Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Prayers of the New Testament : #2 The prayers of the book of Acts


At the  beginning  of this year    I am doing  a brief survey  of the prayers of the gospels ,  the book of Acts and of Paul’s epistles . The object will be to  draw your attention  to the  prayers of a Scripture  so that you might be instructed  in the way of prayer , and   that you might  be  convinced  anew  concerning the importance and the power of prayer .

Speaking of the power of prayer : I have a precious book in my  library , entitled the “the Power of Prayer “ , written by Samuel Prime[1] . It is an account of the New York revival of 1858 – an amazing account . It all began  with a prayer meeting in a Dutch Reformed Church in New York – a prayer meeting , the thought which began in the heart of a man called Jeremy Lamphier  . It was of course a work of divine grace  that moved him to initiate a  lunch time  prayer meeting for business men in New York. But he was  nevertheless the Lord’s first  instrument  to  begin an awakening in which  thousands  upon thousands of people were converted and  reformed in their ways . This revival spread  in the USA  and to various parts of the world  , and even into South Africa , where it was connected to the 1860 revival .   Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was one of the great names associated  with this revival . For those of you who are interested   in an article that describes what God had done in those days in Southern Africa  you are free to ask me and I will send it to  you.  The reason why I share that with you is because these  accounts remind us so much of the happenings that followed the prayers  of  the book of Acts .

The prayer life of the early church is built upon  the disciples  intimate knowledge of the Lord  Jesus Christ , and what He had taught them concerning prayer  both by teaching and through  personal example .

