray in the name of Jesus is to have our character changed, to become more like him.
A prayer is a prayer in Jesus’ name if it is in the spirit of the character of Christ. Character is made up of those things that we can change in our lives, those things that we can work on. We do not have to hold a Freudian view that everything was determined in the first couple of years of our lives. There are things in our past that have been difficult, but we can work on them. The reason the Holy Spirit is called an eschatological gift, a future gift, is because the spirit of Christ helps our character to be determined not only by what we have been, but also by what we can become in Christ. That is the way Jesus looks at everyone. He sees everyone for whom they can become.