Acts 4 - Praying Like the Apostles
Acts 4 – August 2
Today we read about the arrest of Peter and John, which was fallout from the preaching and teaching that resulted from the healing of the lame man in chapter 3. It seems to me that most of the attention in this chapter typically goes to either the beginning section regarding the boldness of the apostles or the conclusion regarding the unity of the church. But, I want to actually consider six aspects of prayer that we learn from the middle section where we learn what the church was doing as a result of the persecution of the apostles.
1. Pray Corporately, Not Just Privately
One of the worst tendencies I have observed in many Christians (including a proclivity in my own personal life) is the desire to isolate when we experience difficulties. The apostles had just experienced an extreme breach of the law and violations of their freedoms. Instead of rushing home to sulk, they spoke with the church (vs. 23). Corporate prayer does not just mean prayer inside a church building. By corporate prayer, I mean that when you gather with the people of God anywhere or at any time, be open about prayer needs.
2. Pray Immediately, Not Trusting Other Things First
Take careful note of the first part of verse 24. “And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God.” One of my best examples in the faith is my wife. We will often have people in our house and they will be speaking about hardships in their life, and my wife will just say, “Before we move on, can we pray about this together?” We tend to think that we are so clever and resourceful and that we can dig ourselves out of any hole if we just have enough time or treasure or talent for the task. But the apostles display for us the proper form of trust in the Lord. Paul Apple notes, “Notice their response: not wringing their hands in anxiety; not spending time speculating what course of action they should take or how would things play out." They started with prayer.
3. Pray Scripture, Not Just Your Own Thoughts
Part of reading the Bible faithfully is seeing how God has given you these wonderful truths for your enrichment in the faith. These early church members were not telling God anything He didn’t already know. God wrote these words, and they are literally part of His autobiography. They are not praying these things to remind God of something He forgot, or to manipulate him like a three-year-old manipulates an unprepared and unsuspecting parent by saying, “But, you said…” They quote the Word of God back to God because it is building their own faith. The prayer begins by recognizing that God is in absolute control. Then they begin quoting the Scriptures there were written by David under the authority of the Holy Spirit. This is right from the pages of your OT. This Psalm was 1,000 years old when this prayer was first prayed by the early church. Yet, these words were on fire in their hearts as they could see this being lived out right in front of them. We need to hide the Word of God in our hearts so that as we live out our lives, we can pray Scripture that specifically applies to what we are experiencing at that moment.
4. Pray for Boldness, Not Just For Deliverance
One of the most surprising and amazing things about this prayer is that the church never actually prayed that God would spare them from persecution, suffering, or pain. Their primary interest at this moment was that they would not sin by hiding the light of the gospel under a basket. They knew that they were weak and desperately needed strength to stand firm under pressure. We are so often quick to ask the Lord to help us escape pain or trouble, but we are slow or even completely negligent to ask Him for spiritual strength to be Christlike. It is no small thing that the last ten words in this section show us the result of this prayer, “and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They asked for boldness, and it was granted to them.
- Pray Expectantly, Not Doubting God’s Provision
There is a kind of prayer that some theologians call “prayerless prayers.” They are the kind of prayers that you don’t really believe it, but you feel like you should say it, so you mumble the words, but they never reach heaven because they die on your lips. EM Bounds describes prayerless prayers this way,
“Prayerless praying lacks the essential element of true praying; it is not based on desire and is devoid of earnestness and faith. Desire burdens the chariot of prayer, and faith drives its sense of need; there is no ardency because there is no vision, strength, or glow of faith… Prayerless praying has neither memory nor heart. A mere form, a heterogeneous mass, an insipid compound, a mixture thrown together for its sound, but with neither heart nor aim, is prayerless praying. A dry routine, a dreary drudge, a dull and heavy task is this prayerless praying. But prayerless praying is much worse than either task or drudge, it divorces praying from living. It utters its words against the world but with heart and life runs into the world. It prays for humility, but nurtures pride; it prays for self-denial, while indulging the flesh. Prayerless praying stakes nothing on the issue, for it has nothing to stake. It comes with empty hands, indeed, but they are listless hands as well as empty. They have never learned the lesson of empty hands clinging to the cross; this lesson to them has no form or comeliness.”
- Pray to Someone, Not Just for Something
Notice that the prayers of the early church were directed to the Father (Sovereign Lord), seeking to be a bold witness for the Son. And the result was that they were filled with power and boldness from the Holy Spirit. They were not just saying nice words, they were communicating with God. When you pray, you are not just talking. An incantation is a form of witchcraft whereby you say a string of words or sounds or guttural moans. Those who follow that form of paganism believe that if you speak the words correctly, your desired outcome with take place. Sadly, that is how many people pray. They are praying for something, but they are not actually talking to someone. Several years ago when our family was going through a very sorrowful trial, some of our extended, unbelieving family members reached out and they said, “We are sending you thoughts and prayers.” I understood what they meant and know that they were trying to show us love. But you can’t send a prayer to people. They can’t hear them. When you pray, you are engaging with God Himself. In doing so, you should be reminded that if He is for you, there is nobody who could stand against you. As you see His mercy and grace, your trials seem surmountable.