Saul’s conversion is the story of a man intent on destroying what he thought was a heretical expression of Judaism. While on his way to root out the growing “weed” in Damascus, Jesus met him on the road and asked him to explain his actions. Paul was blinded and received a vision that a man named Ananias would come and restore his sight. At the same time, Ananias received a vision that he was to go to Saul and pray for him so that his sight would be restored (9:12).
The story of Peter and Cornelius contains another double vision that brings greater clarity. Cornelius had an angelic vision to send for Peter and just before his servants arrived at Peter’s door, Peter had a parable-like vision that opened the way for him to share the gospel with Gentiles.
What struck me in this reading was the role of prayer. I think it is no small thing to note that each vision came while the recipient was in prayer. Saul was in an intense three day prayer with fasting. While it does not say that Ananias was in prayer, we know that he was a highly respected and devout observer of the law (22:12) and that the conversation within the vision had all the markings of a prayer. Cornelius was praying around 3:00. Peter was praying around noon. Did you ever stop and wonder why Luke bothered to include the time of day? I think his reason went beyond his love for detail.
The Old Testament records prayer taking place at specific hours of the day. The Psalmist cried out to God “evening, morning and noon” and Daniel practiced a thrice-daily prayer (Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10). While we do not know the actual timing of these prayers (they didn’t have clocks back then) many scholars believe that 9:00, noon and 3:00 are solid possibilities (with 9:00, 3:00 and 6:00 being the alternative).
The New Testament suggests a thrice-daily prayer pattern as well. Peter and John were going to the temple at the “time of prayer—at three in the afternoon” (3:1). Noting the times of prayer for Cornelius and Peter, recognizing the hour of Pentecost (9:00am, what was it that brought them together in one place at that hour? see Acts 1:14; 2:15), and connecting this to the pattern set by Jesus on the cross (crucified at 9:00, darkness at noon, death at 3:00) led early church leaders to establish these as the moments to put a prayerful pause in one’s day. When it comes to these four men, the bottom line for me is this: prayer was not an add-on; it was woven into the very fabric of their lives.
These men represent a wide spectrum of humanity. Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile. Peter was one of the chief Apostles, a leader in the church. Saul was a religious zealot and Ananias was just a simple man trying to live out his faith. If we peel back the layers in each person’s life I think we could find connections between ourselves and at least one of these men. As I do so, it leads me to a challenging thought. When seeking a connection with one of these figures, where does the value and practice of prayer fall? Is prayer interwoven into the fabric of my life or is it more airbrushed onto the surface?
While I have never experienced these kinds of visions, I know God still speaks and the fact that He still speaks is not a surprise. The better question to ask has to do with our ability to listen. As I consider these two stories, it makes me wonder about the role prayer plays in my ability to listen or my availability to receive what God is saying.
Cornelius, Peter, Saul and Ananias purposefully put pauses in each day, pauses that allowed them to slow down and realign themselves with the Lord and His purposes for that moment. I believe that it was their practice of doing so that created the environment in which they could hear God’s voice, whether that voice came to them in an inner “voice”, a vision requiring direct action or one requiring careful thought.
What about us? In what ways do we create prayerful pauses in each day to remind ourselves of who we are, to realign ourselves with our Savior’s purpose and to listen for our Lord’s word to us? It is possible to simply set times in each day where we stop to pray (9:00, noon and 3:00 may be a good place to start). The object is not length; it is consistency. Even a few minutes of prayer offered regularly will make a difference. There is another option too.
Missionary Frank Laubach was known for his experiments with time. His goal was to keep expanding out each hour until every minute of every day could be spent in connection with the Lord and His work. What would happen if we made his goal a prayer that we offered to the Lord at the top of each hour? It could be triggered by the alarm on our watch or desktop. Whenever the alarm beeps we pause for 60 seconds and slowly think through these words or turn these words into a prayer: “My part is to live in this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will.”
The point is that taking time to stop, look and listen really does make a difference. So, no matter what we do, let’s do something to regularly bring a prayerful pause into our activities. Doing so may open a whole new way of understanding and aligning ourselves with God’s purposes.
Consider what happened when these ordinary men wove prayer into the fabric of their day. Each man received a vision. By itself, the single vision only brought more questions and greater uncertainty (just put yourself in each person’s sandals for a moment and imagine what they were thinking). Yet when combined with the second vision an entirely new world opened up. Saul became God’s chosen instrument to carry the gospel to the Gentiles and the Apostles received irrefutable evidence that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). These were moments when double vision really did bring greater clarity.
On a personal note, I am half-way through my renewal leave and the Lord is meeting me in rich and beautiful ways as He reminds me of His love and how that love changes me. This is the message He has patiently shared for over 40 years. I see, again, how I am a slow learner, and He is a gracious, caring, loving Father. I look forward to sharing more in a future post and continue to covet your prayers. This renewal leave is a unique gift for which I am grateful and from which I want to fully receive.
May God give us a deepened awareness of His presence and love. For when He does, it will change who we are and how we live every moment of each day.