Learning to Pray

Chapter 34

Theme: Learning to Pray
Focus on: Rachel and Leah
Reading Portion(s): Genesis 29 to 30:24; 35:16 to 20.
– Important Background Information
– Helps you find strength in God
What this article teaches you
Learning to pray is like any other learning. It takes time. There is a process involved. Also we move from one level of praying to another as time passes by. But the simplest lesson of all is that, to pray one has to start praying. Many fail right here. They never get started. All possibilities of getting things done without prayer are explored first. Only when these methods don’t satisfy or give results will people resort to prayer.

Then there are other lessons to be learned. People need to focus on God in prayer instead of relying on people. Another lesson that is important is not to substitute human wisdom for God’s answer to prayers. Many times we do achieve certain things in our own human wisdom and then attribute the results as answers to prayer. But as time passes by we learn that those results were not born out of prayer. But these are steps in the process of learning to pray. One learns to pray by taking these steps one at a time.

Prayer is not mastered at once. It takes time. But the tragedy of today is that people are not patient. Learning to pray not only takes time but also takes a lot of steps. But God knows how to teach a person who is earnestly trying to pray. So a person who sets out to pray learns praying one step at a time.

We find some elements of these truths in the life of Rachel and Leah. Both were wives of Jacob. Leah was thrust upon Jacob deceitfully by Laban, his father-in-law. But Rachel was his natural choice whom he loved much. So when they both became his wives there were some troubles in his family life. Leah was loved; but he loved Rachel more than Leah.

Now God saw this and enabled Leah to conceive; but Rachel remained barren. Leah went on to give birth to four sons in a row. The naming of her sons tell us much about the agony she had because she was unloved. She acknowledged the fact that God saw her misery of being unloved and therefore comforted her by giving her sons. She also hoped that her husband would love her because she had borne him sons. When her fourth son was born she said she will praise the Lord and named him Judah. Then for sometime she stopped having children.

As we look at Leah we find that her misery of being the wife of Jacob and yet unloved weighed heavily upon her soul. This might have caused her to cling to God quite naturally. That is why she expressed the view that God had seen her misery when she gave birth to the first child. So her grief caused her to pray to God in a much deeper manner than otherwise would have been the case.

But as we look at Rachel we find that she had to learn to pray. She was loved by Jacob; yet she was barren. When she saw her sister having four sons she
became jealous. In desperation she cried out to Jacob, “Give me children, or
I’ll die!” Jacob became angry and asked her whether he was in the place of God who had kept her from having children.

So here we find a misdirected prayer. Rachel should have prayed to God to give her children. But since her agony was born out of jealousy it was quite natural that her prayer would go misdirected. One cannot pray to God for something when the prayer is born out of jealousy. So Rachel makes a strong appeal to Jacob who chides her.
Jacob is wise in pointing out that God has kept her from having children. He may have hoped that at least now Rachel would seek God in prayer.

But Rachel was in a different mood altogether. She desperately wanted to do something instead of praying to God. So she resorted to the easy way out. She gave her maid to Jacob and asked him to build for her a family through her maid. We find Jacob agreeing to it. Bilhah the maid gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. The first son’s name means that God vindicated her by listening to her prayer and the second son’s name means that she had a struggle with her sister which she now won.

Even though she mentions God in the process of naming Dan, Rachel had not yet learned to pray.This was just another step in the process. Only her focus had shifted from Jacob to her maid. Since she found that she could not have children she first thought Jacob had the answer. Then being disappointed there she turned to her maid and found some success.

This teaches us that we try to attribute to God what we have achieved in our own human wisdom. Rachel named one son Dan saying that God had vindicated her by listening to her request. But it was her own idea to give the maid to Jacob and not God’s. But yet she says that God had listened to her request.
She might have had started praying but she had relied on human wisdom here and not entirely on God.

Then Leah does the same thing. She gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob and got two sons in the process. In the naming of these two sons no mention is made of God.
Leah might have been more conscious of the fact that she had not prayed for this; but just imitated what her sister had done.

But there occurred another incident that brought Leah to the path of prayer again. She had stopped having children. At the same time she also never got her husband to sleep with her because he was kept to the tent of Rachel. But when Rachel wished to have some mandrakes that Reuben, Leah’s first son found in the fields, Leah found an opportunity she was waiting for. She told Rachel that she could have the plants if she agreed to allow Jacob to sleep with her. And based on this agreement Leah meets Jacob coming in from the fields that evening and persuades him to sleep with her.

Then Leah bore Jacob another son.
The Bible records that God listened to Leah and she became pregnant. Although she had to use an opportunity that presented itself to hire her husband to sleep with her; it is clear that she had been praying. And God rewarded her prayers by giving her a son although she thought that God had rewarded her for giving her maid to Jacob. She also conceived again and gave birth to another son. Again she acknowledged the hand of God in it.

Thus we find that Leah because of her misery of being unloved quite naturally took to praying. Yet she looses this quality somewhere when she gave her maid to her husband. But when she again desired to have children of her own she takes to praying again.

All this while Rachel had gone without children of her own. But from what is recorded here we can safely assume that she kept on praying. The Bible records that God then remembered Rachel; listened to her and opened her womb. So Rachel had learned to pray. She had first thought that Jacob had the answer to her need. She then found some temporary relief to her need through her maid. Yet the need to have a child of her own drove her to God in prayer. Thus she learned to pray.

So she named her child Joseph saying that God had taken away her disgrace. She also wished that God would add another son to her.
When she tasted the fruit of prayer she felt relief that her disgrace was removed and she also longed to see more answers to prayer. She got another son a lot later but died in the process of childbirth.

This gave Jacob great sorrow. But as we look at it from a godly perspective we find that Benjamin, the last son she had, completed the list of the twelve sons of Jacob from whom the tribes of Israel originated and derived their names. Though Rachel named her son Ben-Oni meaning son of my trouble, Jacob named him Benjamin meaning son of my right hand.
So Rachel’s prayers were not lost. Even in the last moments she had the satisfaction of having known the result of her prayers. She had indeed learned to pray.

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