Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
I find it interesting that God assured Ananias, a layman, that Saul’s conversion to Christianity was authentic by telling Ananias: “Behold, he prays.” God could have said: “Behold, Ananias. I’ve blinded Saul of Tarsus and repaid him for shedding innocent blood. But he’s now a Christian.” But the Lord didn’t say that. The Lord could have said: “Behold Ananias. Do you see the humility of this Pharisee, Saul? It’s proof that he’s converted to Christianity. But Scripture incorporated none of those expressions. Immediately following Saul’s conversion God declared to Ananias: “Behold, he prays!” And when Ananias anxiously arrived at Saul’s residence I’m sure he paused outside the door hoping to hear Saul reverently invoking the name, “Jesus.” When you consider it, it’s not strange that God used prayer to mark Saul’s conversion because prayer is a priority with God. It’s that which draws one into the closest connection with the Creator. As someone stated: “Prayer is the main business of the day”!
(Transition) Since prayer is preeminent with God, let’s discuss four facts about Saul’s transformed prayer life. First, let’s discuss the importance of Saul’s praying.
I. The Importance of Saul’s Praying
How important is prayer to Christians? Scripture employs more than 360 references to it! Jesus said in Luke 18:1 that we “should always pray and not give up.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing.” There are several reasons why we should maintain a strong prayer life:
1. First, prayer is the means that Christians access God. Hebrews 4:16 says the praying Christian can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” The marvel of prayer isn’t that God’s can supernaturally transcend whatever perplexity that faces us, the marvel is that He even permits men access to His divine, holy presence and let us commune with Him!
2. Second, prayer helps conquer worry and assures us that God works in our behalf. Paul said in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
3. Third, prayer is the means of obtaining help from God. Mark 11:24 says: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
4. Fourth, prayer helps prevent one from falling into temptation. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” (Luke 11:4).
From the time I accepted the Lord’s Call to Preach, in my teenage years, I have felt “pressed to pray.” That is the best way I know to describe it. Every day there is a pressing of the Spirit upon my soul to pray. And I’m confident that, to some degree, for every Christian there’s this same compulsion of the Spirit.
The reason Christians can’t shake this “pressing” toward prayer is because God prescribed it for those “created in His image.” Part of God’s image within Man is our ability to communicate. We are born with the inclination to commune with God because He designed us that way.
In the Gospels Christ is often seen being “pressed to pray” and it’s because He was our Example.
When the Apostles saw how prayer affected Jesus they asked Him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).
And the New Testament Christians were so compelled to pray that Acts 2:42 notes “they devoted themselves to . . . prayer.”
So when God informed Ananias that Saul could be found praying He indicated Saul was engaged in the natural duty of a Christian. Saul was fellowshipping with the Lord of those he had once persecuted and engaging in the main business of the day. And prayer should be the same priority of Christians today.
(Transition) When God told Ananias, “Behold he prays,” the Lord was assuring Ananias that Saul’s conversion was genuine.
II. Saul’s Praying Testified that His Conversion was Genuine
A sure evidence of salvation is a consistent prayer life. It isn’t the chief evidence, because faith lays claim to that. But prayer is one of the chief distinctions of one’s conversion. For example, which statement is more convincing:
- “Behold, he prays” or “Behold he sings”?
“Behold, he prays” or “Behold he preaches”?
“Behold, he prays” or “Behold he exercises spiritual gifts”?
Each of these things can be exhibited by Christians but the more convincing testimony of one’s conversion involves someone praying to the Father in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the Spirit’s autograph upon a transformed life.
(Example) Let’s illustrate it this way. I have two children. I know they are mine and they know I am their father. But how do others know of our kinship? If you had seen the relationship I had with my children when they were very young you could have noticed several things: When my children were frightened they sought my comfort; when they were confused about solving something they asked for my assistance; and when they wanted something they sought my supply.
(Example) When children at the shopping mall tug at an adult’s clothes and beg from them there’s no doubt who their parents are. Your children don’t ask your neighbors for food, clothes, and other temporal supplies—they ask you!
When a Christian consistently seeks comfort, counsel, and supply from the heavenly Father it displays great evidence that they have been adopted into God’s family. And God used the words: “Behold, he prays,” to convince Ananias that Saul, who had persecuted and imprisoned Christians, was truly converted. Can you imagine the terror striking Ananias when God commanded him to visit Saul of Tarsus? The chapter opens with the words: “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” The entire New Testament Church was acquainted with Saul’s tactics. The Sanhedrin nearly gave him a James Bond “license to kill” warrant against Christians. Any confrontation with him meant a flogging and incarceration at best.
