The prayer of Ananias for his enemy Saul was very effective. Within a few days Saul had completely changed his mind and the focus of his life. He went from a persecutor of the followers of Jesus to proving that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:19-22). That was one powerful prayer that Ananias prayed. It not only changed Saul, but also changed the history of Christianity through Saul's conversion.
Our prayers for our enemies can be just as life-changing. It reminds me of the passage in the letter of James which reminds us to pray in all situations (James 5:13-20), assuring us that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
For reflection: There may be enemies in several areas of my life - family, work, church, nation. For whom is God asking me to pray today?
Let us pray. Dear Jesus, please bring to mind all for whom I need to pray. . . . I forgive them for what they have done. I set them free of my judgment. I ask you to bless and heal them in whatever way they need and to draw them closer to you.
Brave Ananias went to pray with Saul at the Lord's direction (Acts 9:10-19) and Saul was healed of his blindness, both physical and spiritual blindness.
Saul was actually the enemy of Ananias when Ananias went to pray with him. Jesus asked Ananias to go pray for the healing of his enemy. So Ananias was living out Jesus' teaching from Matthew 5:43-45. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
Loving and praying for our enemies is one of the hardest things to do that Jesus taught. I have heard quite a few Christians pray against their enemies, rather than praying for them. But Jesus didn't say pray against them; he said pray for them. Perhaps Paul was remembering what Ananias had done for him when he wrote to the Romans: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . . If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" (Romans 12:14-20).
For reflection: Who are my enemies? How have I been treating them?
Let us pray. Father, I ask your blessing on (my enemy). Help me to speak kind and loving words and to follow your lead in what I should do for them. If I can help lead them closer to you, please show me how to do that. And please forgive me for the way I have treated them in the past.
Consider the specificity with which God spoke to Philip, Saul and Ananias in Acts 8:26-9:19. First Philip had an angel tell him to go to a certain road. Then the Holy Spirit told him to go over to a particular chariot. Paul, not even a believer in Jesus, heard Jesus speak to him: "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). And then Ananias heard the Lord tell him to go find Paul in "the house of Judas on Straight Street" (Acts 9:11). Ananias had the temerity to have a little back-and-forth conversation because he didn't want to do it! What boldness he had to argue with God.
For reflection: How clearly do I hear God speak to me? Do I only "sense" that he is saying this or "feel" that he is saying that?
Let us pray. Jesus, just as you spoke clearly to Philip, Saul and Ananias, I ask you to speak clearly to me. If I'm going to do your specific will in my life, I need to hear your specific directions. Open my ears to hear you every day.
Stephen and Philip are only minor characters in the Acts of the Apostles. By far the major figure in Acts is Paul. (He was called Saul in Hebrew and Paul in the Greek language.) Saul was going about his business, rounding up Christians to be sent back to Jerusalem for trial, when God has an appointment with him. Saul didn't have an appointment with God, but God had an appointment with him.
God was not at all polite about getting his attention either. God knocks him to the ground and speaks to him. When Paul gets up he is blind. His fellow deputies escort him on to Damascus and find him a room. While there, God gives Saul a vision of a man named Ananias visiting him, laying hands on him, and restoring his vision.
Meanwhile, God is speaking to Ananias about Saul. Understandably, Ananias, a follower of Jesus, knowing who Saul is, doesn't want to go see him. But God insists, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:15-16). So Ananias keeps his divine appointment with Saul and Saul is healed.
For reflection: What does Jesus have to do to get my attention? Do I have a regular appointment time to listen to Jesus? Am I keeping it? Or am I on vacation from God?
Let us pray. Jesus, I apologize for not keeping my appointment time with you, for not listening and for not seeing what you want me to see. Open my eyes. Open my ears.
What else do we know about Philip who witnessed to the Ethiopian? He was one of the 7 men chosen by the apostles to handle the daily food distribution for those who needed it. These 7 deacons (another of whom was Stephen) were chosen because they were "known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom" (Acts 8:3).
