The 19th Century Methodist minister Samuel Chadwick said the following concerning prayer: “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”
No quote I have ever heard shows the importance of prayer more than Samuel Chadwick’s quote. Prayer is the one tool of the Christian that so often goes unused. It’s not that prayer in ineffective, it is more along the lines because we believe it to be so powerless.
We fall into the mindset that since we are not doing anything where we can see the results, then it must not be truly useful at all. Yet, it was so useful, and needful for the church, that the apostles, when confronted with the reality that the Hellenists widows were being neglected in the daily distribution, decided it best to choose deacons to take care of the problem so that they could give themselves to prayers.
Acts 6:4 “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The apostles understood what was important: prayer and the ministry of the word. Their priorities were correct. It is better to spend time in prayer during the course of the day, than to do anything else at all. The apostles understood the nature of their work and the responsibility that they had. God was moving and they needed to be in prayer.
They even remembered Christ’s admonition to continually pray.
Luke 18:1ff Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. He then gives the parable of the woman who went to an unjust judge for help. Her persistence paid off. We too should be just as persistent at she was. We need to be continually in prayer, as the apostles were.
For the apostles, they knew the need to pray, as is evidenced by their continued use of this gift. They were continually meeting to pray and seek God’s wisdom. They pray after the ascension of Christ, they prayed before they replaced Judas Iscariot. They prayed whenever they gathered for worship, and whenever they were confronted with danger. The one mark of the early church is that it was saturated in prayer.
We have been doing a series of sermons on the marks of a healthy church. If you remember, our main text for this is Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.
The first mark of the church is that it remains steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine, which produces true fellowship, and includes the sacraments as we saw from last week. This week, we are looking at the subject of prayer. The church, while founded upon the word of God, must be entrenched in prayer. It is a mark of the true church, it is a mark of a healthy church and it is even a mark of a true Christian.
J.C. Ryle writes: “A habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian. All the children of God on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world, is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again, is praying.”
Prayer is also one of the marks of a true and healthy church. Those churches that are healthy, spend time in prayer because they know the need to be in constant submission and communication with God. They know their dependence upon the Holy Spirit and their need for God’s Spirit to move in their lives.
It is interesting to look at the life of a new church, or new congregation. For the most part, they are entrenched in prayers. (Trinity Baptist church… old minutes from the 1800s… they had prayer meetings every week… praying the things of God… started out on the right track… but by the time I got there, prayer had taken a back seat to everything else.)
The prayer life of the church truly does determine the health of the church. Is their continual prayer taking place concerning the things of God, or is the prayer simple lip service? We must be those who are continually in prayer… it is vital to the health of the church.
Prayer is what marked the early church in Acts, so I would like to look at several references to their prayers so we can get an idea of how important prayer is to the health of the church.
I would like us to look at Acts 4:23-31, in order to learn about their prayer and help us learn to pray.
The Setting: Peter & John just released from prison… they had healed a man… authorities took them in… the authorities demanded that they quit speaking concerning Jesus. They responded by saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
It is at this point that they return to the rest of the apostles… and they begin to pray. Why? Because there is a sense in which they are being threatened. They have no recourse but to turn to God for help. This is often times the best place to be. When you have no place to go, the best place to go is to the Father.
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David.”
First, we see concerning their prayer, is that it was all in one accord. The apostles had the same focus, the same goals, and the same purposes in what they were doing. They didn’t have different agendas running the show. That would come later, and when it came later, it would often be beat back by one of Paul’s letters.
The point here is that their goal is building the Kingdom of God. They are not trying to stay small, they are not trying to manipulate who is in and outside the Kingdom, they are concerned about the good news of Christ being proclaimed, and letting the truth of the gospel rule their lives. It is central to their activity.
It seems really simple: proclaim the truth, pray, worship God in a godly manner, make sure everyone is taken care of… repeat.
Secondly, we see them turning toward God and recognizing that He is the Creator.
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David.”
This is a fundamental principle to prayer. In prayer, we recognize who it is that we are praying to by listing and attributing to things that we know for certain that God has done.
By doing so, we are recognizing and acknowledging God’s claim on us in our lives. The apostles start by saying that the Lord God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and since this is true, they are submitting themselves to His complete and total authority.
There is no better place to start than in the realization that God is our Creator. Therefore, we turn to Him to honor Him as Creator.
This, by the way, is one reason why the environmental movement is so wretched. Those in that movement do not recognize God as creator. Most of them are atheists, but when they do recognize God, they don’t do so from the point of accepting that He is sovereign over His creation. He is just there, at a distance, powerless.
The apostles did not make this mistake, for they were recognizing God for who He has revealed Himself to be.
All that belongs to Creation is His, and since this is true, we willfully submit to His authority in all things.
Thirdly, we see a very common practice in prayer, that is the use of scripture in prayer. If you want to pray correctly, pray scripture, especially the psalms.
The story goes that R.C. Sproul… in class… call on students to pray… first student prayed, God please be present… Second student… God, just help us… just help us… third student… dreading to be called up, finally was, stood and sad… Our Father, who art in heaven…
Here the apostles are doing just that. They are quoting from Psalm 2.
Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things?
This is an appropriate place to start, with the use of Psalm 2. But I can’t help but love the way they use it. They show that the nations, i.e., Israel and Rome plotted a vain thing against Jesus Christ. They plotted to have Him killed, the schemed their way into having the Messiah put to death, and their efforts were in vain.
Kistemaker writes: “The enemies of God think that they are victorious against God’s church. They crucify Jesus and imprison His apostles with impunity, and yet their actions are futile.”
This should be an encouragement to all of us. It doesn’t matter what the world does, or what happens in the world, Christ’s church will advance forward.
Just think about the news of this week. We’ve all heard, read and been bombarded about the mass murder that took place on the Virginia Tech campus. And some of you may have heard about the memorial service that was held for the 32 students killed by this madman. But what you may not have heard, was that there was not one pastor there, in those invited to speak, who mentioned anything about Jesus Christ.
Don’t think for a moment that that wasn’t planned by the organizers. They knew what they were doing. Something like this might be disheartening, but please realize, that Christ’s church will still advance regardless of what they do. God will use what happened at VT for His glory and we need to pray to that end.
The nations plot and rage against Christianity, but it is in vain. Christ’s church will not be overcome.
The apostles continue: “ ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathers together against the LORD and against His Christ.’”
Here we see them changing the words of Psalm 2. The original says, The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed…”
Now when David said this, he was the anointed one. Remember that in the Old Testament, God uses types and antitypes, or those who foreshadow Christ. David was a type of Christ, foreshadowing the true Messiah to come.
David understood this. This is why in Psalm 110, he can say, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
David knows for certain that he is NOT the ultimate anointed one. He knows that there is One coming who will be the true Messiah. Yet, in Psalm 2, he knows that he is the anointed one of Israel at that time for the people of God there. Since this is true, when the nations rage against David, they are raging against God Himself.
When the kings oppose David, they oppose the LORD, and all of their efforts are utterly futile.
Of course, when we get to the New Testament, or the events recorded for us in Acts, we see that the apostles are telling us who the ultimate Anointed One is. The Anointed One is Jesus Christ, and therefore, they change the way they recite Psalm 2 to reflect this truth.
It has been revealed to them, by the Creator, that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Anointed One that the nations are raging against. When the nations, and the religious leaders of Peter’s day, rail against them, they are railing against the Messiah.
The same is true for our day. We need not worry that men attack the church. This is normal in our unbelieving culture. The same was true in Peter and John’s day, and it’s true in ours as well. What we are to do in this event is to turn to the Father, in the name of the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit and lift up our prayers.
The apostles are doing this, and they continue by saying: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
I love this verse because it is so rich in meaning. The apostles are not just citing what has happened to Jesus Christ, but they are showing that it is the truest fulfillment of Psalm 2 there is.
When you compare Psalm 2:1-2 and Acts 4:27, you can see that they are interpreting that psalm in light of what has happened to Christ.
The nations rage
Or the Gentiles conspire
The people plot in vain…
With the people of Israel
The kings and the rulers
Are Herod and Pontius Pilate
Of the earth
Specifically in this city
Or your holy servant Jesus
And his Anointed One
Or whom you anointed…
The Apostles are showing us that Jesus did indeed fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 2. Just as Psalm 2 declared the efforts of the kings in David’s day, vain, so too are the rulers who conspired against Christ. The efforts are fruitless.
Because what they did, in their own free will, was done according to God’s plan. The apostles are doing this, and they continue by saying: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
They thought that they were carrying out their own deeds, but in doing so, they were only playing into the predetermined plan of God, showing us that man’s attempts to attack God and His people are in vain.
God’s hand and purpose were foreordained. In their prayer, the apostles once again reaffirm the doctrine of predestination. BTW, a better translation would be to used predestined, since this is the meaning of the Greek word that is used for “determined.” But you get the idea. This idea of predestination is not merely a Pauline idea, but both Peter and John hold to it as well.
The point is that they are praying back these truths to God and in the process, helping us understand how to pray.
Now notice, that God predetermined all these things to occur. Yet, they are still turning towards God in prayer. Some always ask the question: why pray if God has already determined all things?
And it is a great question. The answer it simply that Christ has told us to pray, and to pray for what we need, even though God already knows what it is that we are going to ask for. Before we utter the words, God already knows. We do so in order to give honor to God. We are acknowledging that all things are from Him. But we also do so to be reminded of the mere fact that we owe all things to God. If we are blessed spiritually, we owe it to God. If we are blessed physically, we owe it to God. Therefore we show Him respect and honor by acknowledging that and by asking for what we need.
Now, so far, the apostles haven’t asked for anything from God at all. All they have done is acknowledge God for who He is, which by the way, is a way to honor God. (This is why it is so important to honor the Triune God for who He is. By leaving out one person, or confusing one of the persons of the Trinity, we dishonor Him).
It is now that they turn and begin to petition God.
Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
The apostles ask for three things in their prayer.
First, they ask that God would look on their threats. Notice, that they do not ask for those threats to be removed. They simply ask that God would take notice of them.
