Praying Like Our Lives Depend On It | 7.5.20 | All Together Now Wk. 5
Chris Tweitmann   -  

Acts 4:23 – 31
Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Over these last few weeks, we have been carefully focusing on a momentary glimpse of what the first Christian community looked like as reflected through this intriguing, albeit brief passage in Acts 2:42 – 47. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
From this
compelling snapshot,
we are given
a glimpse into
what it means
to be the Church.
We have already
explored what
it means to be
devoted to God’s word
(the apostles’ teaching),
to fellowship (or koinonia),
to breaking bread together
(the practice of hospitality
as centered and shaped
by Holy Communion)
Today, we turn
our attention to
what it means
to be devoted
to prayer.
In order to better
tease out the answer,
let us listen to
another passage
from Acts in which
we are able to
eavesdrop on
an actual prayer meeting
of the early Church.
We’ll be coming
into the middle
of something
that’s happened,
so here’s what
we need to know
as we read this
passage together.
The apostles
Peter & John
had been arrested
for preaching
the Gospel in public,
After a little jail time,
a heated inquisition,
and some
explicit threats,
Peter & John
are released
having been
ordered by
the Sanhedrin,
the religious
leadership
never to speak
or teach in
the name of
Jesus again.
Let’s now hear
what happened next…
Prayer was one of
the four pillars of
devotion and practice
for the infant
Body of Christ
and therefore,
the same ought
to be true of us
as the Church today.
So, let’s begin by considering what is prayer?
Simply put, prayer is a conversation
– a conversation with God.
To pray is to reach out
and communicate with
the Creator and Sovereign
of the all life that exists
– of universes upon universes,
of this world
of which we are a part
and its nations,
of which America is
but one of many.
When we talk to God,
we can say anything.
There is no need
to hold back in
our communication
with the Lord.
We can express
our frustrations,
our doubts,
even our anger.
Our Heavenly Father
wants to hear it all.
Our Heavenly Father
knows it all already
– for the Lord is God.
There is nothing
we can hide or
keep from the Lord.
In fact,
God alone
has the ability
to read our mind
and heart and
to help us
to understand
and to put
into words
whatever we
are processing.
God alone, through
the Holy Spirit,
comprehends
and hears
even the sighs
and groans of
thoughts and feelings
we experience
but are beyond
putting into words.
This is one aspect
that makes prayer
unique from all
other conversations
we have.
When we pray,
we are speaking
to the One who
knows us better
than we know
ourselves.
This is one of
the reasons,
the blessings
of prayer
– as we come
to better know
the Lord,
we come to
better know
and understand
ourselves.
As with any
healthy conversation,
prayer is a
two-way street.
While we can
and should share
all that is on
our mind and
heart with God,
it is equally
important that
we listen as well.
How do we listen?
How does God
speak to us
through prayer?
Biblically, what
we witness is
that God primarily
speaks to us
through His word
and by His Spirit.
But what about
speaking through
visions and dreams?
What about
speaking through
other people?
Biblically, we
certainly see
evidence of
God speaking
in this way
to people.
But let us also
keep in mind,
but often
than not
God speaks
in this way
to and through
those who are
saturate themselves
with both His word
and His Spirit.
We shouldn’t be
constantly looking
for a burning bush
– the big,
life-changing conversation
with God
if we have no time
or patience to invest
in daily speaking
and listening
to the Lord through
His Word and
by His Spirit.
We are looking
at the story
of Acts today
because there are
30 references alone
to prayer in this
book from the Bible.
More than any
other book, at least,
in the NT, the book
of Acts
demonstrates
both the
posture and power
of prayer.
Let’s take our
chosen passage
for today as an
example.
What can we
learn about
being devoted
to prayer from
Acts, chapter 4?
After their release
from the first
recorded incident
of persecution
by the
religious leadership,
Peter and John
return to the
rest of the believers
and report the threats
that have made
against the Church.
Those gathered respond
to this news by
raising their voices
together in prayer.
Before we dive into
the content of
their prayer,
let’s two things.
First, while prayer
involves talking
with God,
the conversation
is not always private.
Often it is public.
Meaning,
while we can and should
pray on our own,
we should be equally open
and committed to
praying together.
We’ll come back to
this point again shortly
but for now,
let’s hold onto this,
prayer is not
just an individual matter
– a conversation
between me and God.
Prayer is a
shared conversation
between God
and His people.
