Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
from the desk of . . .
Rande Wayne Smith
D.Min., Th.M., M.Div.
20 October 2013
Teach Us To Pray - 2
WE PRAY TOGETHER
based on The Acts 4:23-31
I was 29 years old when God called me into the ministry, and He guided me to G.C.T.S., which is about 30 miles north of Boston. The Seminary itself sits way up on a hill. In fact, planes flying into Logan Airport use the lighted cross on top of the academic building as a location marker at night before making their descent.
Anyway, I lived down in the married student housing, which was a little more than ½ mile from the academic buildings. So for the 1st couple of months I would drive up the steep hill. But then, because of the cost of gas, and the fact that we only had 1 car, I decided I would start walking to my classes.
Well, the 1st time I did I was totally out of breath. And I thought to myself, “This is ridiculous. I’m 29 years old, and I can’t even walk up a hill!” So I began taking time each day, between classes, to go to the gym to build up my endurance. I would run around the outside of the gym floor. (This was Boston in the winter, lots of snow, so I couldn’t run outside.)
Well, one day another student came down and began running with me. Now this guy was a good runner. And I really enjoyed the camaraderie. But more than that, he held me accountable. He urged me on. And when the weather got nice, we began running outdoors. We’d run for miles and miles and then finish by running up the hill that a few months earlier I struggled to even walk up!
Well, running became part of my daily routine. And in the years since, I began to compete in road races, and have had some success, winning some trophies. I know how to train. Running is part of my life. But I got to this place because, years ago, a runner, and I’ve long since forgotten his name, came and ran with me when I was just beginning. We ran together during those initial days and weeks. He provided support and encouragement.
This is the 2nd week of a 5 part series on prayer. We’re looking at essential lessons that Jesus is teaching us about conversation with God. And this morning we’re going to learn about praying together; the camaraderie, support, and encouragement of one another.
Our Scripture passage is found in the 4th chapter of The Acts. Peter and John are making their way through the streets of Jerusalem. This is just a short time after Jesus has ascended back to Heaven, and the 2 disciples are headed to the Temple for their afternoon prayers. Jews would go to the Temple 3 times each day for prayer … in the morning, at 3:00, and at dusk. So as Peter and John are entering through the Temple gate a lame man holds up his hand begging for money. And Peter says to him, “I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!” (The Acts 3:6) And the man is instantly healed! He leaps to his feet and begins jumping around and praising God!
Well, everybody is excited … everybody that is except the priests and the Sadducees. Because they had just put to death, weeks earlier, this Jesus, in whose name the lame man had been healed. So they send some guards to haul in Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, who give them a very stern warning that they’re never again “to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.” (The Acts 4:18)
And that’s where we pick up the story. Peter and John have just been released. So, Good News to you who have gathered here at Community Church, written by Luke, and recorded for us in The Acts, within your hearing now comes the Word of the Lord …
“As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God: ‘Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them! By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said, ‘Why were the Gentiles furious; why did people make their useless plots? The kings of the earth prepared themselves, and the rulers met together against the Lord and his Messiah.’ For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen. And now, Lord, take notice of the threats they have made, and allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. Reach out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.’ When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.” (The Acts 4:23-31)
May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of His Heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to His glory and to our edification. Amen
This morning I’m going to make 3 observations about praying together from our Scripture passage.
#1 … praying together is a high priority for followers of Jesus. “As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. When the believers heard it, (say it with me), they all joined together in prayer to God.”
There are a couple of things I want you to especially notice in those sentences. Peter and John “returned to their group.” Now as an old journalism major I always ask, “who, what, where, when, why, and how” when I read passages of Scripture. So, “where” did they return to?
The only place that Scripture mentions that the disciples have ever been since Jesus’ death and resurrection is the Upper Room. And what big event happened in the Upper Room? … (The Last Supper) Bible scholars tell us that the Upper Room was in a home owned by the mother of John Mark. Now John Mark wasn’t one of the original 12 disciples, but he was an early follower of Jesus, and a close friend of Peter. And later, based on the information he received from Peter, he wrote a biography of Jesus which we have in our N.T. called, the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s Mom owned the house where Jesus’ Last Supper took place, and where the believers continued to meet after Jesus ascended to Heaven. And when they did gather together, one of their primary purposes was to pray as a group. In fact, circle the word “together” in the 2nd sentence. “They all joined together in prayer.” “Together” is one of Luke’s favorite words. And he uses it often as he tells the story of the early Church to show that togetherness should be a mark of followers of Jesus. We need to be experiencing togetherness here.
But notice that it’s not just togetherness for the sake of togetherness … it’s togetherness for the sake of prayer. “They all joined together in prayer to God.”
