by Linda McMillan
like Stephen, we can’t know when even our last minute prayers might make all the difference.
I think about prayer a lot. What’s the point of it? Is anybody listening or is just a way to get things out there to the universe? Does it change anything? I don’t think anybody really knows, and I am suspicious of you if you claim to. But it is something we do, we Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Recently, there was a lot of talk on the internet about how to properly pray for our new national president. Some said that we should pray for him by name, others said that we should not. Lots of us got caught up in the mainly false idea that we had something special to say. People talked about praying for “your enemies,” but most doubted that it would do much good. Some said that he is not an enemy.
Some people are more successful at praying than others. Pat Robertson once claimed to have prayed a hurricane back out to sea. That’s pretty successful praying! Allen West has claimed that you can prevent football injuries by praying. I guess that’s important for football players. He didn’t say anything about tennis or track and field events. Some are able to pray for healing and healing happens. Others pray for prosperity and prosperity somehow comes… It’s on TV, so you know it’s true. If your own prayers are weak, you can write them down and have them delivered to the Western Wall in Israel because God surely answers prayers from Israel. I think it’s free to do that. For most of us, though, prayer is more hit or miss. Sometimes it seems like God has taken notice and mainly it seems like God might be out to lunch. But we sit quietly thinking that we might be in the presence of God and that it might change something, maybe even us. If there is any efficacy in our prayers, we leave it up to God.
In today’s reading, the very last thing Stephen did was pray for his enemies. Here is the thing about making your very last act on earth a prayer: You will not live to see the results! Now that’s a faith-filled prayer. As in other places in Acts, Stephen got a little glimpse into Heaven where he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And then he died peacefully. The Bible says “he went to sleep.”
I’ll be honest, if I were about to be martyred I think I’d just be praying for a peaceful end. I really do. I don’t think I would be too concerned about my enemies. But Stephen was a man filled with love, and power, and the Holy Spirit. And there is a very strong implication that he was doing miracles, like on television, only for real! And he did that one thing that seems to get people into trouble: He held a mirror up to the ruling elites and they didn’t like it. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But, whatever we might guess about him, there is no doubting that Stephen was the real deal. When he prayed for his enemies, he meant it. And he wasn’t in it for the results either. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have bothered right there at the end of his life.
So, was Stephen an effective pray-er? Well, one of the enemies he prayed for was a man named Saul. Saul was a big-time persecutor of Christians; he hated them! But, later he had a series of experiences that turned him into a believer. You may know him better as Saint Paul! That’s right, Stephen gave us Saint Paul. That’s pretty effective praying, isn’t it?
But, why am I telling you all of this? And should we really be concerned with the results of our praying? Well, that’s the point. We don’t know what we are doing, can’t possibly. Stephen couldn’t have known that his prayer would give Christianity one of its most revered saints, and we can’t know what good our prayers may do either. The most doubtful situation may be the one that’s being resolved out of sight. The hopeless, intractable, impossible, situations we bring to God in prayer may seem to be… Well, hopeless. But, like Stephen, we can’t know when even our last minute prayers might make all the difference.
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong China – Home of the Pufferfish.
Image: Stoning of Stephen – public domain from Pixabay, Wasseralfingen, Germany
Some Notes of Possible Interest
It is interesting to me that Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Most of the time we hear that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God. So that‘s something extra to think about.
Stephen is a Greek name so lots of people have concluded that he was a Greek-speaking Jew. I’ll tell you something, though. Lots of my Chinese students have English names. So, maybe Stephen was a Greek-speaker, maybe he was Greek! Or, maybe somebody just wanted him to have a Greek name.
2 Timothy 1:7… For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
James 5:6… …The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.