The Hour of Buoyant Prayer

“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” -Acts 3.1

Ben Witherington III gives us this background to the above text:

They went to the temple at the hour of prayer which accompanied the evening sacrifice, about 3 p.m. Here again is clear evidence that the earliest Christians continued to live as observant Jews, probably still offering sacrifices in the temple.

(BW3, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary; Eerdmans, 1998; pp. 173-175)

I am gripped by the thought of these two Jewish believers and their walk to the temple upon the dusty streets of Jerusalem. How many Jewish souls went up at the hour of prayer that day? Perhaps thousands. The evening sacrifice was precious, yet very normal. There was nothing extremely rare about two Jewish men walking to the temple at the hour of prayer. It would have been commonplace, hum-drum, everyday activity. But this was no hum-drum day, and these were no common men.

They encounter a man who has been paralyzed from birth, and what had become a fitment or an unnoticeable fixture in the minds of most, became a candidate for the glory of God in the minds of these young apostles.

According to v. 3 the lame man saw Peter and John going into the (inner) temple precincts for worship and asked them for alms. Peter’s response involves looking intently at the man and demanding he reciprocate by giving Peter his undivided attention. The man does this, undoubtedly expecting to receive some sort of gracious gift. Peter, however, says in v. 6 that he has no silver or gold to dispense. This perhaps points to the fact that the apostles were not keepers of the Christian community’s funds. Instead Peter had something to dispense which money could not buy- healthy limbs.

(BW3, ibid., emphasis mine)

The “hour of prayer” means nothing to those who have not beheld the resurrected Christ. The commonplace affairs and duties of our lives have no glow in and of themselves. Even religious or ministerial activities bear no light or power devoid of the Spirit of grace in prayer.

But these young Jewish apostles had something more than a few coins to give to this broken man, who was required to sit at the gate rather than to partake in the full experience of temple life. It is because of the abiding life of prayer that they had the ability to “dispense that which money cannot buy- healthy limbs.” At the hour of prayer they were already caught up in faith and hunger and communion with the Man who took stripes for that life-long paralytic. Their life in prayer was so accompanied by the goodness and life of God that it overflowed upon that man’s situation, though he likely had no expectation that such a powerful thing would come upon him that day. They were not merely doing the everyday thing. There was a divine buoyancy resting upon their spirits, and it caused heaven’s light to break in manifestly.

Enter into prayer then, dear saint. Carve out a place and time to engage in loving exchange with the God of heaven. Contend for that place, and contend for the abiding life right through all of the most seemingly mundane ventures. You need not settle for a life of handing out a few coins here or there. It is your high privilege to dispense the very love and power and nature of Jesus Christ to those whose lives are paralyzed and entrapped outside of the gates of God.

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