Our Good Friday—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Acts 7.59
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Reflection: Our Good Friday—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Dr. Shadrach Meshach Lockridge’s poetic description of Good Friday has often been quoted but I recently attended a performance in which it was set to gospel music. (There’s no video of it, or I would link it for you.) 

Lockridge’s “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming” sits with us in the tension of seeming disaster, the pain of loss, and the feeling that everything has gone wrong.

Each of us may find ourselves in our own “Good Friday” experiences. Like Peter and the other disciples, we may see no hope and want to flee. Like the women and John at the cross, we may be powerless to do anything but weep.

Stephen was the first follower of Christ to face a more literal version of a “Good Friday” when he was put on trial for false accusations and killed for his testimony about Jesus. No matter what kind of despair we find ourselves in, we can know that Sunday is already here in our hearts, even if it hasn’t been fully realized on Earth.

Today, we close with a prayer reflecting on how Stephen faced his accusers by modeling himself after Jesus.

Our Good Friday
Lord Jesus help us to pattern our life after yours.
May we love the unlovable outcasts.
May we love our enemies.
May we speak truth that both challenges and comforts.
May we speak of sins to those who think themselves righteous and of mercy to those who know themselves to be unworthy.

We must carry our cross to follow you, so it seems we must have our Good Friday moments.
When we are insulted and attacked for good works.
When we are unjustly accused and humiliated for the gospel.

In our Good Fridays, Lord, help us remember that Sunday is coming.
That the humble will be lifted
That the meek will inherit
That the weeping will rejoice
That the days of our sojourn, our suffering, and our sanctification will come to an end.

We know that Sunday is coming for us because we are in Friday now and we are following your path.
Sunday is coming for us, because it came for you.
Resurrection is given to us, because we are in you.
Because you got up, we will get up.
Because you rose, we will rise.

We can hold on through the Fridays, Lord, because Sunday is coming.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 10 (Listen 3:25)
Acts 7 (Listen 8:49)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 11-12 (Listen 7:20), Acts 8 (Listen 5:10)
Leviticus 13 (Listen 9:34), Acts 9 (Listen 6:05)

Read more about The Wrong People
God doesn’t just use the Stephens. He uses Tamars…Rahabs…Pauls…
If we’ll let him, God will use us, too.

Read more about Much Given, Much Expected
If Abihu and Nadab were given much, how much more have we been given?
We serve a greater High Priest…we bear a greater responsibility.

Inner and Outward Circumcision

Scripture Focus: Genesis 17.23-27
23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. 

John 16.1-4
1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

Acts 7.51
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

From John: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The purpose of this day is to encourage service to one’s community. Along with that purpose, we also acknowledge that many have wrongly thought that they were doing “a service for God” (John 16.2) when they committed acts of violence. May our service bring about a loving community on Earth that mirrors that above and may we redouble our efforts to counter violence and the normalization of violent language and threats in our world.

Reflection: Inner and Outward Circumcision
By John Tillman

Every male in Abraham’s household was circumcised. Not just his offspring. Not just his blood relatives. Not just those of his race or country. Everyone. Abraham did not yet have the son God promised, but all those with him were marked as children of this promise.

Even though it set Abraham apart from the rest of the world, from the very beginning circumcision made one people from diverse peoples. It was intended as an external physical marker of an internal spiritual reality. 

Eventually, circumcision, and other distinguishing marks of faith, went from being about inclusion to being about exclusion. “Holiness” became just another kind of sinful show.

Jesus warned his disciples of what they would face in the immediate future from the religious elite. Paul and Stephen would soon live out Jesus’ words. (Acts 7.51-60) Stephen called out “uncircumcised” hearts and ears of those deaf and blind to God’s Word and his work. Their inner spirituality did not match their outward ritual purity.

With any religious practice, it is easy for the ritual to become a replacement for the spiritual. Our legalistic holiness can become a sinfully prideful show. If we are not careful, we can lose our love for the Lord, and other humans, amidst our liturgies. 

But without ritual or liturgy or law our “spirituality” is just a mush of feelings—ecstatic highs and depressive lows. Liturgy, law, and the rhythmic rituals of worship are tools to remind us that we are included. They are intended to set us apart from the world and, at the same time, hold out an invitation to the world. We, like the foreigners in Abraham’s household, can be marked as children of the promise alongside Christ, Abraham’s true son.

Faith can start outwardly. Nonbelievers may begin reading the Bible, coming to church, singing worship songs, or changing outward behaviors of their lives. This can be a path to inward faith.

Faith can start inwardly. People may have sudden or life-altering conversions of heart. These may lead to disciplines such as Bible reading, worship, and lifestyle changes.

