Did Stephen’s intercessory prayer at the time of his stoning have an impact on Paul’s conversion?
The Book of Acts reports that while Stephen was being stoned, he fell to his knees and prayed, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) Watching on approvingly was a young Pharisee named Saul, later to become St. Paul. Is it possible that Stephen’s intercessory prayer impacted Paul’s heart and opened the door to God seeing in Paul the potential to be God’s spokesman to the Gentiles?
While we can’t be certain of the answer to this question, at the same time we should never underestimate the impact of intercessory prayer. We know that a similar prayer by Jesus from the cross had an impact on the centurion who oversaw Jesus’ Crucifixion. In Luke 23:47, we read, “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’”
When it comes to intercessory prayer, we can easily make the mistake of thinking, “Who am I that God should listen to me and change the order of nature or human life.” Yet, Jesus urges us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” (Mt. 7:7) He offers the parable of the persistent widow to show how we “should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 7:7)
Long before our three daughters were married, my wife prayed for each of them to meet and marry a good Christian man. She offered the same intercessory prayer for our son to meet and marry a Christian woman. This prayer was answered for each of them, and today all four of them along with their spouses are raising Christian families that have blessed us with many grandchildren.
Last summer we spent a week at the beach with all 24 of us under one roof. Over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we were able to be with each of the families. With my wife’s initial prayers and our ongoing intercession over the years, we can echo the words of John’s gospel, “From the fullness of his grace we have received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)
Inside my Bible I keep a yellow sheet of paper with numerous people’s names that need prayer for healing, discernment, guidance, protection and conversion. Some of the people don’t even know that I am praying for them. Others I have lost contact with, but I keep praying. I don’t need to know the outcomes. We never know when perhaps another St. Paul might be the result.