In Acts 4 you can read about a man named Barnabas who sold a field and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. That created quite a stir, so Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) decided to get in on the action. They hatched a plot to sell some land, pocket part of the money, but then pretend they were giving all the proceeds to the church. Ananias must have beamed proudly as he lay the moneybag down, waiting for the praise of the Apostles. Perhaps his blood ran cold, however, when Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Peter saw right past the pile of money and into Ananias’ heart. It had nothing to do with the money. Ananias and Sapphira had every right to keep all or part of it. The sin was hypocrisy. Ananias did not utter a word as Peter spoke. He just dropped dead at the apostle’s feet, possibly falling right on top of his money that he loved so much.
Meanwhile, back at home, Sapphira was excitedly awaiting either Ananias or someone else to appear at the door. She may have imagined one of the prominent wives in the church coming over to say, “You and Ananias are such mighty pillars in the church. You are examples to all of us. Oh, I am humbled by what you have done, and I feel so selfish when I think about how little we give.” Sapphira might have imagined herself blushing and responding with, “Oh, well, you know, it is all for God. To God be the glory! Ananias and I are nothing.” But no one appeared, not even Ananias. Where is he? After three hours, Sapphira couldn’t wait any more. She marched down to the church, only to find Peter and some of the other apostles looking rather grim. And sad. No Ananias, though. Where is he?
Peter asked her, “Did you and Ananias sell the land for this price?” Sapphira might have thought smugly, Now, I am going to get what’s coming to me! That’s why Ananias didn’t come home; he wanted me to come here and receive the same reward that he received. She said yes to Peter, knowing it was a lie. That’s when her own blood ran cold, as Peter announced that the same young men who had buried her husband would be carrying her to the same place. Sapphira dropped dead.
The result of this severe mercy of God was that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” I would say so. Not only that, “none of the rest dared join them.” Oh, there were many who believed after this and came to Jesus Christ for salvation. But those who were just interested in playing church, those who believed that Jesus was a great guy but certainly not the only way to God, those who knew they were practicing sin and loved it…they did not dare come anywhere near.
Vance Havner said about this, “There was a holy repulsion, and I know of nothing that the church needs more today. It is the last thing we think we need. We are always trying to attract. Our programs, prizes, picnics, and pulpit pyrotechnics are aimed at drawing the people in. Here was a church that made people stand back! We have catered to the world, we have let the world slap the church on the back in coarse familiarity. Here was a church that prospered by repelling!”
May God give the church what it needs today.
It has always been interesting to me that Jesus’ disciples never asked the Lord to teach them how to witness. Or preach. Or cast out demons. They asked Him to teach them how to pray. Maybe they understood that Jesus’ intimacy with His Father was the power source. Someone has said that Jesus went from one prayer meeting to another and in between He healed the sick, preached to crowds, and even raised the dead. That’s a little simplistic. We know that on a few occasions Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, Jesus came to do what the Father had sent Him to do: to lay down His life to atone for the sins of those who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior. But even there, on the cross, Jesus prayed.
Teach your children how to pray. It was our custom for many years to have family devotions that begin with reading the Bible and end with each of us praying one by one. When our children were very young, their prayers would usually go something like this. Hands folded, knees on the floor, elbows on the sofa, eyes squeezed shut, the youngest would pray, “Lord, help us to have a good day, not to get hurt, and not to fight.” That was OK. It was a child’s prayer, one that focused on comfort, safety and security. Sadly, many adults pray in those same tracks. Their words and sentences get longer and more impressive to the ear, but the requests are the same: “Lord, bless me today. Give me everything I need. Protect me from harm or even from anything hard or uncomfortable. And help me to make it safely to death one day!” No one actually prays those exact words, at least I hope not, but many pray those same themes. Over and over. Day after day.
As my children matured, I challenged them to get outside the prayer box they were in, to look around them for needs in the church, the community, or the world. Or in their own hearts. “It’s fine to pray for your own needs,” I would say. “Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. But He also taught us to pray for forgiveness for our own sins and for grace to forgive others who have sinned against us.” Cindy and I taught them and led by example to pray for the sick and the hurting. We taught them to pray for missionaries around the world. We taught them to pray for those who are not followers of Jesus Christ. We taught them to give God praise and thanks in prayer. My children have learned through the years that prayer is to be a delight, not a duty. We have taught them that they can pray any time and under any circumstances. Someone said once, “As long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in school.” True. Prayer is not a ceremony that requires equipment, rituals, special clothing, or even a place. You can pray in your heart any time, and God hears.
Susanna Wesley, though mother to 19 children, found time to pray for two hours every day. David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians in the 1700s, prayed in the snow until it melted around him. The Apostle James, beheaded by King Herod in the first century, was called “camel knees” according to legend, because of the callouses he developed through hours of prayer.
We need their kind among us again. Teach your children to pray.