Wherever faith starts, may every part, inward and outward, be changed. By God’s grace, may our ears, hearts, and every part of our lives bear the mark of a “circumcision” that is more than skin deep. May our inner spirituality and outward reality match.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen 4:02
John 16 (Listen 4:14)

Read more about The Necessity of The Spirit
Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
January is a great time to become a monthly donor. Please consider becoming a monthly donor for 2023. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

The Wrong People

Scripture Focus: Acts 7.57-58
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 

Reflection: The Wrong People
By Bridget Jack Jeffries

If you had to place a bet on whom God would use most to build up His kingdom based only on the first six chapters of Acts, you’d be smart to bet on Stephen. 

The book of Acts introduces Stephen to us as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6.5), as well as “full of God’s grace and power” (6.8). This was a man who even “performed great wonders and signs among the people” (6.8), a man who rhetorically annihilated all who opposed the gospel because of “the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke” (6.10). 

Moreover, Stephen seemed like a kindred spirit to Isaiah, who wrote, “Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword” (Isaiah 49.1–2). Stephen knew God’s call and allowed Him to fashion his mouth into a sharpened sword for His kingdom.

It might have been Stephen who spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor and Europe. It might have been Stephen who wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. Surely Stephen won’t need to die at the end of Acts 7! Surely God’s arm won’t be too short to save him! 

But Stephen did die. And instead of Stephen, God called a sinful man who had given full approval of Stephen’s death (Acts 8.1): Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul the Apostle. It would be Paul who spread the gospel throughout his world. It would be Paul who wrote much of the New Testament. 

Do you admire Stephen, but have trouble relating to him? You’re not alone; Paul himself struggled with feeling unworthy (1 Corinthians 15.9-10). Many of us have felt like we’re the wrong people to build up God’s kingdom. We’ve led a past that contains divorce or addiction or sins that we think make us unworthy, and we let that past stop us from pursuing God’s kingdom with our whole hearts. We hold back on sacrificing our whole selves on God’s altar because we know how imperfect that sacrifice will be. 

We shouldn’t hold back. It’s okay that we’re imperfect because Christ has already been the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10.14). That’s why God doesn’t just use the Stephens. He uses the Tamars (Matthew 1.3). And the Rahabs (Matthew 1.5). And the Pauls. 

If we’ll let him, God will use us, too. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51.16-18

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 49 (Listen – 4:55)
Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)

Read more about The Last Shall be First
Paul’s intention seems to be to humble himself, making himself as unimportant as possible.

The Necessity of The Spirit

Acts 7.55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Reflection: The Necessity of The Spirit 
By John Tillman

We look ahead today reflecting on our readings for tomorrow and two extraordinarily different outcomes for two men led by the same Spirit…

Many times in Judges, the Israelites rebelled over the course of one generation and from the next generation a Judge would rise up to save them. But not the first Judge, Othniel. He had been there the whole time.

Othniel was already a great hero of Israel. He had every advantage and privilege available to him at that time. He was wealthy from his military conquests. He was part of an influential family. He was a seasoned military leader. He had a strong spiritual heritage, being from the family of Caleb, a mighty hero of faith. But despite this, Israel suffered and Othniel could not save them. Until God’s Spirit came on him.

Othniel was a great leader and a great warrior. But it was the Spirit of God, not Othniel or his skills that saved Israel. In Othniel’s day, the Spirit of The Lord coming on a leader was a rare, miraculous event. But in our case the miracle has already occurred. The main thing keeping us from accessing the Holy Spirit is…us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples that it is to our benefit that he leave and the Spirit come. But the benefit may not be something that looks like victory to the world. In Acts, we read of Stephen, who was filled with the Spirit and spoke with power. We like that part. Then he was stoned to death.

Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes. From the world’s point of view, one was a victor and one a victim. In many ways, the Kingdom perspective of their situations is the reverse.

Othniel seems to have won a great victory and Stephen seem to have lost everything, until you keep reading. 40 years later, Israel is back in the same predicament, tragically repeating the same mistakes over and over. But 40 years after Stephen’s death, the church he died for was spread across the known world by one of the very men who helped put him to death.

We need the Spirit in our lives not because our skills, our wealth, and our influence cannot accomplish things of significance, but because what is truly significant is often hidden, like a treasure buried in a field, and we must follow the Spirit, forsaking all else to find it.

Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 2 (Listen – 3:19)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

Today’s Readings
Judges 3 (Listen – 4:30), Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)
Judges 4 (Listen – 3:57), Acts 8 (Listen – 5:10)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift. 

Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Why Do We Need the Leading of the Spirit?
The leading of the Spirit—O, how highly necessary is it! Who can be without it?

Read more about Spiritual Practice as EDC
The daily practices of prayer, reading the scriptures, meditation are tools that can connect us powerfully to the Holy Spirit, help us define who and whose we are, and allow us to walk with the confidence of our secure identity in Christ.