4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4–6, NKJV)
The appearance of Jesus to Saul the persecutor of Christ brought this violent unbeliever to faith that Jesus was alive. Saul, who had been “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” now yields his will completely to the will of Jesus: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Saul would be told what to do in the city of Damascus. After three days of prayer and fasting, Jesus sent the preacher Ananias to him, who told him what to do: “And now, why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). The vision did not wash away his sins. Three days of prayer and fasting did not wash away his sins (Acts 9:9, 11). Water baptism washed away his sins (because the sinner is baptized into Christ’s death, where His saving blood is applied to sins, Romans 6:3). Do not kick against the goads, and refuse water baptism to wash away your sins. It is what Jesus says you must do, too (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21).
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13, NKJV)
Prayer and song. This couplet proves comforting and invigorating as we go through life’s storms and life’s calm. Suffering comes in many forms; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Prayer is a balm for the weary, an assuring strength during times of tumult and uncertainty. And so, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Even as suffering leads to earnest prayer, happy times evoke praise of the Almighty. The Lord is the source of joy that no one can take from us – the joy of victory over sin and death (John 16:20-22, 33). When life brings good fortune, Christians raise up songs of praise to God. We remember that God is the Giver of every good blessing; we did not create our happiness without His good providence. And so, James gives us sound instruction for difficult and happy times. He reminds us to look to God through all of life’s joys and sorrows. The Lord “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He will see you through.
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9, NKJV)
Prayer is not an unconditional blessing. This way of viewing prayer is quite different from the way most view it. But, today’s passage makes the conditional nature of prayer very clear. God’s ear is not open to the person whose ears are closed to the law of God. Simply put, we cannot live in disobedience to God, yet expect God to be open and responsive when we decide to pray to Him. Prayer is not an escape hatch we take as a final resort. It is not a fire escape when all other possibilities are exhausted. Prayer is the ongoing communication of God’s child to the Father in heaven. “Pray without ceasing” is an active way of life for the person who listens to God’s law and follows it (1 Thess. 5:17, 18-22). Prayer is a spiritual blessing Christians have “in Christ,” precisely because we choose to “turn away from evil and do good” (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:10-11). We must prepare ourselves to be heard by God: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). Get right with God. Open your ear to hear and obey His law. Then, your prayers will be a blessing to God’s ear, and not an abomination.
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43–44, NKJV)
Jesus was reaching a point of mental fatigue as His soul agonized under the anticipation of the cross and all that would lead to it. Strength from heaven revived him, even as His sweat dropped profusely from him. Have you ever heard someone say Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane? Many, if not most, Bible commentaries say He did. Yet, the text says His blood was “like” great drops of blood. Luke uses a metaphor to describe the intensity of Jesus’ distress. We need not distort the text in order to strengthen this scene of agony. The Lord’s humanity is on full display as He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:7-8). Jesus arose from prayer to find His disciples “sleeping from sorrow” (Lk. 22:45). Yet, sorrow is not the time to sleep, but the time to “rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Lk. 22:46). When you face the agony of sorrow, turn your prayers heavenward for relief. Though your struggle with sorrow may be intense, pray for earnestly. Relief from heaven will strengthen you and secure your faith (Heb. 13:5-6; Jas. 1:2-4).
9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9–11, NKJV)
Fathers desire to fulfill the requests of their children. Indeed, fathers bear a particular responsibility to provide for their own house, and failure to do so is a grievous sin (1 Tim. 5:8). If earthly fathers give good things to their children when they ask, how much more does our heavenly Father do so. Jesus reasons from the lesser to the greater to impress upon us a fundamental truth: Our heavenly Father gives us the “good things” we need when we ask of Him. God hears and answers the prayers of His children, and He does so in ways that are best for us. God not only supplies our daily bread, He also supplies us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, which sustain our spiritual life. In the parallel passage of Luke 11:13, Jesus identifies the “good things” given by the Father as the “Holy Spirit” (whose presence confirmed the kingdom had come, Lk. 11:20; Matt. 12:28). God answers our prayers in harmony with His purposes and for our spiritual good. This is our faith as we pray to our heavenly Father.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13, NKJV)
Our prayers should not only be about our needs and desires (Heb. 4:16). They should not only be supplications on behalf of others (1 Tim. 2:1-2). They should also be filled with adoration for our Heavenly Father. Reverent respect and regard for the Almighty ought to be evident in our manner of prayer (Matt. 6:9). Acknowledge the regal, royal, sovereign rule of our Father as we pray. It is precisely because He reigns supreme that we are impressed with His willingness to hear and answer our prayers. His eternal power, announced by His whole creation, assures us of His ability to act on our behalf. His majestic glory humbles us in His presence and impresses us of His love toward us, low as we are in comparison to His majesty (Psa. 8:4). As we pray, let us remember to whom we are addressing our petitions. This will help define our attitude in prayer as well as shape our faith in our Father to “do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20).
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9, NKJV)
In what manner do you pray? Some approach prayer as a very casual conversation. While we are to avoid “vain repetitions” (empty rhetoric) when we pray, that does not do away with the awesome nature of prayer, or the awe-inspiring One to whom we pray. We must pray with utmost respect and regard for our Father. (We have been told of those who have tried to personalize prayer by beginning with, “Hi Dad” – a gross distortion of reverently addressing “our Father in heaven.”) God’s name – all that He is (His divine nature, holiness, grandeur and greatness) – shapes the reverence with which we must approach Him with our prayers. When you pray, fully recognize God’s sovereignty and absolute holiness (Rev. 4:8-11). Magnify His greatness and rejoice that we have the privilege of approaching Him in prayer. Although many call this passage “The Lord’s Prayer,” it is more aptly called the “Model Prayer,” from which we pattern the manner and content of our prayers (Matt. 6:9-15).