This administrative matter of the food was obviously important, but it was not all they did. Stephen preached and worked miracles (and was later stoned to death). The persecution following Stephen's murder caused the new believers in Jesus to spread out away from Jerusalem. Philip went to Samaria where he proclaimed the good news about Jesus, worked miracles, cast out demons, and healed people with physical disabilities. Many Samaritans became believers and were baptized. As we've already seen, one day Philip heard the Spirit speaking to him, followed the Spirit's leading and witnessed to an Ethiopian, led him to Christ and baptized him. When Philip finished that divine appointment, he was miraculously transported to another town far away. He preached all around that area, eventually settling in Caesarea. He is mentioned once again in Acts 21:8-9 where he is called Philip the evangelist. By that time he had four unmarried daughters who were prophets.
Philip is a relatively minor figure in Acts and yet look at what he did. He began his service as a deacon in charge of the food pantry but had to flee persecution. He settled in Samaria among people not his own where he had to start over in life. Still he found time to speak about Jesus. God found he was movable. First to Samaria, then in one day to where the Ethiopian was and after that to the western area of the country. So in one day he was moved many miles and again left everything behind. He evangelized and worked miracles in that new area, eventually settling in Caesarea where he established his family.
For reflection: Am I movable? If God called me to move, would I? How attached am I to my current situation? Am I movable on any given day to be able to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, I want to be attached more to you than to things or to places. I want to have a movable spirit each day so that you can move me to do what you want.
How did Philip witness to the Ethiopian man (Acts 8:26-40)? Being divinely guided to meet this man, how did Philip proceed? First, he began from where the man was. The man happened to be reading from Isaiah. So Philip knew the man was a Jewish believer. If he got to know him at all, which he must have or we would have no details in this account, he found out that he had traveled all the way from Ethiopia to worship in Jerusalem. So the man is a devout Jew. Philip starts the witnessing conversation with the passage from Isaiah that the man is reading. Second, from that starting point he led the conversation around to Jesus and the good news that the Messiah had come.
We don't know exactly how long this conversation lasted. Possibly it lasted several hours. Even so, it was a "quickie". In only one meeting, Philip brings the Ethiopian to belief and even baptizes him. Philip's divine appointment led another person into the kingdom in one day. No doubt the man went back to Ethiopia and told others what had happened. So the Gospel spread even further from that one encounter.
Earlier this year at my regular appointment with my hairdresser Thomas, I noticed that he had a large lump on his right wrist. I asked him what was wrong. He said it was a type of tendonitis and that it was so bad he was only cutting hair for two people a day. He had rescheduled all of his other customers with other hairdressers in the salon. He didn't know what was going to happen or how he would continue to support his family. His wrist was not getting significantly better with therapy. Knowing that Thomas is a believer in Jesus, when we finished I asked if I could pray for healing of his wrist. He took me into a small room in the salon and we prayed for a minute or two. Twice it felt like electricity passed between us. When I returned for my next appointment, Thomas's wrist was healed and he was back to cutting hair all day long.
This was not a divine appointment, but a regular appointment, used for divine purposes because I was able to step out in faith. I didn't know if Thomas would be healed, but I knew prayer wouldn't make it any worse! I met Thomas where he was - in need of healing. Jesus took it from there.
For reflection: Have I missed opportunities to meet people's need for God, for healing? What is holding me back?
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, I don't want to miss any more opportunities that you provide. I give you my fears of reaching out to others, of being rejected, of not knowing what to say. I don't want those fears any more.
Many of the early Christians seemed to hear God clearly speak to them. Monday we looked at Saul who heard Jesus speak to him on the road to Damascus. Today (Acts 8:26-40) we see that Philip hears the Lord tell him to take a certain road. Taking that road, he hears the Lord again speaking and telling him to go over to a particular chariot. In the chariot he finds an Ethiopian Jew reading from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.
Some people refer to this as a "divine appointment". It's an appointment God has written on his calendar, but we don't have written on ours. The way to learn of these appointments or opportunities is to be listening to God on a daily basis. It also takes guts. Philip had to trust that he was hearing God, leave what he was doing, and act on what he heard. If he wasn't hearing God, he might have felt foolish going off somewhere else, waiting by the road and wasting time. But if he hadn't followed the first instruction, he never would have heard the second one, and he would have missed the appointment.