THE PRAYERS IN ACTS

1.      The record  of the very first prayer meeting  is found  in Ch 1:12 -14 : 12 “Then they (the disciples)  returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 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. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. “   This meeting follows  Christ’s ascension  from  Mt. Olivet  from where they returned  to the upper room in Jerusalem  where their chief purpose  was to wait for the promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit cf.  John 14 &16)  to arrive .  This they did  by devoting ( lit. steadfastly continuing[2]) themselves to  the work of prayer  with  their  wives , Mary  the mother of Jesus  and the brothers of Jesus . V. 15 says that it was a company of about 120 people  which was waiting for  10 days in  prayer  before the  Holy Spirit was given . Two things  characterized this prayer meeting : unity and perseverance .  We do well to  take note of this  .They were able to do this because  Christ  had promised them  His return  in the person of the Holy Spirit . Christ’s promises  give us  the warrant to pray .  Have we not seen from our  study  of the prayers of the gospels  how willing Jesus  is  to give the Holy Spirit in converting power to them that ask Him ? ( Lk 11:13)
2.      One of the first  requests  of that prayer meeting  was  that the Lord might guide them into  appointing another  man to the ministry of apostleship  (1:24-26).  They prayed to  the Lord “ the knower of hearts “ ( one word : “kardiagnostes” )  who revealed to them  through the casting of lots that Matthias was to be  chosen .  We note that  the matter of apostolic appointment  here was not a matter   of human choice , but of God’s choice : “ Lord… show which one you have chosen….  We learn  from this  that  the early church truly cared  that God would choose their leaders for  them. We must  too !
3.       Acts 2:42 :  And they devoted  themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…”   After Pentecost  this pattern  of simple worship  is revealed  : attention  to the apostles’ doctrine ( i.e.  the OT & Jesus teaching) , fellowship , the Lord’s supper  and prayer .  Prayer is never a minor  aspect in the church .  It is a part of  4 important aspects of  public worship . A   Spirit filled church is a worshiping  church . Public prayer was never an option  in the early church .
4.      Acts 3:1  :Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer , the ninth hour…” There were three  recognized hours of prayer in temple worship : the 3rd  hour ( 2:15) ; the 6th hour ( 10:9)  and the  9th hour ( 3:1;10:36) . Jews as well as Christians observed this  and both though of the temple as “ the house of prayer  (Lk 24:53) . Daily public prayer  was the habit of the men and women and the temple services  were structured around this  fact . Some people like Simeon (Lk 2:25) and Anna (Lk 2:37)  were perpetual  pray-ers .  Anna worshipped with prayer and fasting night and day. Oh that  the modern church  might become a house of prayer  !
5.      Acts  4:23-31   teaches us that  when the church is threatened her prayers should not  become mute , but bolder !   The church can  do this , because  she knows her God . Good theology is the  beginning of strong , confident , fearless prayer . The believers were addressing the Sovereign Lord knew Him  as  the God   who  made the heaven and the earth ( 4:24)  and who spoke  by the mouth of David  and who predestined  the death of Christ at the hand of wicked men. Make no mistake . The church did not see itself in the hand of  the enemies of the church . They saw themselves in the hand of a Sovereign Lord ! What an important lesson  for our prayer.  God is at the end of our prayer  ( not our fears) and God is in charge of history (  not men)  !
6.     Acts  6:4-7  :  We learn two things here :  firstly , the ministry of the apostles  consisted of two major tasks  -  the ministry of prayer  and the ministry of the word . The  pattern of the NT church reflects  that the elders of the church , after the ministry of apostles had ceased ,  took  up this responsibility  , and therefore it is this ministry that we must expect from  our elders today . Our elders  are good examples of those who lead in  these areas.   Secondly,  the servants  of the church   ( in this case deacons)  are appointed  and  ordained (prayed  over). We shall see this pattern again and again in Scripture . No one is appointed to church office without prayer .  We see this later again in Acts  13:1- 3 , when after fasting and prayer  the leaders of the church at Antioch laid the hands  on  Barnabas and Paul  before sending them off into the mission field . Again in Acts  14: 23  Paul and Barnabas   on their missionary journey , appointed  elders in every church  with prayer and fasting committing them to the Lord .
7.      Acts  7:55 -60 : The prayer  of Stephen , the first martyr of   the church .  This  prayer  matches  the prayer of Jesus on the cross . At the end  of the  hands  that threw the stones at Stephen  were  not simply cruel men , but the Lord Jesus . And note , that Stephen  did not die cursing his enemies but praying ( like Jesus) for their forgiveness.  This is called  ‘ dying grace’ dear friends . From such a prayer  we learn that we do not need to fear  the pain of death ( even though it can be a terror) . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is even sufficient for  such times . The testimonies  of  many modern martyrs   are  similar  ( see also Foxes book of Martyrs) .
8.     Acts  8:9-25  :  Prayer for the Samaritans and for a Sorcerer : Here we read that through prayer the Samaritans  ( first fruits of the gentiles)  came  into the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ .  As always there are those who see prayer as a ‘ magic power’  and a tool for control . Simon Magus is such a man in  Samaria . Peter  the apostle  sees right through such  carnal thinking and  warns him severely that such abuse will incur the terrible wrath of God . Simon Magus  apparently sees this and asks  for  forgiving prayer . Oh the power of  the prayer  of the righteous man  who trusts in God  alone!   (James 5:16)
9.     Acts  9:10-12 : Prayer the language of the converted man .   When Paul was converted  and blinded by the vision  he  had only one thing to do  - Pray !  When Ananias  a faithful disciple  of the Lord in Damascus is instructed by God  to lay prayerful  hands on  him  that prayer is miraculously granted . As an orthodox Jew Paul had been praying all his life  , but not until he was born again  did he know  the power of prayer  as Ananias did !  Many people pray today ? But do they ?    I often say my prayers, but do I ever pray ?  This  story  helps us to see  that there is a prayer that  distinguishes itself  from  a ritual ! It is the prayer in the  Spirit . Young converts must be encouraged to pray  privately and in public !
10.  Acts 9:36-43 : The prayer that raises the dead  (  following Jesus’ example e.g.  Lazarus in John 11 ; see also the Story  of Baptist Pastor William Duma[3] who  saw a dead girl raised  ) . Talking about the power of prayer ! Though it is not a common thing , and through we must not major on this , it illustrates  the  power of prayer  through faith in God . By way of application  this  power is available to raise our dead , unresponsive spirits  and make them alive in Christ  to become worshippers of God !
11.   Acts  10 : The story  of  a God fearing gentile ,  the Roman  centurion Cornelius  who prayed  prayers to God and who was remembered by God , and in this  instance God did so much more than  saving Cornelius and his household – but saving  a great number of the gentiles ( 10: 44-48) . Are you not sure whether you are  saved ? Well , then pray  until God gives you  Life  through His Holy Spirit .  Remember the promise of Lk 11 : 13 !
12.  Acts 12:1-  12  : James killed  and Peter imprisoned  and the church praying  for his release :  The early church  knew what it was  to have  fellowship  with Christ  in His baptism of death . James had been killed  and Peter  was under the sentence of death . The church was on her knees , and it is not without  a smile that we must read of their disbelief when he turned up at the front door  in response to their prayer !     In our church we  did experience a number  of  physical    onslaughts by Satan   from 1990 -93 . I distinctly remember one of our members then , an MAF  pilot , in response to a murder  of a young woman  committed in our streets in Klein Windhoek , being  jailed and accused  of her  death ! ( the circumstances were utterly  bizarre) . I  also  clearly remember our church gathering in prayer   for his release , which duly  happened , and he was acquitted .  The investigating officer   committed suicide  , and it was discovered  that apparently he was also  a Satanist .
13.  Acts  16:11-15 Paul and his entourage were looking for a place of prayer  (16:13,16) in  Philippi . This was the place  where Lydia was converted . I have  always encouraged our people  over the years  when they are away from our church they should look for a place of prayer wherever they are .  It is only natural to seek fellowship with God and  like minded people  even when away from our home church  .
14.   Acts  16:25 :   Paul  and Silas in prison in Philippi with lacerated backs  and their feet in stocks  were praying   and singing  hymns to God at midnight . In that context God also worked powerfully , and He  miraculously flung the prison doors  open and the Philippians jailer  and his family were converted.
15.  Acts 20 : 36-38 &  21:5,6  : When Christians part , they part in prayer . Paul  prayed  with the Ephesian elders   and the disciples in Tyre .
16. Acts  27:29 – during a storm at sea ,  they prayed for day to come  ;  27:35 when eating , Paul like Jesus  gave thanks to God for the food received.
17.  Acts 28 : 8  :  Praying for the sick   and obtaining healing.
18.  Acts 28:15 :  Christians give thanks to God when they see friends.

Reference to prayer is found 31 times in the Book of Acts, more than any other New Testament book.  Prayer precedes nearly every significant event in Acts. Prayer permeates  the book of Acts . It shows us  that  prayer is a life style . It is the language of dependence , and how can it be otherwise ? The Lord Jesus did after all say : “ Without me you can do nothing “ .  John 15 :5  


[1] The Power of Prayer : The New York Revival of 1858 , Samuel Prime , Banner  of Truth Trust , 1991
[2]  Gr. Proskartereo   cf 1:14; 2:42; 6:4
[3] Take Your Glory Lord – William Duma – His Life Story , p. 39  The story of   Litta ,  the daughter of a Baptist evangelist in Zululand  named Bhengu  . She  died ( was certified dead)  and  was  raised to life   through his intercession . A remarkable account !

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