As human beings, we don’t pray in one world and live in another. We are called to have an integrity, a unity, between the way we pray and the way we live.

If we live by our own whims and neglect moral goodness, then our prayer will be depleted of the grace it needs to flourish. If we live a morally upright life but do not pray, then we can quickly fall into a pharisaism. We need both prayer and a morally good life if we we’re going to draw close to God.

Seeking to live in the balance between prayer and action is difficult and has a lot of possible slips and trips. Chief among them is what the Lord Jesus called “lip service.” This is when we speak something that we know is not true about ourselves. We can claim to be a person of prayer, but we’re not really praying. We can claim a certain moral goodness, but in fact be very evil and deceptive.

Talk is cheap, especially in a digital world with mass media. We can say anything and make any claim we want. Lip service is rampant. It is the death of any real desire for the spiritual life. It starves to death the soul that would otherwise hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “The prayer of faith consists not only in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father.”

The disposition of the heart that allows us to hear and follow the will of God – and the way of life that flows from it – is necessary if we’re going to receive and exercise the prayer of faith.

Our lives have to become a part of our prayer, and our prayer has to mold and shape our lives.

It’s a disturbing thought to think that we can pray and call out, “Lord, Lord!” and yet such prayers become stunted by a rebellious heart that refuses to trust and follow the will of God.

The Catechism teaches us: “Jesus calls his disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan.”

The living God loves us. He calls us to humbly bring our own infidelity and lack of trust into our prayer itself. As we reject the will of God in our lives, we are told to bring that very rejection and distrust into our prayer. The very act of defiance can itself become a prayer, and – through God’s grace – the defiance can be a means for us to draw closer to God.

The wrestling match between God and ourselves should never be avoided or underestimated. God welcomes a good fight as we struggle to listen and trust him. In our walk with God, we should never be embarrassed or shy away from questions and challenges. We should bring such things before God. And we shouldn’t be surprised if God rolls up his sleeves, assumes a fighting position, and says, “Give me all you’ve got!” And when we’re done with our complaints, questions, uncertainties, ambiguities, challenges, we shouldn’t be surprised if he pounces and initiates a good fight.

This is what we did to our forefather Jacob in the desert of Peniel and it’s what he’ll do for us. Jacob needed healing and restoration and God gave those to him but they did not come cheaply. Jacob wrestled with God in the desert, through the night, by himself. As dawn broke, God blessed him and re-named him Israel. He had become a new creation, a new person, and was given a new mission.

This is the wrestling match that God invites us to. He wants us to open our hearts, raise our voices, and engage in the fight. For those who wrestle with God, he will bless them and give them a new name. But the battle has to happen. The faint-hearted must step up. The wayward must throw their punches and be ready to be back-flipped by the God who loves them. The wrestling match is where God really teaches us, and it’s the only place where we truly learn about him.

This is the battle of acceptance and trust. It’s where we learn to trust God and cherish his will.