So praying together was a big deal to those early followers of Jesus. And it wasn’t because they couldn’t pray by themselves in their own homes. It was because prayer is something that God wants His people to do together, as well as individually.
In fact, let’s take a quick tour of The Acts, the story of the 1st century Church, and see how much these followers of Jesus valued praying together.
Chapter 1 … takes place about 6 weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, and shortly before He ascends to Heaven. These are His parting instructions to His closest followers. “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The Acts 1:4-5) Jesus is standing on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem, and He tells them, “Don’t leave town until I send you The Holy Spirit.” So again, my journalism question is, “what are they supposed to do while they’re waiting?” Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus said in this regard, but we can assume that He had some specific instructions because of what His followers did.
“Then the apostles went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is about ½ a mile away from the city. They entered the city and went up to the room where they were staying.” (The Acts 1:12-13) The believers have gathered together in a familiar place … the Upper Room. "They gathered frequently to pray as a group, together with the women and with Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.” (The Acts 1:14) (Actually by this time the group has grown to about 120.)
And what are they doing as they wait for the promised Holy Spirit? They’re praying together. And Scripture tells us that they prayed together “frequently.” This wasn’t a sporadic activity of the early Church. This was something that they did often. Praying together was a priority for these followers of Jesus.
Moving on to the 2nd chapter. “When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place.” (The Acts 2:1) (They’re back at their favorite location, the Upper Room.) And Luke has already told us that when they’re together they pray. “Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.” (The Acts 2:2-4)
Let me paint the picture a little more fully. This is the birth of the Church! This is a huge, huge event. It’s the outpouring of The Holy Spirit, the gift that Jesus promised. And this takes place while these 120 believers are in Jerusalem for a religious celebration. There were thousands and thousands of people from all the surrounding countries, speaking a wide variety of languages. And so The Holy Spirit comes on this group of believers and they’re suddenly able to communicate in the languages of everyone there the story about Jesus. And 3,000 people came to faith that day! (The Acts 2:41) And what launched this? A prayer meeting!
So now we have all these new believers? How do we mature them? “They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.” (The Acts 2:42)
Here are 4 activities that were an essential part to these new believers’ spiritual growth. And notice that they’re all corporate activities. Gathering together to hear God’s Word taught, hanging out with each other, participating in the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. In fact, it says, “and the prayers.” There were set times when the believers got together for prayer; they committed themselves to praying with each other. That’s why they grew up so quickly in their faith, and made such a difference in their world. (Romans 1:8) They were taught, right from the start, the importance of praying together.
Let’s jump ahead to The Acts 12. Peter is in prison, for the 3rd time for preaching the Good News. But this time it’s really serious. His close friend, James, has been put to death by King Herod. (The Acts 12:2) And Herod has let it be known that Peter’s next.
So what’s the Church doing? “Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him.” (The Acts 12:5) The Church was earnestly praying.
I’m not going to read the whole passage, but this is a great story, and you all should look at it yourselves sometime during the week … The Acts 12. It’s actually pretty amusing. And as a result of their praying God sends an angel who breaks Peter out of jail. His chains fall off, and the iron gate opens and Peter is set free. So “Peter went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.” (The Acts 12:11-12) Praying again in the Upper Room.
A final passage in The Acts 13 … “In the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had been brought up with Governor Herod), and Saul (Paul). While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.’ “They fasted and prayed, placed their hands on them, and sent them off.” (The Acts 13:1-3)
This is the launching of the worldwide missionary movement. This explains why Christianity didn’t remain a little localized religion, and why those of us who believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior had the opportunity to hear about Him in the 1st place. It was because early on, this group of believers felt motivated to do something bold and take the Good News far and wide. They sent out a couple of missionaries, Paul and Barnabas.
And why did they do that? They were gathered for a prayer meeting. And while they’re praying God’s Spirit prompts them to do this wild and crazy thing.
Now I hope as I’ve taken you on this tour of The Acts that you’ve come away with a sense that God wants the Church to make praying together a high priority. So the question is … how’s the Church doing? How is Community Church doing? And even though most of us will acknowledge that prayer is important … yet we won’t take the time to come to a service devoted to prayer.
In fact, it’s hard to gather people together these days for anything … much less prayer. There’s this tendency in our culture to see a relationship with God as a highly personal thing. As a result, we don’t believe that it’s totally necessary to be in Church. So if our weekend becomes busy, and we can’t make it to Church … hey, it’s no big deal. We can listen to a Bible teaching on Moody radio. We can worship by listening to Christian music. Who needs the Church?
