9 And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, 10 and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. (Acts 7:9–10, NKJV)
The providence of God unfolds before our eyes in the life of Joseph (Gen. 37-50). God did not create the world and then lay it up in a display case to watch what would happen next. While God has undoubtedly intervened in the affairs of this world with miracles by suspending natural processes and occurrences, He has also arranged His world in such a way that He operates in it through the course of natural events. The life of Joseph is an example of God’s providence. God was actively involved in Joseph’s life through its day to day events. In today’s passage, Stephen said God was with Joseph and delivered him, gave him favor and wisdom, and made him governor over Egypt and Pharaoh’s house. These verbs (delivered, gave, made) show God was at work, not against the free will of men and women, but through their choices and actions. God used the envy of Joseph’s brother to bring about good (Gen. 50:20). He used natural, cyclical seasons of bounty and famine to execute His plan to elevate Joseph and to save Israel. Even now, God hears and answers the prayers of the righteous, not by injecting miracles into the natural world, but by carrying out His purposes through the operation of the world according to His design and sovereign care (Jas. 5:16-18; 1:17).
45 Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Luke 19:45–46, NKJV)
The corruption of God’s house of prayer is on full display as Christ’s indignation raged against those who had turned temple worship into an oppressive and lucrative business enterprise (Matt. 21:12-13). Jesus used Isaiah 56:7 to expose and condemn their unholy treatment of God’s house and God’s people. Now, the church is God’s holy temple (Eph. 2:19-22). Despite Christ’s pointed warning against defiling God’s house, people continue to defile God’s house of prayer, the church. The reconfiguration of the church constitutes a departure from the faith the Spirit expressly warned would happen (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Gal. 1:6-10). Over time, the church’s worship became polluted with rites and rituals not found in the covenant of Christ. The church’s organization was turned into an ecclesiastical hierarchy ruling over independent congregations of saints. The church’s work became contaminated by material pursuits as people made merchandise of the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17). Jesus does not look on approvingly while the will and wisdom of men corrupt His church (Col. 2:8, 20-23). The church does not belong to us; it belongs to Christ. Christ’s gospel continues to disrupt the innovations that defile God’s house under the guise of progress and advancement (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Jno. 9).
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. (Acts 9:9–11, NKJV)
An important question arises from the aftermath of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). Saul asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” and was told to “go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” to which he complied (Acts 9:6-8). Here is the question: If Saul was saved when Jesus appeared to him on the road, why did Ananias ask him, “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 answer is obvious. After three days of blindness, fasting, and praying, Saul was still in need of his sins being cleansed. Although fasting, Saul’s repentance was not all he needed to be forgiven. Although praying, Saul’s prayers did not constitute “calling on the name of the Lord” to be saved. However, when his faith compelled Saul to arise and be baptized, his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 6:3). This is how sinners are saved today. Not by miracles. Not by faith alone, repentance alone, prayer alone, or baptism alone. Do you have the faith to do all Jesus commands so your sins will be washed away?
When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. (Mark 5:6, NKJV)
Quite a number of people believe every part of their daily life constitutes worship. Today’s verse (it is not the only one) shows that is not so. Worship (“to pay homage to, to prostrate oneself in homage”) is a particular action by the worshiper given to the object of worship. Please notice the man was not worshiping Jesus when he saw him from a distance. The man was not worshiping Jesus when he ran to Jesus. It is when he arrived that he “worshiped Him.” Christians are instructed to worship God “in spirit and truth” – such are true worshipers (John 4:23-24). Worship involves particular actions directed toward God (prayer, singing praises, the Lord’s supper, giving, and preaching God’s word (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:15-16; 11:23-26; 16:1-2). Therefore, worship is more than just going to the lake or mountains and communing with nature. God has revealed the worship He accepts. It is our obligation to offer it to Him without our subtractions or additions. Let us live holy, devoted lives every day, and let us worship God as Scripture directs, with right hearts (“spirit”) and God-approved actions (“truth”).
14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:14–16, NKJV)
Jerusalem was besieged and it appeared the city would soon be captured by Assyria. God’s prophet assured king Hezekiah that God would overthrow the Assyrian king (Isaiah 37:1-7). Now, messengers from Assyria’s king delivered a letter of intimidation and reproach to the king of Judah (Isaiah 37:8-13). Hezekiah’s faith remained in the Lord, and he brought the threat before Him. In verse 16, Hezekiah honored three attributes of God that we do well to remember when we come to God in time of trouble. He honored 1) God’s holiness and mercy (“the One who dwells between the cherubim” referred to the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple), 2) God’s sovereignty as the One true God (“You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth,” and 3) God as Creator of all things (“You have made heaven and earth”). When the enemies of truth and righteousness press down upon Christians, we assure our hearts and our faith with these eternal truths. Let us follow Hezekiah’s good example of faith. God does not forsake the faithful (Hebrews 13:5-6).
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9, NKJV)
Once our motives for prayer are pure we are prepared to learn how to pray. The manner of our prayers matters to God. If how we pray is of no consequence, then when His disciples asked Jesus to “teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples,” He would have simply said there is no need to do so (Luke 11:1-2). Yet, He fulfilled their request and taught them to pray. Like them, we need to learn to pray. Jesus offers this model prayer to help us learn to pray reverently and acceptably (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer is not a liturgical, ceremonial event. It is the disciple’s communication with God. So, Jesus said our prayers must show respect and honor for God’s paternity (“Our Father in heaven”). We are His children, and we trust Him as our Father. God’s holiness defines Him, and our prayers must also acknowledge His sanctity (“hallowed be Your name”). Acceptable prayer is respectful of God. When we pray we praise God’s greatness and admit our lowliness. Recognizing God’s holiness brings us before Him with humble dependence instead of bringing prideful demands before Him.
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7–8, NKJV)
A repeated prayer is not automatically a vain repetition. In Gethsemane, Jesus “prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Matthew 26:44). In today’s text the Lord again drills down to the motive of prayer as He draws attention the method in which we pray. Prayers offered to gain attention and renown are useless to the Father. Excessive words prayed to fill space, lengthen prayers, or to display one’s ability to supplicate deity do not deceive God (even though they deceive the one praying as well as those who hear their wordiness). Neither is prayer a ceremonial recitation of words without thought. Prayer is the earnest expression of the heart to our Father, who knows what we need before we ask. Therefore, when we pray we remember we are communing with an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Vain repetitions do increase the likelihood of God hearing us – just the opposite. He hears and answers those who depend on Him and honor Him in their prayers, not those who use prayer to exalt themselves in the eyes of others.