I realise that the fact that you are here probably means that you are committed to prayer. Which means I feel like a bit of a fraud because I am not a great pray-er. I don’t pray nearly as much as I would like to so I asked myself why not. Why don’t I pray more?
I came up with three reasons:
- I think I can do things by myself. I don’t need Jesus. It is a question of priorities. How should I spend this time? Shall I spend it praying or doing? Often I choose doing. I think I can achieve more by doing than by praying.
- Some prayers don’t seem to be answered. My mind says I believe God answers our prayers. Do I expect God to answer? Sometimes I am surprised when He does answer, which suggests I didn’t really expect it.
- I don’t know God as well as I should so I don’t hunger for intimacy with Him like I should.
Then I asked myself why we don’t pray more – churches. It is well-known that the prayer meetings are often the least attended meetings in churches. Why is that? Please don’t be offended by this. Filter out what you believe to be true. Sort the wheat from the chaff, but here’s some suggestions.
- We are not desperate enough.
- We see the church as natural, not supernatural. We have committees rather than prayer meetings. We see ourselves as a human organisation, not as a conduit for the power of God.
- We have forgotten our mission. We are not passionate about people’s salvation and driven to prayer because of that.
- We are not committed to God receiving the glory He deserves.
And then I turn to the scriptures. I want us to look at Acts 4:23-31 but first, let’s consider the back story.
Acts 2:42 says the newly formed community of Christians, after Pentecost, was committed to four things: the Apostles’ teaching (which for us means studying the scriptures), fellowship, the breaking of bread (which could be another phrase for fellowship – having meals together – or could be more about worship (sharing the Lord’s supper together), and prayer. All of those are important but, in the context of tonight, note that commitment to prayer as one of the four key aspects of the life of the church.
Every day they worshipped in the Temple. On one particular day, recorded in Chapter 3. Peter and John approached the temple, saw a crippled man begging, and said, “Sorry, we have no money. However…” In the midst of all the Jews, they then performed a miracle explicitly in the name of Jesus: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” The man leapt up and ran around the temple praising God. A crowd gathered, amazed at the miracle and Peter took the opportunity to explain what had happened.
“People of Israel, why does this surprise you?” That is an interesting question. It seems that Peter had no doubts that the miracle would happen. He wasn’t surprised. In public, where it could have been embarrassing (and dangerous) he simply said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
According to Peter, the Jews should also not have been surprised. Jesus had done exactly this sort of thing, and Jesus was still alive. They would all have heard the claims about the resurrection. That must have been hot news throughout Jerusalem and Judea and Galilee. So, why would the alive Jesus not continue doing these things through His followers who used His name?
They did not understand, so Peter explained it. He had done this thing in the name of Jesus but it seems the people saw it as a couple of men doing it. That is why they were surprised. So Peter said, “It wasn’t us. We did not do this by our power or godliness.” That is a reminder to me when I think I can do God’s work by myself – or when we think we can operate as an organisation not needing the power of God. I simply do not have the power or the godliness to do anything that is going to get the attention of the world like this miracle got the attention of the crowd in the temple. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain (Ps 127:1).
Peter immediately pointed away from himself and to Jesus. “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and that faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” (v.16). Faith… in the name of Jesus.
Then he called the people to repent. He wasn’t at all squeamish about calling people to turn from their sin that they might be forgiven and might enjoy God’s times of refreshing.
So, Peter and John said, “We did not do this. We could not do this.” But, at the same time, they believed God could, and they expected Him to. We also see their commitment to mission; their willingness to minister in the name of Jesus and to call people to repentance and belief. And we see their commitment to God receiving the glory. They pointed people to Jesus.
Before we find out if the people responded to the call to repentance, the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees arrive, greatly disturbed that Peter and John were proclaiming in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead. They seized them, imprisoned them and the next day questioned them. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, said, “Jesus, whom you crucified, healed this man. There is salvation in no one else.” The leaders could not deny what had happened so they commanded that they do not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Do not give the credit to Jesus. Do not try to persuade the people to follow Jesus.
Peter, not intimidated at all, said, “Should we obey you, or God? We cannot not talk about the things we have seen and heard.”
