Sermon Title: “The Praying Church: Prayers That Move (d) the Hands of God”
Text: Acts 1:12-14; 2:42
Sunday, October 1, 2017
In 1855, the Irish poet Joseph M. Scriven (10 September 1819-10 August 1886) wrote the beautiful Christian poetic hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was living in Canada. In one stanza, he penned these memorable words about prayer:
“O what peace we often forget.
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”—Joseph Scriven
When we become what God has intended us to be, we will become a people and church of prayer. As E. M. Bounds stated, “Prayer makes a godly man, and puts within him the mind of Christ, the mind of humility, of self-surrender, of service, of pity, and of prayer. If we really pray, we will become more like God, or else we will quit praying.”—E.M. Bounds
Prayer enables us to move men through God.
This morning, I would like us to consider these questions as I invite the church to think about the significance of prayer in the life of the church and the kind of prayers that move the hands of God:
- What can we learn about prayer from the early church and early followers of Christ?
- How did the early church pray?
In the book of Acts, prayer is associated with divine revelation and guidance (Acts 10:9; 1:5, 13). It is linked with God’s intervention through miracles and healing (Acts 9:40; 28:8). Prayer is connected with discipleship and confidence in God. God guided the early church through consistent and persistent prayers channeled through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. My objective in this message this morning is to encourage you (1) to cultivate a life of prayer, (2) to pray always and not lose heart, (3) to pray according to the will of God, and (4)) to become an active intercessor for other people. I will provide several examples of these matters from the early Christians so we can follow their example as a church. In addition, I want you to share with you Five Lessons about Prayer from the Early Church: What did the Christians in the early Church prayed for? And how did they pray?
Luke, a Theologian of Prayer: Parallels on Prayer in the Gospel of Luke and Acts
- “If Luke in his Gospel presents a full picture of Jesus as prayer, then in his second volume he frequently indicates that the early church and its individual members, including apostles, were engaged in this same petitionary activity. Some of the incidents recorded in Acts are direct and, we may add, deliberate parallels to those found in the Gospel. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus prays and receives the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21); the apostles and their companions (Acts 1:14) pray before the descent of the Spirit upon them (2:1-4). At Acts 8:15 Peter and John pray for the Samaritans that they may receive the Holy Spirit. After the apostles lay hands on them the Holy Spirit descends (8:17). Jesus prayed before the choice of the Twelve (Luke 6:12); the early church prays before selecting Matthias (Acts 1:24). Jesus, at the point of his death, prays that his enemies may be forgiven (Luke 21:34), while Stephan, before falling asleep, cries in a loud voice, ‘’Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:60) and as Jesus offered the ‘evening prayer,’ committing his Spirit, in the words of Psalmist, to the Father’s care (Luke 23:46), so the first martyr calls upon the Lord Jesus and cries, ‘receive my spirit’ (Acts 7:59)”— P.T. O’Brien, “Prayers in Luke-Acts,” p. 122
QUOTES ON PRAYER
- “The first reason, then, why prayer leads to fullness of joy is that prayer is the nerve center of our fellowship with Jesus. He is not here physical to see. But in prayer we speak to him just as though he were. And in the stillness of those sacred times we listen to his Word and we pour out to him our longings.”—John Piper, Desiring God, pg. 150
- Prayerlessness is proof that, for the most part, our life is still under the power of ‘the flesh.’ Prayer is the pulse of life; by it the doctor can diagnose the condition of the heart. The sin of prayerlessness proves to the ordinary Christian or minister that the life of God in the soul is mortally sick and weak.”—Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Prayer Life, p. 20
- “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference”—Max Lucado
Five Lessons about Prayer from the Early Church: What did the Christians in the early Church prayed for? And how did they pray?
- The Early Church prayed to receive the Holy Spirit and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission and evangelization (Acts 1:13-14; 8:15).
- Prayer is associated with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is intimately connected through prayer. In other words, a Spirit-filled and saturated church can only happen through persistent prayers to God. Because of prayer, the early church grew and expanded. The descent of the Holy Spirit led to the first Christian revival in the early Church. It was because the Church prayed.
“There are parts of our calling, works of the Holy Spirit, and defeats of the darkness that will come no other way than through furious, fervent faith-filled, unceasing prayer.”—Beth Moore
“Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
- The early church prayed before choosing leaders and ministers in the church (Acts 1:35, 6:6; 6:1-6; 13:31; 14:23).
- Prayer is associated with church leadership.
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”—Martin Luther
1 John 5:14-15
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
- They prayed for “the spread of the message of salvation” and for guidance and direction in missionary and evangelistic endeavors (Acts 8:22, 24; 10:4, 31; Acts 26:29).
- Prayer is connected with the proclamation of the Word of God.
- The early church prayed during persecution, imprisonment, and in times of crisis and imprisonment (Acts 12:1-6; 7:59; 12:5, 12; 16:25).
- The Church at Jerusalem prayed at night for Paul who was in prison (Acts 12:5, 5) while Paul and Silas praise God in prison (Acts 16; 25) they prayed for Peter’s release.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (Jesus prays for his disciples: A Prayer for Protection).
In the same manner, Jesus aid to Peter: I have prayed for you so that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Jesus is Our High Priest; God always hears his petitionary prayers on behalf of his followers.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
- The early church prayed for the expansion of the Church in various regions and terrains (Acts 9:40; 28:8; 9:42; 4:30; 13:3).
- Prayer is related to mission and evangelism.
The early Christians, in their missionary activity and evangelistic zeal, through prayer they were able to
- Establish new churches in Gentile regions
- Through prayer, they appointed and commissioned ministers to serve in these new church plants.
- Both the Jewish churches and Gentile congregations continued to exist and stay strong through the power of fervent prayer.
2 Chronicles 6:21
“Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.”