The Prayer of a Humble Leader, Part 3

By Mark D. Roberts

September 1, 2017

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

Genesis 32:9-12


Painting of "Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau" by Reubens, Peter Paul.Recently, my Life for Leaders devotions have been focusing on Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32, what I’ve been calling “The Prayer of a Humble Leader.” So far, we’ve seen Jacob’s admission of his unworthiness to receive God’s love and faithfulness, that which has allowed him to flourish in his life and leadership. Yesterday, we reflected on Jacob’s honest confession of fear and how this encourages us to be more honest with God. Today, I want to focus on two other aspects of Jacob’s humble prayer.

After confessing his unworthiness to receive God’s grace, Jacob nevertheless calls out: “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother” (32:11). When Jacob last interacted with Esau, Esau hated him (27:41). So, when he learned that Esau was approaching with four hundred men, Jacob was understandably afraid. Thus he called out to God for deliverance, depending not on his own worthiness, but on God’s mercy. Jacob knew he needed God’s help and he asked for it boldly. He was not self reliant but “God reliant.”

What enabled Jacob to pray this way? In part, it was his experience of God’s love and faithfulness in the past. But Jacob’s prayer reveals something more. He remembered God’s promise to do good to Jacob and to bless him with countless offspring. In fact, Jacob’s prayer is framed by twin recitals of God’s promise to do good to Jacob (32:9, 12). Jacob is willing to stake his life on this promise, quite literally.

Jacob’s example encourages us to pray similarly, to be bold in asking for God’s help and to base our requests on what God has said. These Life for Leaders devotions are intended to encourage you in the discipline of praying in response to God’s words as recorded in his inspired Word. Day after day, we pay close attention to what Scripture says and then we pray. Each prayer is inspired and shaped by what God has said to us through his Word. My hope is that the discipline of praying in light of Scripture will encourage you to pray this way throughout each day, throughout your whole life.


As you reflect on Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32:9-12, what strikes you? What part of this prayer resonates in your heart? Why?

As you exercise leadership, do you pray humbly? Boldly? Honestly? In response to God’s Word?


Gracious God, we come before you today with confidence, not because of who we are, not because of our position, not because you owe us anything, but because of who you are, how you have acted, and what you have revealed to us. You invite us to pray on the basis of your grace. So we do, coming before you humbly.

Yet we also come with boldness because your Word invites us to do so. Because of what Christ, our great High Priest, has done for us, you urge us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Thank you, dear Lord, for this amazing invitation. May we take you up on it as we seek to lead with faithfulness, wisdom, and love. Amen.

Image Credit: “Rubens Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau” by Peter Paul Rubens Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


This post originally published on December 4, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Standing on the Promises of God

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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