Prayers of the New Testament 4/4
How do you react to opposition to your preaching or witness? Do you back down or go forward?
The believers’ prayer in Acts 4:23-31 is at a critical moment for the early church. Following the healing of lame beggar (Acts 3), Peter seized the moment and preached to the gathered crowd. This resulted in Peter and John spending a night in prison before being questioned by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4). Before such an august gathering, Peter again eloquently defended the gospel. Unable to deny the healing, the Sanhedrin warned them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name or face the consequences (Acts 4:16-18). Even under the threat of punishment their response was not to back down, for how could they “stop telling about the wonderful things that we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 NLT) In response to the threat, on their release Peter and John met with other believers to pray for God’s boldness to go forward.
The experience of Peter and John is that of many Christians around the world where even in the face of opposition and persecution our brothers and sisters continue to engage in evangelism. Even within our own congregations we hear of those who experience subtle persecution from family, friends and colleagues or opposition from leaders and congregations. The example of the early church encourages us to pray “with our eyes on God and not on the difficulties.” (Oswald Chambers)
Praise God’s Sovereignty
Of the 141 words of NIV version of this prayer, 104 of them are in praise of God’s sovereignty. The Greek word despotes, from which we get despot, is translated “Sovereign Lord” (v24). This is a strong word emphasising the power of God revealed in the creating and upholding the universe. The believers are recalling God’s greatness thereby strengthening their faith in the one they served.
Pray the Scriptures
The initial declaration of praise drawn from Hezekiah’s prayer (Isaiah 37 v16) is followed by a quotation from Psalm2 vv1-2. The two quotations are linked with the assertion of the Holy Spirit speaking prophetically through David. Originally this Psalm may have been used to address the King at his coronation or at a time of need, reminding the people that the one who God addresses as “my son” would overthrow the threats to the nation. The Psalm was then reinterpreted as a messianic prophecy fulfilled in Jesus when it was included in God’s affirmation of Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22). In this prayer the opening verses of the Psalm are used to review the plots against Jesus which were overthrown by the victory of the cross and the triumphant resurrection (vv27-28). By recalling what they had seen and heard, their faith in the provision of God was raised to bring their request to God.
This prayer reveals that the believers were grounded in and prayed the scriptures. Richard Foster in his book Prayer writes, “In Meditative Prayer, the Bible ceases to be a quotation dictionary and becomes instead “wonderful words of life” that leads to the Word of Life.” (p.153) In our prayer times a verse or passage may be used to see a situation in a new light. We should all spend time meditating and praying through scripture for guidance and comfort.
Request God’s help
Instead of requesting the removal of the threat, the believers prayed for God to overcome the threat (v29).They were not going to retreat until times were easier but continue in the face of opposition. To do this, they requested the ability to speak with boldness.
As the Methodist Church seeks to fulfil Our Calling to “Make more followers of Jesus” this request should be our prayer. We are filled with natural anxiety and reticence to talk about God to others. We need God’s anointing to be both bold and sensitive to the opportunities given us to explain to our family, friends and colleagues what and why we believe (1 Peter 3:15, Col. 4:3).
The experience of Acts 3 revealed that the miracle of healing opened up two opportunities for evangelism to the gathered crowd and then the Sanhedrin. The believers therefore requested for a continuation of God’s power “to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (v30).
Again we are often reticent to make this request. Yet we know of people whose lives have been transformed through receiving Christ and others who have been healed or received wholeness. In expectation we should seek a move of God in our generation.
Receive God’s answer
In response to their prayer God gave them what could be described as a “Second Pentecost”. The theophany of the place shaking as if in an earthquake was accompanied by the believers being filled with the Holy Spirit (v.30). The experience, however, was only part of the answer. The fruits of the experience were boldness in proclaiming the Gospel (v 31) and practical expressions of love (v32-35).
The film Superman Returns asks, “Does the world need a saviour?” After an absence of five years, Superman returns to find that people have grown independent and self reliant. However, he is soon busy saving lives and preventing disasters. Superman says to Lois Lane, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a saviour, but everyday I hear people crying out for one.”
The film echoes reality. People appear to be self reliant people but pray for help in times of need. The Acts of the Apostles record the reactions of the Apostles to the opportunities around them. Is our church ready to react to a world crying out for a saviour? Are we praying that God will help us to speak boldly about Christ and express practical love which will transform and heal needy people?
As we continue to pray without ceasing we ask God that he might send another Pentecost to equip us to reveal the Saviour to a world crying out for one.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~nn“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). What persecution / opposition do you face as you seek to live a godly life and spread the gospel?n~~nWhy was focussing on God’s sovereignty so important that it took up more words than the petition?n~~nWhat is the place of scripture in your prayer life?n~~nSo often congregations embark upon the latest programmes or initiatives and are disappointed. Are we looking for moves of God without the power of God? How does Acts 4 correct this perspective?n~~nWill a church empowered for bold proclamation and love in action reveal the Saviour to a needy world? What evidence of transformed lives encourages you in your own witness?n~~nAre you willing to make Acts 4:24-30 your prayer? Do we truly want another Pentecost?nn~
Paul Wilson is minister of Knutsford Methodist Church ins Cheshire.
Headline Summer 2006 pp.12-13