Growing in Prayer
Joining Together in the Power of Prayer
Peter and John had been arrested by the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees. They were kept in custody overnight and interrogated the next day. These authorities then strictly ordered Peter and John – with threats – “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” and then they released the two apostles.
After being released, Peter and John returned to their believing friends – to the church – and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. What the early church in Jerusalem did next is extremely instructive for us, church, as we follow Jesus together today in the 21st century in the Buchanan-area. After receiving Peter and John back from their imprisonment, and after hearing how the authorities had ordered the apostles to stop preaching about Jesus, the church responded by joining together in united prayer:
Acts 4:24-31: And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
This spontaneous turn to prayer was not a knee-jerk reaction to a frightening situation. Instead, this united prayer in response to persecution and threats from the authorities grew out of the very soil of the church’s life together. Indeed, the book of Acts shows us that from the very beginning the early church was a church which prayed together.
Acts 1:13-14: And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Acts 2:41-42: So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 13:1-3: Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
So the early church was devoted to prayer, and not only to the practice of personal prayer in which an individual disciple went into his room and shut the door in order to be alone with God, but also to the practice of united prayer in which the disciples worshipped and called upon God together. Brothers and sisters, we also must be a church which is devoted to praying together. When the people of God pray together God is glorified, the church is strengthened, and God moves in power.
United Prayer Brings Glory to God
- In Acts 4 the church began their prayer with worship: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…” Surely nothing can be more pleasing to the heart of our Father than seeing his children gathered together adoring his holy name.
- Next, our unity in prayer glorifies God because it is evidence to the world that God sent Jesus to be Lord and Savior of all. John 17:20-21: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
- Third, united prayer glorifies God because it enables us to be fruitful in Christian ministry. Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:8: “By this my Father is glorified: that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” If we remain in Jesus together by seeking him in prayer together, the life of Jesus will flow through us as his body and our ministry will produce fruit that brings glory to God the Father.
United Prayer Strengthens the Church
- Faced with persecution the church in Acts 4 prayed, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” The church looked to God not for protection but rather for God’s strength to continue bearing witness to Jesus even as the authorities tried to shut them down. And how did God respond to their prayer? The end of verse 31 tells us that God strengthened his church just as they had asked: “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
- In Philippians 1:27-28 the apostle Paul gave this exhortation to the church: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Brothers and sisters, there is no better way for us to stand firm in one spirit and with one mind to strive for the faith of the gospel than for us to consistently join together in prayer and as we do this, God will strengthen us through the Holy Spirit just as he strengthened the early church.
When the Church is United in Prayer, God Moves in Power
- In Acts 4 the church prayed not only for boldness but also for God to reveal his mighty power as they preached the word about Jesus: “… while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
- Acts 5:12-16 gives us a summary of the powerful ways in which God was working in the days of the early church: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
Let us Join Together in Prayer
- As a church we have a good foundation in prayer, but we still have much growing to do. Our prayer ministry – Wednesday prayer meetings, prayer walks, National Day of Prayer, and 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting – needs to grow in size and participation. Also, moving forward we will call every small group, Bible class or study, and ministry meeting to emphasize praying together.
Let us Pray for Boldness in Witnessing about Jesus
- When we pray together, we must not limit our prayers to requests on behalf of the sick and hurting. We must also pray as the early church did – for boldness to speak the message about Jesus to others. When we pray together in meetings, in Bible studies or classes, or in our homes, we need to be praying that the Holy Spirit will lead us in witnessing to others about Jesus, and we need to be praying for unbelievers to place their trust in Christ.
Let us Pray for God to Move in Power
- In Ephesians Paul prayed for the church: “I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20). Friends, the power of God which raised Christ from the dead is at work among us – this is the kind of power God wants to display in and through us. So we must pray together with bold and confident faith for people to repent of their sins and be baptized into Christ, for people with addictions to be set free, for marriages which are crumbling to be restored, for hard hearts to be made soft, for victims of injustice to be delivered, for the sick to be made well, and for God’s glory to be clearly revealed to more and more people in our community.