Dear Friends,
We learn to speak by hearing people speak. We learn to speak to God – to pray – by reading the Bible (God’s word written), and by hearing godly people pray. Praying an old, deeply biblical prayer, is one more way to learn to pray.
“Grant, O’ Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of Your truth, we may steadfastly look up to Heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of Your first martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to You, O blessed Jesus, who stands at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for You, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.” Collect for St. Stephen’s Day, 1662 BCP
First, note how dense the prayer is. It is a concise theology and a prayer at the same time. We will unpack some of the theology in a moment, but please note that when you pray this prayer, you are learning sound doctrine at the same time.
Second, note how biblical the prayer is. The reference to “look up to Heaven”, “pray for his murderers”, “stand at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for You”, these summarize the main teaching of Acts 6:8 – 7:60, especially 7:54-60. So, when you pray this collect as your own, you are praying in harmony with sound doctrine, and you are praying with the Bible as your guide. You are praying in harmony with the Lord’s will.
Third, this prayer reminds you, that if you are a Christian, then Jesus is Your mediator and Your advocate. As “mediator” He mediates salvation to you. This means on one hand that He is the one who reconciles you to God. It also means that He effectively accomplishes this for you. He makes it real and imparts the reality to you when you receive it by faith. Jesus is also my advocate. When you are being accused of wrongdoing, attacked and condemned for being a Christian, it is wise to be reminded of the biblical truth that Jesus is Your advocate. Everyone may condemn, but the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified Saviour, risen Lord, coming King, He is your advocate. When we suffer it is easy to forget, the prayer is very pastorally wise to have this reminder at the end, the crescendo of the prayer – the Lord Jesus Christ is your Mediator and Advocate!
Fourth, when we are persecuted it is natural to experience fight or flight, to fantasize about towering over your enemy, or to be overcome with worry as you cower under your enemy. This prayer wisely reminds us to do two things. First go to ask the Lord to help us learn to love and bless our persecutors. Second, to go to Jesus for succour. Note that we first ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit in the context of a longing for Heaven, before we pray that we may learn to love and bless our persecutors. We need to be strengthened in hope to pray in such a wise manner. We need the Lord’s help. Note what you are praying for when you pray to learn to love and bless your persecutors. You are not praying that you like them, grow in affection for them, desire to spend time with them, or thrill at their presence. None of that is love. Biblical love means “desire and seek God’s best for them.” Remember that “God takes no delight in the death of a sinner, but that they will turn from their wickedness and live.” So you love them by praying they will turn from evil and that they will come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You “bless” them by praying for them in light of the Gospel. You bless them by sharing the Gospel with them.
Finally, to help us with our prayer, the prayer grounds our imagination, will, and affection in the story of Stephen. Thinking of his story as we pray will help us to pray and live in a way that the Lord delights in. God bless!