Evidentially we all do. Togetherness was a theme in the early Church. And not only that, but we’re actually commanded to be here. “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25) Scripture teaches, “Don’t miss the opportunity to come together as a Church. When we get with a group of believers, who are worshipping together, singing together, praying together … it encourages our spiritual life like nothing else.”
Another reason it’s hard to get people to pray together is that we tend to view prayer as a private deal.
9 out of 10 people in our country say that they pray on a semi-regular basis … and that they’ve seen answers to their prayers. That actually surprises me. Lots of people are praying, and they’ve even seen God respond. Another survey says that 62% of the people who say they pray never pray with others. So they’re praying, but the husband never prays with his wife. The Mom and Dad are never praying with their kids. Maybe they say grace at mealtimes… but that’s it. 62% of the people who say they pray never pray with anyone else. Never.
Now I recognize that praying out loud in a group can be a threatening thing. But I want you to trust me that if you’ll ask God for the courage to do this, it’ll transform your life. And it will transform our Church.
I know that we always begin and end our meetings here at the Church in prayer. But I wonder at times if that’s enough. What would happen if we spent some real quality time in prayer as a Council, as Deacons, as Trustees, as a Christian Education Committee, as a Music Committee, as Ignite, as a Vocal Choir, as a Bell Choir, as a Ladies Bible Study, as Faith Lift Women’s Group, as a Men’s Study & Support? In fact, those groups can just be a great place to learn how to pray together. So commit yourself to praying with others.
The 2nd thing we discover coming out of The Acts 4 … praying together goes hand-in-hand with worship. “When the believers heard (Peter and John’s report), they all joined together in prayer to God. (And this is their prayer.) ‘Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them!’” (The Acts 4:23-24)
What an interesting way to begin a prayer … with praise and adoration and worship. There are a lot of prayers recorded in Scripture that start this way.
King Hezekiah is being besieged in the city of Jerusalem. The Assyrians are banging at the door with their battering rams. So Hezekiah prays, and listen to how he begins. “O LORD, the God of Israel, seated on your throne above the winged creatures, you alone are God, ruling all the kingdoms of the world. You created the earth and the sky.” (2 Kings 19:15)
If I had been in Hezekiah’s sandals, and the Assyrians were attacking me, my prayer would be a quick, “God, help!” But not Hezekiah, he begins with adoration and praise.
The early believers here in The Acts also begin their prayer with worship. “God, you’re the God of creation. God, you’re the God of revelation. God, you’re the God of history. You made. You spoke. You decided. And things happened just as you planned. Praise you!” And at that point they pray a prayer that’s based on the 2nd Psalm. “By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David” … and then they quote him.
Praying together and worship go hand-in-hand with each other. And when God’s people worship the Lord, they always do 2 things: they pray, and they reflect on the Scriptures. Prayer is our talking to God; the Scriptures is God talking to us. And the 2 always go together. And the early Church was doing just that.
One final thing that I observe in The Acts 4 about praying together … it unleashes God’s power in the Church. Listen to the closing verses of their prayer. (This almost gives me goose bumps.)
“‘And now, Lord … allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. Reach out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.’ When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.” (The Acts 4:29-31)
Let me remind you from our quick survey of The Acts of what happened when the Church gathered and prayed.
Minutes after Jesus left the planet, the disciples immediately went to a location where they could gather, and they began to pray. And 10 days later the Spirit of God is poured out and 3,000 people come to faith … all because these believers got together and prayed.
I didn’t read this, but Luke tells us that the group of 3,000 will grow to 5,000. (The Acts 4:4) So we have the Church growing from 120 to 3,000 to 5,000 because the power of God had been unleashed through prayer.
And it doesn’t end there. One of the 1st things these new believers are taught to do is get together with other followers of Jesus and pray. And that makes them mature believers in the faith.
And it doesn’t end there either. Persecution heats up, but in the midst of it these believers get together and pray … and they face it down. (2 Thessalonians 3:2) And they’re given more boldness. But it doesn’t end there.
In the midst of their prayers God tells them to set aside some missionaries. “Carry this to the ends of the earth.” (The Acts 1:8)
What would happen if we gathered together and took this seriously, and prayed earnestly for our missionaries: Brian and Karen Cordes (Camp Good News), and David and Patricia Carwell (Mission Aviation Fellowship), and Tim and Beth Wood (Africa Inland Mission), and Phil and Carol Miglioratti (Prayer, Inc.), Elaine Scherrer (Wycliffe Bible Translators), and Pacific Garden Mission, and California School Project?
What would happen if we gathered together as a Church and prayed earnestly?
I’d love to see God’s power unleashed in our midst. Wouldn’t you? Well, praying together is what sets The Holy Spirit loose.