This is why we lift
each other up in prayer.
When someone
has a need,
we don’t say,
“Well, that’s
between you
and the Lord.”
A conversation
is enhanced
by more people
joining in – offering their voices,
their perspectives, and their insights.
Our ability to listen
and hear from God
through prayer is
amplified when
we pray not
on our own
but in and through
our shared community.
A second observation,
worth making here,
is that praying together
was the FIRST response
for these followers of Jesus.
This is in stark contrast
to how many approach
prayer today within the Church.
For lots of us
who profess to
follow Christ,
turning to Jesus
through prayer
is our last resort
and not our
first response.
After we have tried
to resolve things
on our own,
after we have
exhausted all
other options,
then, we come
before our
Heavenly Father
to talk.
If Jesus is
who we proclaim
Him to be,
if we are putting
our faith, our life
in Christ’s hands,
then why wouldn’t
Jesus be the
first person we’d
always be
speaking to
rather than
the last?
From the very beginning,
prayer has been primary
for followers of Jesus.
As we read through
the whole of the story
of Acts, prayer was
the go to practice
that informed everything
they did together.
Unlike us, prayer
wasn’t part of
their reason for
gathering to worship.
Prayer was
their primary
reason for
assembling.
They gathered,
not to sing
or to socialize
– though both
of these are
wonderful and great
– but to pray
– to converse
with the Lord
as a community.
Prayer precedes
every major event
in the life of
the early Church:
-the filling of the
HS at Pentecost,
-the multiple healings
we read about in Acts,
-the preaching of the
Gospel which leads
to the conversion of others
– the launch of
various ministries
such as the widow’s
food distribution
program (Acts 6:)
or the missionary
journeys of Paul
and Barnabas (Acts 13).
-and as we witness here,
their protection and assurance
in the face of persecution.
Being the Church
means praying first
– before we worry,
before we panic,
before we try to
address issues
or solve problems
– we are to have
a conversation
with the Lord.
What can we glean
from HOW the early Church
prayed based on this passage?
A couple of things
should stand out to us.
To begin with,
they don’t start
their prayers by
asking God for anything.
It can be tempting
when we pray to just launch
into our list of requests
as if we’re ordering take-out.
But the early Church
started their conversations
with God by acknowledging
and affirming who the Lord is
– the One who created all things.
After this, we see them,
as I mentioned earlier,
using scripture as
both the starting
of their dialogue
with God.
They quoted the
first two verses
of Psalm 2
back to God,
connecting
those verses
first to what Jesus
faced from religious
and governmental leaders
during his time
on earth and then
applying both to
what they were
currently facing.
In other words,
by praying
through scripture,
they recognized and affirmed
that what they
were facing
was a result of
their following
of Jesus.
Having identified
that what
was happening
is part of what
it means to walk
in the way of Christ,
the early Church
now makes their
first prayer request.
And what do they ask for?
For boldness
from the Spirit
to continue
proclaiming
the good news
of Jesus
in spite of
the threats
they are facing.
Now we come back
to expand on
a point made earlier.
The focus of much
of our prayers today
in the Church
tends to be on
individual needs
for someone’s
health and healing,
for safe traveling mercies,
for wisdom
and discernment
about a
personal decision,
etc.
Now, I want us to listen carefully.
While there is
absolutely a
scriptural basis,
a divine invitation
to offer such
prayer requests,
if we canvas
the whole
of the Bible,
prayer is NEVER
primarily about
what individual
Christians want
or need.
The main focus of
prayer as reflected
in the scriptures is
about the mission
of God being accomplished
through the Lord’s people.
Something we
might miss here.
The early church
wasn’t just
using Psalm 2
as the launching point
of their conversation
with the Lord.
In directly quoting
to this psalm,
they were
referencing
all of it.
This was a
common practice
– the part
represents
the whole.
Listen to one of
the verses
from Psalm 2
that isn’t quoted here
but that is definitely
what the Church
had in mind
as they prayed.
It’s verse 8,
where God
the Father
speaks to
the Son
and says,
“Ask of me,
and I will make
the nations
your inheritance,
the ends of
the earth
your possession.”
The first followers
of Jesus weren’t
just praying
for boldness
to continue
to proclaim
the Gospel.
Through
this scripture,
Psalm 2,
they were asking
the Lord to help
fulfill His promise
to the Son, to Jesus,
through them
as His followers.
