Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let This Be Our Prayer.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Acts 4:24-30. I know very little about most things, but especially prayer. What I do know is that I see prayers in the Bible that cause God to shake the heavens and the earth. "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words..." (Romans 8:26). I consider that the Spirit also helps us in prayer through the Word He has Authored. So I pay attention to these prayers of the Scriptures given to us by God the Holy Spirit. And this one in Acts is close to my heart.

It is a prayer "to God with one accord" (4:24). Unity of the Church is the Reality of the True Church. It is how the Father has designed the Church, how the Son reigns over the Church, and how the Holy Spirit builds the Church. The disunity we see and experience is from our bringing of worldly concerns into the Church, the continued fleshly desire to build our kingdom rather than Christ's, ignorance or willful rejection of the truth of the Word, etc. We see this Church praying to God as ONE. The unity comes from the Reality established by God (Ephesians 4:4-6), gifted by the Christ Who takes us captive (4:7-11), and the building of the Church (4:12-16). This Church that prays in Acts 4 "to God with one accord" has embraced the Reality, the gift, and the building. And so they come to corporate prayer as the Church.

It is a prayer that draws from the Bible as its heartbeat. The confession of Acts 4:24 that identifies the One to Whom they pray: "Lord, it is You Who made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them..." This is a scriptural view of God. They come as one Body to a God Who is greater than all things because He made all things. He is not their pet god. He is not their good luck charm or servant of their individual goals and desires. He is Maker of ALL.

Then they move on to the Psalm 2 quote, lifting up the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and the salvation of God through history (the citation of David the LORD's servant): "Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ" (Acts 4:25,26//Psalm 2:1,2). This quotation of the Psalms was most natural to the Church. I believe it was part of every corporate prayer time they had together. We read in 2:42 that "they were continually devoting prayer [lit., "the prayers"]." I would suggest to you that these early Jewish Christians devoted themselves to "the prayers," which was the Book of Psalms, the prayer-book of the Bible. Even after the Church expanded past its predominately Jewish nature, the Psalms were still vital to the corporate life of the Church:
  • "When you assemble, each one has a psalm..." (1 Corinthians 14:26).
  • " filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms..." (Ephesians 5:18,19).

Both of these passages highlight the work of God the Holy Spirit in the Church, and both bring the spiritual exercise of corporate prayer of the Psalms (which the Holy Spirit Authored) into play. So, as the Church gathered to pray in Acts 4:24-30, they naturally wove - by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit - the Psalms written by the Spirit into their prayer. It was what they always did, it honored the God in their midst Who had given them Scriptures, and lifted God's own words back to Him in prayer. Do you see the power already building just in this act alone? The Word is the power of God! Make it your prayer, dear Church!

This prayer remembers the mighty deeds of God. Not just in citing Creation and mentioning David, but the mighty deeds in their own lives. All of humanity ("...Herod and Pontius Pilate...the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel") had been gathered together against Christ. It did not matter. Their greatest opposition became the very narrative of the plan of God: " do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (4:28). Remember the mighty deeds of God in your prayers! This was the theme of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11). We focus on the tongues and arguing over what this phenomenon was, but the point is that they heard "the mighty deeds of God." Remember these deeds and tell of them from both the Bible and your own lives.

Take note of the circumstance of the prayer. Peter and John have been arrested. Peter has given another amazing sermon (3:12-26) and testimony (4:8-12) in the power of the Triune God:

  • "...they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you" (Matthew 10:17-20).
  • "...they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute" (Luke 21:12-15).
  • "...they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is give you in that hour; for it is not you who speak but it is the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13:9-11).

I have said these things before, but it doesn't hurt to remind us all of Who is our power in testimony before the world. They mention the leaders, as Paul commands us to in his teaching on prayer in 1 Timothy 2:1-8. This command is not for the peace and well-being of the land for its own sake or for our comfort. We pray for the leaders because God desires for men to be saved through a knowledge of the truth (2:4), that is, that Jesus is the Mediator between God and men (2:5). We pray for leaders so that those who are appointed as preachers, apostles, and teachers will be able to proclaim the Good News (2:7), which is "our God reigns" (see Isaiah 52:7). The Church is to pray for what Baptist theologian Herschel Hobbs (1907-1995) called "a free Church in a free State."

In this circumstance, they don't pray for their own comfort, do they? Compare that to the content of our own prayers when we pray apart from the Scriptures, when we pray from lives that devote a percentage and not the whole to the Kingdom of God. But a live wholly dedicated to the reign of God, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and Word, crucified to the world...well, the prayer requests are going to be different. They were being actively threatened by the rulers of the land, but didn't pray for themselves! Let me talk briefly about some "ask whatever you want" passages:

  • John 14:13,14...this promise is held between doing the works of Christ and proof of belief (14:12) and obedience to His commands as proof of love (14:15). The Son responds to prayers in His name to bring glory to the Father. This makes "whatever you ask" have a different flavor, doesn't it?
  • John 15:16...this promise is held between absolute obedience to Christ's command to love in a self-sacrificing way as He loves (15:12-14,17) and is preceded by Christ's statement that He has chosen us, appointed us to bear lasting fruit. This makes "whatever you ask" have a different flavor, doesn't it?
  • John 16:23,24,26 concerns knowledge of Jesus, not receiving our personal (often selfish or fleshly) desires!

Isn't this what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34)? Doesn't James tell us we don't get what we want because of our motives and desires (4:1-6)?

They prayed for boldness in speaking God's Word: "...grant that Your bondservants may speak Your Word with all confidence..." (4:29). This is a common prayer request (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1,2). Yes, they pray for healing, "and signs and wonders," but these things are requested as support to the bold proclamation of the Word, not for their own physical comfort or desire to witness supernatural power.

The result of this prayer? "...the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the Word of God with boldness" (4:31). God answered the prayer powerfully. The imprisonments and persecutions increased, but the Word was preached boldly. Some died, but the Word was preached boldly. This world increasingly became alien to them, but the Word was preached boldly.

Let this be our prayer.

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