Corporate Prayer and Fasting: Monday, March 18, 2019
Theme: “God wants his people to be a community of prayer”
Scriptural Passage to Meditate: Acts Acts 1:12-14
In 1855, the Irish poet Joseph M. Scriven (10 September 1819-10 August 1886) wrote the beautiful Christian hymn whose popular line includes “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” The purpose of this line was to bring consolation and inspiration to his mother who was living in Ireland while he was living in Canada. He wanted to assure his mother despite their long distance relationship and hardships, Jesus is a good friend who never leaves his friends behind. Scriven wanted to accentuate the proximity of God through Jesus to those who love God. Scriven was also a man of persistent prayer and understood the meaningful impact of a life of prayer in the daily experience of the follower of Jesus. For him, prayer not only characterizes God’s people, the people of God have access to God’s Kingdom, gifts, grace and his holiness through a devoted life of effectual prayer. In one stanza, he penned these memorable words about prayer, which Christians throughout centuries have sung :
“O what peace we often forget.
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”
Faithful Christians, both strong and weak, poor and rich, men and women, understand that prayer not only binds their hearts to God. Prayer is instrumental in biding Christians together and pushes them to agree on the same issues pertaining to godliness and christian public witness in culture. Men and women of prayer understanding this biblical truth: When we become what God has intended us to be, we will become a people and a community of prayer. E.M. Bounds, who has written prolifically about the believer’s prayer life, emphasizes that the disciple of Jesus cannot develop the mind of Christ and act on behalf of his or her Lord in the world if that disciple neglects the sweet communion of prayer with the Master. The disciple who is strong spiritually and consistent morally is the one whose life has been transfigured through this intimate encounter with God in prayer. Prayer not only a mark of Christian piety; it is essential to christian living. Consider the important words of E. M. Bounds about prayer and godliness: “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.”
Fundamentally, prayer enables us to move men and women through God. Andrew Murray, who wrote a classic text on prayer and it is one of my favorite books on prayer, The Believer’s Prayer Life, tells us that “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.” Pastor John Piper, in a very useful book on Christian discipleship and piety, Desiring God, connects prayer with the joy of the Lord and with the fellowship with the triune God. Jesus is never distant from his people, and God is always near those who meet with him through prayer. Pastor Piper writes, “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.” Similarly, Christian writer Max Lucado reminds us that “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.”
Moreover, prayer is not only a Christian discipline. It is in fact a tradition of the Christian church throughout the centuries. Prayer played a vital role in the life of the early followers of Christ. The early Christians prayed to God because they believed that prayer was the most natural and spiritual thing to do. In the early history of Christianity, we learned that faithful christian men and women connected their understanding of biblical discipleship and prayer with christian identity. To put it simply, Christians are/were people of prayer. To identity one’s self with Jesus as his or her disciple is to categorically pray to him and connect with him through this communicative means. For example, 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). When the early Christians prayed, God revealed himself and guided them in life. When the early Christians sought God in prayer, God himself showed himself that He was their Healer and Great Physicians. Hence, God healed those who were sick because his people prayed. He worked supernaturally, what we call “miracles,” just because prayer is connected to the supernatural world, the very sphere of God, who is supernatural.
As previously mentioned above, 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 today’s devotion 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. Toward this goal, I would like to spend the remaining part of our time together on the conversation about prayer by focusing our attention to five important lessons about prayer from the early Christians:
- Luke was a Theologian of Prayer who reports the prayer life of the early Church:
Both in the book of Luke and the of Acts of (Jesus’) the Apostles (“Messengers”), he provides detailed examples on (1) how Jesus prays, (2) his disciples follow him through prayer, and (3) the prayer life that marks the early activities of the early Christians. New Testament Theologian P.T. O’Brien, who wrote a thought-provoking book on the “Prayers in Luke-Acts,” makes this insightful observation on the subject matter:
“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).”
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).
The early Christians were successful in evangelization because they understood that sharing Jesus with the lost and the unchurched was to get engaged in a perpetuating battle, what we call “Spiritual warfare.” The most effective weapon to win the heart of the lost to Jesus and to conquer the darkness of sin in their lives toward repentance to God and faith in Jesus for salvation is through intercessory prayers. The prayers of the people of God destroy spiritual strongholds and demonic forces and give the lost victory in Christ.
In addition, the early Christians were conscious that spirit-filled prayers were associated with the descent of the Holy Spirit–which they depended upon for the ministry of mission and evangelization, and servant leadership in their respective cities and communities of the ancient world. 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.
- 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 spiritual leadership and servant leadership. The great Protestant Theologian of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, wrote this powerful statement about prayer, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Christian author Beth Moore comments about prayer in this manner, “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.” In Mark 11:24, Jesus instructs his disciples about the connection between prayer and the benefits and reception of God’s gifts and favor: “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Spiritual leadership is such a gift that is channeled through prayer, and without prayer Church leaders cannot lead the people of God spiritually and are unable to select those who are called to be ministers in the church. The early Christian ministers were individuals who prioritize prayer in their ecclesiastical activities and human relationships in the church and outside the church. In 1 John 5:14-15, the author reassures us about divine favor through prayer: “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).
The early Christians believed that prayer was not intimately connected with the proclamation of the Word of God. The prayers of the people of God provide fuel to the preaching of the Word of God, and preaching that is not informed by a life of prayer is meaningless, Christ-centered, God-glorifying, and Spirit-filled. The effectiveness of preaching as proclamation of the will and counsel of God and preaching as the vehicle for the salvation and transformation of all people lies through human submission and desperation to God through prayer.
4. 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. Those of us who are engaged in prison ministry today must also learn that prayer is indispensable for that ministry; we must also acknowledge that our efforts in engaging the hearts and minds of those prisoners is ineffective unless we beg with God to save their soul and rehabilitate them into society. Consider these lessons about prayer from Jesus to his disciples and Peter, and Paul to the Christians in the Roman city of Philippi
a. Jesus to his disciples: John 17:5. “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). The danger in today’s prison system and the desperation often accompanied the experience of prisoners should compel us not only to pray for their safety and protection, but also for God to accompany us in our efforts to improve this system and its structure.
b. In the same manner, Jesus said 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 intercessory prayers on behalf of his followers.
c. Consider Paul’s words to the suffering and discouraged Christians at Philippi: Philippians 4:6-7
“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.”
5. 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).
I previously mentioned that prayer was related to mission and evangelism in early Christian outreach activities. 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.
Finally, let this prayer below be your supplication to God: 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.”