In other words,
the focus of
their prayers
was about having
the opportunity,
the wisdom,
the courage,
the creativity,
and the protection
to proclaim
the Gospel
– to share
the good news
about God’s
forgiveness
and love
and plans
for this world.
The focus of
their prayers
was about
witnessing
the presence,
the power, and
the breakthrough
of the Holy Spirit
in not just
individual lives
but neighborhoods
and nations
– to bring justice,
mercy, reconciliation
and redemption in Christ.
Are these
the focus of
our prayers, Church?
Again, there is
a place
for the
specific requests
we have
– that we
lift up
on behalf
of ourselves
or others
for health
and healing,
for safety
and wisdom.
The question is
how much of
our conversation
both alone
and together
with the Lord
is predominated
by asking for
what we want
rather than
for what God wants?
In the ongoing chaos
of this global pandemic
– as infections
continue to rise
as families are separated
as frontline workers
are exhausted
as local businesses struggle
as jobs are lost
as 140 million
Americans cannot
afford basic necessities
and remain
uninsured
or underinsured,
as 2 million of
those Americans,
live in jails, prisons,
and detention centers,
the largest incarcerated
population in the world,
and cannot practice
social distancing
or self-quarantine
if they are exposed
to the coronavirus,
and as all
these very real
health concerns
increasingly
become politicized,
are we conversing
with God about
how we can be
a living witness to the
faith, hope, and love
of His Kingdom
through all we are facing,
how we can share
the truth about Jesus
through our service
to others?
Or is our ongoing
dialogue with
the Lord just
focused on
our frustrations,
our concerns,
our discomfort,
and inconveniences
in the midst of COVID-19?
The call for
racial justice
and equality
persists,
as our
brothers and sisters
of color
continue
to experience
wrongful and
tragic abuse
and loss,
as we witness
law enforcement
officers who are
faithfully trying to
protect and serve
all persons but are
becoming the targets
of violence and harassment
in the midst of
a criminal justice system
that needs to
be reformed,
are we crying out
to God together
for the peace
and justice
that continue t
o allude us?
Are we
praying with
or are
we praying
apart from
or even against
our brothers
and sisters of color?
Are we opening ourselves
up to allow the Holy Spirit
to challenge our presumptions,
our privilege, and our politics
when it comes
to accusations
of systematic racism,
are we honestly asking
the Lord to reveal to us
if we’re wrong,
– that racism isn’t just
a personal problem,
an individual attitude,
or some fading remnant
of the past
but rather an active
and aggressive
principality
– a predatory
and beguiling power
still ingrained into
the structures of
our society,
including
our economy.
Instead of
shouting at
the television
or the radio
what if we took
our defensiveness,
our outright dismissal,
our rush to judgment
about the movement
that is rising
in our country,
in this world,
and turned to God
for understanding?
Wrestled with
the Spirit instead of
debating on social media?
And if we
actually listened
to God speak,
what if, we heard
our Father
calling us to
acts of confession
and repentance,
to not just wish,
not just talk,
but to move toward
practical and
tangible acts of
racial reconciliation
not as some obligatory chore
but as a joyous pursuit of
the love and beauty of the KOG
here on earth as it is in heaven?
Beloved, from
where or whom
are our opinions
being formed,
is it from talking
with Jesus?
My friends,
Christ can do
through us
and in us exceedingly more than we have ever thought or imagined. But that means we need to be
willing to
invite Jesus
into the
conversations
we are having.
That means
we need to
be committed
daily,
regularly,
to talking
and listening
to the Spirit.
It means
we need
to be
devoted
to prayer.
Tragically, many
professing Christians
find it hard to pray.
They’re too busy.
They find
themselves
continually
distracted.
And therefore,
they live
their life
with Jesus
as if prayer
is an optional
extra in terms
of following
Christ.
Curiously,
unlike us,
the early Church
did not find it
hard to pray;
together they
found it hard
NOT pray.
Whereas
some Christians
exist as if prayer
is nice and well
but functionally,
unnecessary,
the first followers
of Jesus lived
as if prayer
was essential.
They prayed
as if their lives
depended on it.
It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Whenever we hit a wall,
Whenever we face a loss,
Whenever we confront death,
we manage to find the time,
the focus, and the words to pray
– to talk and to listen to God.
But life is comfortable,
when life is good,
on our terms,
prayer becomes too hard for us.