How much of all of this would have happened – the healing, the courage, the Spirit-inspired words – if it hadn’t been for that commitment to prayer in the early church? The leaders put Peter and John’s courage down to having spent time with Jesus. Peter was full of the Holy Spirit, so that made a difference. But how much of it was also a result of prayer? At the end of this story, we are told that all of the people praised God. Would that have happened, if they had not been committed to prayer?
In the end, Peter and John were released. So eventually we get to the passage we are going to read – because this story begins and ends with prayer. READ Acts 4:23-31.
When the church got the report of all that had happened, their immediate response was to pray. Prayer was so natural – corporate prayer; the prayer of the church gathered together.
I get the impression that this might have been quite a noisy prayer meeting. They raised voices. I’m not sure that the volume of our prayers increases the chances of God hearing them but maybe the passion with which we pray says something about us. Maybe passionless prayers indicate passionless hearts. For these Christians there was some fervour in their prayers.
What did they pray? “Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” They acknowledged who God is and worshipped Him for who He is. He is sovereign. He is King. He is in control, even when the human rulers try to exert their authority. He is creator of everything. Without God, nothing would exist.
They remembered what God had done –things relevant to their current situation. God had spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David. Why do the nations rage and the rulers conspire against God? In opposing Jesus, Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans and the people of Jerusalem had done exactly what God had foretold. Indeed, they did exactly what God willed should happen. This is the sovereignty of God. They might have thought that they were in control but God was in control all the time.
The Christians worshipped God; they honoured Jesus, calling Him God’s holy servant and they acknowledged the work of the Holy Spirit as the means by whom God spoke. They gave God glory, worshipping and praising Him.
Then came the request part of the prayer. But they didn’t pray “Lord, protect us.” The authorities were clearly angry. The Christians recognised that the nations were raging and the kings of the earth were rising up. They referred to the threats their enemies were making. But their prayer was, “Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Lord, they are getting angry. Do more of what You are doing. Heal more people. And enable us to be bold.”
They didn’t pray for God to show them what to do. They knew what to do. They knew what their mission was. They prayed that God would enable them to do it.
They recommitted themselves to the mission, in word and deed – speaking with boldness and healing and performing signs and wonders. They cared about people. They wanted to see people healed and experiencing the power of God in all sorts of ways. They cared about God. The selfish thing would have been to just hunker down; keep safe. But God had called them to this mission. And they knew that God received glory as more and more people came to know Him and trust Him and worship Him.
They were committed to people and to God but they knew they couldn’t do it by themselves. That was the point of their prayer. “Lord, enable us… stretch out your hand… that these things might happen through the name of Jesus.”
The immediate result was that the place where they were meeting was shaken. We don’t often get clear signs like that and so it is easy for us to doubt that God still works in the ways He once did. But we can believe the scriptures. Even if it is not part of our own experience, can we still have evidence that God is powerful; that God loves it when His people pray and that God answers prayer? Even if we haven’t had such tangible feedback, will we keep praying because we still trust God and we are looking for that breakthrough – looking for God to enable His people and to stretch out His hand to heal and to perform signs and wonders? Every great revival in history has started with a few people praying. Very often their prayers were urgent precisely because their society seemed so far from God. They prayed when God didn’t seem to be answering but still believing God for a new outpouring of His Spirit.
The result of this prayer, in Acts 4, was that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God boldly. They had to be obedient and speak. But God empowered them to speak.
The longer-term results of that prayer were (according to vv.32-35):
- They were one in heart and mind
- They shared everything they had.
- They spoke about Jesus with great power.
- A renewed society with no needy people – a wee preview of the Kingdom of God.
I don’t pray as much as I should. But then, when I read the scriptures, I see something different. I see an expectation that God will answer. I see trust. I see love for God and love for people which mean an unshakable commitment to the mission of proclaiming Jesus. I see people who knew that the mission of God could not be achieved without the power of God. I see people who risk their own safety that God might receive glory.
And I see miracles happening. I see God responding to the prayers of His people. I see the Kingdom of God breaking into the world.
In the Bible, I see the people of God committed to prayer. I know that you are probably better pray-ers than I am, but, if not, maybe we can be inspired by some biblical realities so that when God looks at us, He sees a people equally committed to prayer.