An encounter with Saul was like playing monopoly and drawing the card: “Do not collect $200.00, go directly to jail.” It was like putting a stray cat in the care of a pit-bulldog. Sometimes God asks us to do something that is so risky and ‘not us’ that it makes us wonder whether He likes us! I can hear Ananias now: “But God, Saul’s beating and imprisoning Christians. I’d prefer going directly to jail, skip the beating, and forfeit my $200.00!” But God said, “No Ananias, find Saul. He’s a transformed man. And you will know he’s transformed because he’s praying.”
And don’t you know Saul’s prayer was music to Ananias’s ears when he stood outside Judas’ house? When Ananias found that house on Straight Street maybe he circled it several times before entering it hoping to hear divine supplication. And when Ananias heard Saul calling on the Name of the Lord he instantly knew the persecutor had been transformed.
(Application) If God used prayer to convince Ananias that Saul was saved I wonder how many Christians could furnish the same evidence? Can it be said of you: “Behold, he prays?” Has prayer marked your life for God?
Do you realize that when God asks us to pray He inviting us to identify with the cross? God isn’t asking us to sacrifice ourselves for the world’s sins because He did that. But Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NIV). And the Cross we bear will certainly resemble His.
One of the things Jesus did from the cross was pray. Despite being falsely accused, publicly humiliated, and physically abused He prayed for God to forgive those that crucified Him. And the specific claim that Calvary places upon all Christians is the claim to pray! Christ’s actions from Calvary demand that Christians pray.
Examine yourself saints of God, Do you pray? It is a test of your adoption into God’s family. I’m afraid there are many of whom it can be said, “Behold, he never prays.” I trust that’s not the case with you.
(Quote) This is what Spurgeon said about prayerless Christians: “What a sight upon earth! A man created by his Maker who never worships his Creator, a man who is daily fed by God’s bounty, and never worships Him! Sir, you are a monster, you are a creature among men most loathsome. A man that lives without prayer ought not to live. It is a wonder that the earth does not open her mouth and swallow up such a wretch. And yet when he does pray, God makes a wonder of it.”
(Transition) But let’s discuss what else this passage indicates about Saul’s prayer. That is, the presence of Jesus in Saul’s praying.
III. The Presence of Jesus in Saul’s Praying
Paul was a Pharisee, and the boast of that sect was their devotion to prayer. Some Pharisees prayed nine hours each day. They prayed three times at three hour intervals. The first and third hour of each session was spent in silence while the second was spent in supplication. They prayed in the Temple, synagogues, and marketplaces . . . places of visibility. Saul was a Pharisee and well acquainted with this structure of prayer that was practiced. Gamaliel, who trained Saul, and the Sanhedrin, that commissioned him, probably knew Saul as a prayerful man. But I wonder what value God had placed on all of Saul’s pre-conversion praying?
I believe it’s likely that God considered much of Saul’s praying prior to his Damascus Road experience as worthless because he failed to recognize the Christ’s Lordship! But when Saul recognized Jesus on earth his prayers were recognized by God in Heaven. It’s Jesus that empowers prayer and raises it before God’s presence!
(Application) Most people here were taught to pray from their childhood. You learned a nighttime prayer, recited The Lord’s Prayer, and have always prayed before partaking of your food. But if you’re praying without a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ there can be no assurance that Heaven will recognize your prayers.
I’m not saying God will categorically invalidate a sinner’s prayer because the prayers of sinners are occasionally answered. Theologians call this the “un-covenanted mercies of God.” But there can be no assurance that a sinner will be answered when he calls upon God for assistance. True prayer is empowered by the great Intercessor Himself, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 22:32 His Father was “‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” If the Heavenly Father is the God of the living who are the living? It certainly isn’t sinners. Ephesians 2:1 says unbelievers are “dead in [their] transgressions and sin.” The living are those “alive with Christ” and “quickened by the Spirit.” God has covenanted with “living” people. They are the ones that have special covenant rights to approach God throne and make request from Him—not dead people!
Proverbs 15:8 says: “The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.” The prayer heaven consistently recognizes is the one uttered in “spirit and truth.” And we’re assured that God will give our prayers attention when we pray in Scripture’s appointed way. And that’s praying in the Name and authority of Jesus. We don’t do anything in this Covenant of Grace without the sanction of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the all-in-all of man’s salvation experience:
Philippians 4:19 says our needs are supplied through Him.
John says we receive the presence of the Holy Spirit through Him.
Romans 14:8 say: “if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (NASU).
And Ephesians 3:12 says Jesus is the key to praying when it says: “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
The Name of Jesus carries force and authority on earth and in heaven. It’s the Name that enforces the claims of the New Covenant.