They also don’t ask that God would protect them from harm. I know that I probably would have, but they don’t ask for that. I believe the reason this is true is because they are trusting in the sovereign hand of God in the church. They have already shown they understand God’s hand is involved in what it taking place, AND that no matter what takes place, the gospel will go forward.
What they are doing, in effect, is saying “thy will be done.” For they know that even if harm comes to them, God will use this even more to advance the gospel.
Notice, there is nothing in this prayer about their recent release from prison? It is as if they saying: “God, we know you are in control… so consider their threats…”
And they leave it at that. God knows the threat, and He will deal with them the way that is best and will bring Him the most glory.
And He does. How so? He does so by the hand of Gamaliel, the teacher of the Law. The apostles will be thrown into prison again, and put on trial. In the midst of that trial, Gamaliel give the following advice:
Acts 5:38-39 “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
Now this doesn’t mean the persecution stopped, for we know that Stephen would be stoned shortly after this event. But the threats did decrease and they were able to remain in Jerusalem until the Lord finally moved them on.
God did hear their prayer. He considered their threats, and the threats began to drop off through the advice of Gamaliel.
The next thing that they prayed for was boldness. Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.
How much we need to hear this prayer today. To speak boldly the truth is no easy task at all, for as we know, the truth of the gospel is offensive. Men don’t wish to hear of their sin, and their rightful place in hell. They don’t want to hear the proclamation of the Law, and the need for grace. They want to hear what it is that they can do in order to achieve salvation.
On top of that, men who have trusted in Christ, don’t want to hear of their sin either. All you have to do is proclaim truth that hits home, and before you know, the pastor is no longer willing to proclaim that out of fear of reprisals. This is how many men become so complacent in the ministry. They start out bold, but before long, after taking to many hits in the ministry, it becomes a whole lot easier just to one who tells pleasant stories.
Can’t say I blame some men. It’s hard to proclaim God’s word, with boldness every week. That is why we need to pray for it all the more.
God will answer their prayer in this fashion as well, to the point that they get arrested again, and in the trial, the high priest asks them:
“Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” The point is that they preached with boldness.
Finally, they also asked that God would also accompany their preaching with signs: “by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
This too, God answered:
Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.
God was moving through the apostles and they were praying. The church cannot survive without prayer. Yes, there can be sermons given without prayer, but they are powerless. And there can be the sacraments without prayer. It too is powerless. We need prayer and for us to be healthy, we need to pray about all that we do and believe.
The apostles did so, and God heard their prayers. No, I don’t expect the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our church that occurred at the Day of Pentecost. But I do expect the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our church. That will not come about without prayer.
For our church to be healthy, it must be saturated with prayer. The ministry of the apostles was saturated with prayer. Listen to how Luke concludes the section.
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
 J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion: Prayer, p. 65, Banner of Truth…
 Following table take from Kistemaker’s commentary on Acts… NTC, Baker Books, page 168.
Yes, some Gamecock fan has tried to say that their Willy B Stadium is nicer than Kyle Field at A&M. It’s obvious that he has never been to Kyle Field. I’ve been to both. Sorry Gamecocks, Willy B is lacking… it may be better than that pit up at Clemson… but come on? We had oil money to build Kyle Field. It’s nice in all respects!
The newspaper guy wrote this:
I always thought A&M fans were nuts, but to think that Kyle Field is better than Williams-Brice deserves a special wing in the crazy bin.
Sorry, I take issue with that! Remember, in Texas, everything is bigger and better, especially football, barbecue. And our women are much better looking too!
To my lovely bride, sorry I had to post today. When the newspaper guy came by talking smack, I had to respond. Ok, off to find some Texas style barbecue.
It was just released that the Supreme Court has upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion. This is good news for our nation and the unborn.
Here’s the report.
The Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on a controversial abortion procedure Wednesday, handing abortion opponents the long-awaited victory they expected from a more conservative bench.
The 5-4 ruling said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in 2003 does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
The opponents of the act “have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
If we are going to lay blame at anyone’s feet… let’s start with Adam from the garden and work our way down until we find the blame in our own hearts. Only by God’s grace do we not see more of these kinds of things taking place. May His mercy pour forth.
Of course, I had to post this from the Heritage Foundation on global warming. It’s worth the 2 minutes they take to explain some very simple facts to understand global warming. They are saying that global warming is not unprecedented as Al Gore & Co. are saying. What they are saying is that it is a natural occurrence that has taken place before in the planet’s history. None of the previous incidents of global warming ever caused sea levels to rise, etc. Take a look.
Also, I can’t help but notice how cold it is for April. As I said in an earlier post, I told my freezing congregates “Happy Global Warming Easter!” on Sunday as they tried to stay warm (low of 29 degrees.) Today, we’ll be hitting a sizzling 67 degrees for the hight. Come on Al Gore? Where is your global warming? It keeps killing my plants with the cold temperatures….
Notice, these are different from the marks of a true church, which the Reformer saw were the preaching of the word of God, the observation of the sacraments (communion and baptism), and church disciple. We believe all those are necessary for a healthy church as well, but there are also things necessary like prayer and fellowship. Go and listen.