For reflection: Am I listening for possible divine appointments? When I hear an instruction from the Lord, will I follow it?
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, move in me. Move in my spirit. Open me to your voice, your promptings. I want to be accustomed to the sound of your voice guiding me each day.
What famous person stood by as Stephen was stoned? Saul, also known as Paul, was there giving his approval to what was happening. Later Paul was authorized to search out adherents of the new sect that followed Jesus and have them arrested. In his own mind, Paul was righteous in what he was doing. He was trying to wipe out what he saw as Jewish heretics and put an end to this threat to Judaism.
Paul was sincerely wrong. Yet Paul was forgiven by Jesus, not just for adding his thoughts to the stoning of Stephen but also for actively persecuting the early church. Jesus intervened in Paul's life to point out his error and bring him to repentance, forgiveness and conversion. (The miraculous story is recounted in Acts 9.) Paul was forgiven for what he failed to do (stop, or even protest, the killing of Stephen) and for what he did (persecuting Jesus' followers). This event became the touchstone of Paul's life. He knew that if he, with all he had done and failed to do, could be forgiven, anyone could be forgiven.
For reflection: On Friday we considered what people had done to us for which we needed to forgive them. Today let us think of what people should have done for us but they did not do it. Let us forgive them for their neglect.
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, please bring to my mind those whom I need to forgive who did not do for me what they should have. I want to forgive them with your help. Particularly, help me to forgive those who thought they were doing the right thing.
Shall we glean one more lesson from Stephen? Forgiveness. Stephen managed to forgive his attackers even as he was being stoned. We can't overemphasize the importance of forgiveness in the Christian life.
Look at the people Jesus forgave: the man lowered through the roof (Matthew 9:2-8), the adulterous woman (John 8:3-11), the woman who anointed his feet with oil (Luke 7:47-50), the criminal on the cross (Luke 23: 39-43), the people who crucified him (Luke 23:34), and Peter, for denying he knew Jesus (Luke 24:34 and John 21:15-19). And that's not counting the number of times Jesus talked about it - most famously when he told Peter we must forgive 70 x 7 times (Matthew 18:22) and in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15).
In the experience of my own life and in the lives of those with whom I pray, I find that forgiveness is key to healing. Forgiveness brings healing of our spirit and soul and it opens the pathway of healing in our bodies. Forgiveness sets us free. The more specific we can be, the better. Saying, "I forgive my sister" is not as effective as saying, "I forgive my sister for (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . )." And the hurts of early childhood have ramifications throughout our lives if we don't forgive them.
Forgiveness is a decision, an act of the will. It is not an emotion. It does not say that what the person did to you is OK. It is making up your mind to forgive even though the person hurt you.
For reflection: Have I truly forgiven my family for the myriad of things that happened between us? Can I decide to forgive today?
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, please bring to my mind the incidents of my childhood for which I need to forgive someone. I want to be free of the pain and the hurt.
How would you like it if someone called you "stiff-necked?" Or referred to you as "you people?" Stephen didn't mince words when he spoke to the Sanhedrin. He is giving them a scolding. In fact, he sounded just like my mother when he said, "You are just like your fathers!" (Acts 7:51). Let's tune in to his speech:
"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him -- you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."
Stephen has pulled out all the stops in his criticism. He has brought up the covenant with Abraham (uncircumcised), the covenant with Moses (the law and the deliverance from Egypt), and the prophets. He may even have brought up the teaching of Jesus when he said, "You always resist the Holy Spirit" (see Mark 3:29; also see Luke 20:9-19).
The Sanhedrin are angry enough at this tirade when Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, has a vision of an open heaven: "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). It is more than they can bear. In their eyes he has blasphemed. They drag him outside the city gates and stone him without a trial.
For reflection: Have I been stiff-necked? Am I not hearing God? Am I not listening to someone else? Have I criticized my child by saying, "You are just like your father/mother!"?
Let us pray. All-loving Father, I want to be just like you. Help me to hear you when you speak to me directly and when you speak to me through others.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.