Prayers of a Reformed Persecutor

When opponents of the followers of Jesus stoned Stephen, a young man named Saul cheered them on. A student of the first century’s best known rabbi, Saul led persecution of Jesus’ disciples after that day. A remarkable experience changed his life and caused him to rethink his attitude towards Jesus. Saul the persecutor changed into Paul the preacher for Jesus and apostle to the Gentiles. Prayer marked his ministry. After facing proof of Jesus’ identity, Saul fasted and prayed for three days before a rather nervous disciple named Ananias, aware that Saul had gone to Damascus to arrest all who called on the name of the Lord, told him to “Get up, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name (Acts 22:16). The former persecutor of the church would later reflect, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:1-3). Acts 13 records that a session of prayer preceded Saul’s (now called Paul) embarking on a series of missionary journeys. He prayed with church leaders. And in the letters he wrote to churches, he frequently refers to his prayers for these Christians. Paul’s letter to the Romans, unique because he had not yet visited this church, records four prayerful passages. In them, he describes prayers offered on other occasions or asks for a blessing to be granted by God. This form of “blessing prayer” has acquired designation of “benediction.” Paul’s prayers for Rome reflect the realities of fellowship in a cosmopolitan church in the empire’s capitol. He thanks God that their faith has become known over the world: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you” (Rom. 1:8-10). Later, he prays that the church in Rome may know unity as they follow Jesus: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6). He prays that joy and peace will result from the disciples’ trust in Jesus, so that they may know hope despite opposition. Ethnic strife and prejudices could have divided the Roman church. Like Jesus in John 17, Paul prays that the disciples of Jesus may be one. He suggests that maintaining unity will glorify God, suggesting that division among believers disgraces God. His concluding prayer in this theologically intense letter acknowledges God’s power and the publishing of his will in the Scriptures. He defines the relevance of that message as applying to all the nations – God is not a local deity. In this prayer that addresses God in the third person rather than the usual second person, Paul prays, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (Rom. 16:25-27). He prays that God will receive glory forever.
Paul prays prayers of blessing and praise in the letter to the Roman church. He requests unity, joy, and peace for these disciples. Let us also pray for unity, joy, and peace among the disciples of Jesus in our own time. Having prayed and obeyed, may our conduct and speech represent Jesus so well that our faith will be reported around the world.

About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael likes to run, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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