(Transition) A fourth fact about Saul’s praying is its authenticity.
IV. The Authenticity of Saul’s Praying
There’s a correct and an incorrect manner to approach the throne of grace. The fact that God drew attention to Saul’s prayer by stating “Behold, he prays” indicated Saul’s earlier misconceptions about prayer. In Matthew 6 Jesus illustrated genuine prayer. Let’s read:
The Lord used the Pharisees to illustrate three errors rendering prayer ineffectual:
1. First, He noted that Pharisaical praying was pompous and pretentious; Nothing more than a spectacle. The classic Pharisee chose public arenas as their primary prayer-points. Jesus noted how they loved to pray before men. But when we use prayer to glamorize our spirituality and impress others it loses its effectiveness.
Jesus retired to lonely places of mountains, hillsides, and gardens to pray, and nobody prayed with His results.
2. Secondly, the pride of the Pharisees depleted prayer of its power. Allow me to repeat myself: pride obstructs prayer!
When prayer leaves man’s lips it travels one of two directions: If emanated from a faith-filled heart of humility it rises before God; but if it stems from a heart of haughtiness it descends straight into the graveyard.
Isn’t it amazing how fouled-up the lives of religious people get sometimes? The Pharisees memorized volumes of Old Testament passages but ignored Solomon’s warning that said: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart . . .” (PRO 16:5), and his words in Proverbs 21:4: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart . . . are sin.” They should have acknowledged Hananiah’s song that echoed: “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows” (1SA 2:3).
Turn to Luke 18 and let’s investigate Christ’s parable of the Publican and Pharisee? While The Lord’s Prayer illustrates the proper procedure of praying this parable clearly illustrates the improper manner of praying. Luke 18:10 says:“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (13) “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (14) “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This is exactly how Saul of Tarsus must have prayed. He was a classic example of this pompous Pharisee whose prayer was nothing more than clamor. Thankfully when he accepted Christ he recognized his past works-oriented righteousness as “rubbish,” or literally, “refuse,” from the Greek translation. It’s the prayer emanating from the “broken and contrite heart” that evokes God response.
(Transition) But Jesus pointed out another improper way of praying.
3. Pharisaical praying was ineffectual because it wasn’t need-oriented.
Some people mistakenly assume the longer the prayer, the more flattering the phraseology, and the more redundant the request the greater the possibility the prayer has of getting answered. Jesus rightly called this praying “babbling” in verse seven.
I mentioned earlier the priority the Jews gave to prayer. They ranked prayer as the pinnacle of religion. The rabbi’s said: “Great is prayer, greater than all good works.” I would have difficulty refuting that because it is significantly important. But Pharisaic praying was problematic because many unscriptural tenets had filtered into it. The least of which was not vain repetition.
(Illustration) For example: For hundreds of years the Jews had repeated the Shema. The Shema is a compilation of three passages of Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41. In Christ’s day the Shema was repeated twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. That equates to 730 times a year. Barclay noted that “no matter where a man found himself, at home, in the street, at work, in the synagogue, he must stop and say it” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster Press, 1975 [Matthew, Vol. one, page 192]
When prayer is reduced to ritual and redundancy it contradicts everything God intended for prayer to be. It’s nothing more than lifeless monologue. And prayer is powerless when the emphasis is on length not on sincerity.
(Example) I hate to continue picking on the first century Pharisee, but they are so adept at illustrating the incorrect I can’t ignore them. They had another prayer that attempted to pile up all sorts of titles and adulation to God in order to gain his attention. One famous prayer of repetition begins this way: “Blessed, praised, and glorified, exalted, extolled and honored, magnified and lauded be the name of the Holy One.” Do you suppose that would attract the Lord’s attention?
(Example) 1 Kings 18:26 said the prophets of Baal cried out “from morning till noon, “O Baal, answer us.”” Acts 19:34 says that the Ephesian mob “shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”“ Do you know what these prayers have in common? They weren’t answered! The prayer that emphasizes volume or repetition rather than sincerity will sink into the graveyard. God calls us to peel away the husk of our prayers and get down to the kernel!
Jesus laid down specific rules about prayer, one of which strictly prohibits vain repetition. Even though it’s melodramatic, the song written years ago is relevant today: “Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want.” That’s good, old-fashioned theology! It’s good, because that is precisely how God wants us to pray. When He told Ananias, “Behold, [Saul] prays,” I believe the Lord was implying: “Saul has picked-up the phone, called me, and is making sincere supplication. There is no pretension, no pride, and he is not praying to be noticed of men. He is a broken man begging for forgiveness.” That is the prayer God accepts! Psalm 51:7 says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”