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THE IMPORTANCE OF
PRAYER BEFORE CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, January 13, 2008

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).


There are several people here this morning who seem to be interested in being converted. There are others here who have not been converted, but show no real interest yet. I am speaking to both groups this morning. If you have not been converted yet, you need to be, because Jesus said,

“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Conversion is the work of God. You cannot convert yourself. Only God can convert you to Christ. But there are some things you can do to prepare for conversion. The great 19th century theologian William G. T. Shedd said,

God has appointed certain human acts whereby to make the heart of man ready for the divine act [of conversion]. Without attentive reading and hearing the word and prayer, the soul is not a fit subject for regenerating [converting] grace. By ‘fitness’ is not meant holiness or even the faintest desire for holiness, but a conviction of guilt and danger, a sense of sin and utter impotence to everything spiritually good (William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, P and R Publishing, 2003 reprint, pp. 780-781).

Dr. Shedd says that God wants you to do certain things to prepare your heart for conversion. Those things are careful listening to the preaching, and reading about conversion, and prayer. The person who doesn’t listen to the sermons (and think about them), and who doesn’t pray to be converted, probably won’t be. A person who doesn’t do these things will not be convicted of his guilt, will not have a sense of his sin, will not see the danger he is in, and will not come to the place of seeing that he is powerless to save himself. The effect of becoming convicted is usually followed by conversion.

The conversion of the Apostle Paul is a good example of this. He was called “Saul” before his conversion and “Paul” afterwards. He became known as the Apostle Paul after his conversion.

Saul’s conversion began by hearing a powerful sermon preached by Stephen (Acts 7:2-58). Saul reacted strongly to this sermon. It enraged him. He set out to do everything he could to stop those who were preaching salvation through Christ (cf. Acts 8:3; 9:1-2). But the sermon he heard and the testimonies he doubtlessly heard from the Christians deeply troubled him. He experienced a deep inner turmoil. Jesus came to him and said,

“It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

Saul was like an ox kicking against the sharp goads on the plow. Matthew Poole says,

The pricks Saul had kicked against were the sermons and miracles of St. Stephen and others (Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Banner of Truth, 1990 reprint, volume 3, p. 413).

So, there is an inner turmoil within a person, when he hears heart-probing sermons, before conversion. Put it down as an axiom of truth: if you are never troubled by the sermons you hear, you will not be converted.

But Saul was not merely troubled by the sermons he heard – he also began to pray for his own conversion. The trouble he felt in his heart drove him to pray for his own conversion. That is made clear in our text. The Lord told a man named Ananias that Saul had gone to the house of another man named Judas, which was a common name. The Lord said,

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

I do not believe Saul was converted yet. How could he have been converted? The scales had not yet fallen from his eyes. He had not yet received his sight. He had not yet received the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 9:17-18). I therefore believe that Dr. Shedd was right to call these prayers Saul prayed prayers “for the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit” (Shedd, ibid., p. 780). And I believe that it is right for lost people to pray for conversion, just as Saul did.

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

Let us think more deeply about Saul’s prayers before his conversion.

I. First, they were not his ordinary prayers.

Saul had prayed all his life. He later said that he was

“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).

Spurgeon says,

Saul was a Pharisee, and therefore a man who habitually repeated prayers. Pharisees boasted of the regularity, number, and length of their prayers. [Probably] there had never been a day in Saul’s life from the time in which he was conscious in which he had not gone through his prayers (C. H. Spurgeon, “Behold, He Prayeth,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim, 1973, volume XXXI, p. 506).

And yet Spurgeon was right when he said that Saul had never really prayed before. “Real prayer,” said Spurgeon, “must be spiritual; and Saul’s prayers had not been such before…[Before this], Saul had never prayed a single right prayer of the kind which the Lord can accept” (ibid., p. 507).

When you are praying seriously for your own conversion, you will pray in a new and heartfelt way. You will pray like the man who beat his breast,

“saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

These were undoubtedly the kind of prayers Saul prayed at Judas’ house.

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

Have you ever prayed like that – beating your breast, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? That is the kind of prayers that prepare the heart for conversion. They were not Saul’s usual prayers. He was now praying for himself to be converted.

II. Second, they were struggling prayers.

Before Saul went into the prayer room at Judas’ house, Jesus said to him,

“It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

It was hard for him to struggle against Jesus. And undoubtedly this struggle continued, more or less, as Saul prayed for his conversion. Alone in that room at Judas’ house, he struggled in prayer. He reminds me of Jacob.

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

Like Jacob, Saul wrestled and struggled with Christ until he gave in and submitted to Jesus. Bengel said, “In conversion, a man’s will is broken and melted” (John Albert Bengel, Bengel’s New Testament Commentary, Kregel Publications, 1971 reprint, volume I, p. 808).

Sometimes a person is converted suddenly, with little struggle. The thief on the cross beside Christ was converted suddenly. My wife was converted suddenly. But for every one who is converted suddenly, there are many others who go through a prolonged struggle in prayer, as Saul did, before he was converted and became the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 9:17-18).

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

Pray until you are convinced of sin. Pray until you have “a conviction of guilt and danger, a sense of sin and utter impotence [complete inability to do] everything spiritually good,” as Dr. Shedd put it (Shedd, ibid., p. 781).

III. Third, they were the prayers of a blind man.

Saul was made blind on the road to Damascus. He remained blind as they led him through the streets of Damascus. He remained blind as he prayed alone in Judas’ house.

“And he was three days without sight” (Acts 9:9).

The scales did not fall from his eyes until Ananias came and he received “the Holy Ghost” (Acts 9:17). Matthew Henry said that when those scales fell from his eyes Saul was converted.

This signifieth the recovering of him, [1] From the darkness of an unconverted state… [2] From the darkness of his present terrors, under the apprehension [knowledge] of guilt upon his conscience, and the wrath of God against him. This filled him with confusion, during those three days he sat in darkness… (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume 6, p. 94).

You say, “I don’t see things clearly.” Neither did Saul, as he prayed. You say, “I don’t see any way out.” Neither did Saul, as he prayed. Keep praying – but remember what you are praying for. You are praying for regeneration, for conversion, for “a conviction of guilt and danger, a sense of sin and utter impotence to everything spiritually good…When the Holy Spirit finds this preparation, then he usually intervenes with his quickening agency” (William G. T. Shedd, ibid., p. 781).

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

Saul’s struggle finally ended. As Bengel put it, “In conversion, a man’s will is broken and melted.” He submitted to Christ. He was washed clean from his sins by the Blood of the Saviour. He trusted Jesus, whom he had rebelled against. He was converted. He was no longer Saul of Tarsus. He was the Apostle Paul! May you soon have a conversion like that of the Apostle!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 18:9-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“How Big Is God!” (by Stuart Hamblen, 1908-1989).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE IMPORTANCE OF
PRAYER BEFORE CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

(Matthew 18:3; Acts 7:2-58; 8:3; 9:1-2, 5, 17-18)

I.   First, they were not his ordinary prayers, Philippians 3:5-6;
Luke 18:13.

II.  Second, they were struggling prayers, Acts 9:5; Genesis 32:24.

III. Third, they were the prayers of a blind man, Acts 9:9, 17.