Study from God’s Word… Acts 6: 8 – end of Chapter 7 … Passage for Reflection: Acts 7: 59 – 60 … NIV 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
My Journal for Today: Today, moving on in the reading of the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles in the early church, recounted by Dr. Luke, we come on the prayer prayed by Stephen, the first recorded martyr in Christianity, who prayed the prayer in our highlight text as he was being stoned to death. And any reader of Luke’s account of the passion (see Luke 23, verses 46 and 34) probably gets a sense of déjà vu in reading Stephen’s prayer; because it was essentially the same prayer that Jesus prayed on the cross for those who were carrying out the crucifixion of our Lord.
And this raises an age-old conundrum about prayer. Stephen, who was filled of God’s Spirit, prays for the forgiveness of his enemies [i.e., for their spiritual well-being], as Jesus had instructed His disciples to do in the Sermon on the Mount [see Matt. 4: 43-44]. Okay, understood! But does this mean that God, hearing the prayer of even the purest of hearts, like that of the Son of God Himself, is obligated to what is evoked from the heart and lips of the one praying the prayer.
And this is the conundrum; … that we are commanded to pray with a humble, thankful, and forgiving heart; yet God is not obliged to answer with a solid and responsive, “Yes” to our prayers. How many times have believers been frustrated in sincere and earnest and expectant prayers for the healing of a dying loved one only to see that one be ushered out of life into the next life? So, does that mean that our prayers are useless?
Absolutely not! So, … why pray for our enemies? Well, Dr. Smith answers his own rhetorical question at the end of his devotional for today as he writes, “Could it be that prayers for others [like the one uttered by Stephen as he was being stoned] are more for OUR soul’s good than for theirs?” And the answer to that one is a resounding “YES!” And therefore, I ask the self-evaluation question that Dr. Smith writes and says is DYING TO BE ASKED: ”Have I considered that I am spiritually shaped by the prayers that I pray (or don’t pray) on behalf of others?”
Well, that one has nailed me to the cross by Christ; and I’ll let you deal with it for your own relationship with Spirit-led shaping.
My Prayer for Today: Lord, I stand convicted by my prideful lethargy and willful selfishness in not praying often enough for those who willfully pursue and persecute me or my fellow Christians. Forgive them, Lord, (as I think of them here and now); and help them to come to know You as Lord and Savior. Amen