Updated: Oct 24
By Drew Zuverink
"They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he died."
Have you ever imagined what those last few moments will be like before death? I have. I imagine that I would think about my wife and my son and what I might say to them if I get the chance. But Stephen didn't do that. The last thought that Stephen had before he died was about his killers.
The strange part about this story isn't that Stephen's last thought was about his killers. I'm sure many victims of murder were thinking about their killer as they died. Their thoughts were probably filled with fear or anger. The strange part about this story is that Stephen's last thoughts about his killers were thoughts of forgiveness and love. Quite literally as the crowd was reaching for more stones to throw at his head, Stephen was praying for them.
What was different about Stephen? Because 99.9% of human beings would never do what he did. Acts 6-7 gives us that answer. When Stephen, who was also a sinner, experienced Jesus' radical forgiveness, he was empowered to grant radical forgiveness himself. Stephen's heart was supernaturally changed by the Holy Spirit. That's what was different about him.
In case you are wondering, God answered Stephen's prayer. Among the crowd that day was a young man named Saul, and he would go on to write half of our New Testament. One day Stephen will enjoy a heavenly feast with (at least) one of his killers. And on that day they will enjoy Jesus' company together as brothers and as fellow martyrs for their faith. And who knows how much of a role Stephen's prayer played in that.
So what about you?
Do you pray for your enemies? Is there any group of people that you will not pray for? And if you do pray for your enemies, do you pray that God won't hold their sin against them, or do you pray for them to get what's coming to them?
If we prayed for our enemies like Stephen did, how many more people would be saved? And how different would the world be? God answered Stephen's prayer in the apostle Paul who went on to make the world a much better place, how many more persecutors turned missionaries would there be if we prayed for them? I don't have the answers to these questions but I do believe that there are unseen consequences for our failure to pray for our enemies. After all, sin always has consequences, and refusing to pray for our enemies is a sin.
God has commanded his children to pray for their enemies and the world leaders. Stephen's prayer is a beautiful example of Christian maturity and so many wonderful consequences came from his obedience. Let us too follow in his footsteps of love. Let us pray for the persecutors of our day and have faith that God will answer our prayers in world changing ways.