ACTS4v23to31: THE BELIEVER'S PRAYER.
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.) Peter and John return to the church in Jerusalem and report on what the chief priests and elders, the opponents of Christianity, said to them. The outlook seemed bleak for the church but their response was to pray. This led to God empowering them for further service.
(B) The terrible forecast. On their release Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
Sometimes we receive a dreadful weather forecast. The presenter announces a threat of blizzards, a warning of gales and concludes by informing us that the outlook is decidedly stormy.
Peter and John deliver a short term forecast to their own people, the growing church in Jerusalem. There is the threat of persecution, the warning of imprisonment and the outlook is definitely stormy because there is trouble ahead.
The outlook for the church is very different in Great Britain. Here the church is no longer growing but is in decline. The opponents of truth no longer even take us seriously. In future we are liable to lose what little influence remains. The gospel is ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. The number of conversions amongst the churches of the Association to which I belong has been reduced to a trickle and is in danger of drying up all together. The outlook is one of further decline and the elimination of rural churches from great swathes of Britain.
(C) The reaction of the church to the terrible forecast.
It is possible that the people sang Psalm 2 for encouragement. It is the psalm quoted in prayer by the anxious believers. Psalm 2 is triumphalist in tone and would have raised the spirits of a church under threat. It is sound policy to sing hymns in times of trouble. They do steady, reassure, cheer the heart and reinvigorate the spirit. That is why Paul and Silas sang hymns at midnight in the Philippi prison.
The key response of the church facing a difficult future was to pray. No doubt Luke, during his research on the Acts of the Apostles, asked about what the Jerusalem fellowship prayed for. He summarises in his own words the general tenure of their prayers. It reads like a collective prayer of the whole church but it is unlikely that this was the case! If I attended a prayer meeting and was asked what the people prayed for I would answer, "They prayed for..... and they prayed for ...... "
The usual reaction to a bad weather forecast is to batten down the hatches. Bad forecasts encourage folk to be cautious and to lie low. It would have been easy for the church to have adopted this approach. Instead they pray. Let us look at the theme of their prayer. It contains:
First of all the church affirmed their belief that God was in control. He was the Sovereign Lord who made heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. v24. Even the wicked men who crucified the Lord's Anointed did what your (God's) power and will had decided beforehand should happen. It was a great comfort and source of strength to know that God was still on the throne.
Secondly, the church accepted that opposition to Jesus, and therefore the followers of Jesus, was inevitable. They quoted Psalm2vs1and2: The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. So it was not surprising that the ruling elite who connived at the death of Jesus should now be threatening his disciples.
We should expect the battle to be ongoing. In the West the opposition to Christianity is subtle. There is no threat of imprisonment and sudden death but that does not mean Satan is inactive. He is using affluence and advances in technology to make men complacent and arrogant; to foster self-confidence and create a false sense of security. The words of Paul writing to the Ephesians are still true: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph6v12. Paul does not advise the Ephesians to retire into their shell but to be strong in the Lord and his mighty power.v10.
Above all we should remember that God is working his purposes out. He could use present trends to bring about his will. Affluence leads to independence and selfishness. Possibly men and women will have fewer and fewer meaningful relationships. More and more will be lonely and this might eventually lead to discontent with men's hearts failing them for fear. Conditions would then be right for revival. This country has experienced great blessing before when it has been least expected.
(b) Two Petitions.
The other request the early church made was: "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." v30. Signs and wonders had been a means of establishing the name - the reputation and authority - of Jesus; that is why the first believers wished them to continue. The miraculous healing of the cripple in the name of Jesus had been a powerful witness to his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. If Jesus was still healing the sick he must be alive for ever more.
What do Christians in Britain pray for as the church in general declines and individual fellowships face extinction? This is not, of course, a problem for the numerous believers who access this web site worldwide. It is, however, an issue of critical significance for Christians in Western Europe. I think we are justified in asking God to note our difficulties - the threat hanging over us. Then we need to carry on as before - doing the best we can to witness to a Saviour's love. This was precisely the policy of the great apostle Paul. He writes to the Ephesians: Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Eph6v19. This would also have been Paul's prayer for himself. I must pray for strength and confidence to carry on the work I am doing in spite of disappointments and lack of success.
We need to plead with God for signs and wonders - particularly conversions. These impress men and woman like nothing else and they force unbelievers to acknowledge the abiding power of the precious name of Jesus. On Sunday December 20th, Songs of Praise came from Rugby. I was greatly encouraged by the testimony of twins. When they were seventeen their ways parted. One twin, I will call her Jane, became a Christian. The other, Joan, thought her sister had become a member of the lunatic fringe. Joan lived a worldly life. Her marriage failed and she threw herself into a mad round of parties. Joan had plenty of drinks, drugs and fellahs. This did not stop her from getting more and more depressed until she had a nervous breakdown. After six weeks of hell Joan seriously considered ending it all. Her mother realised that her daughter's life was in a mess and one day she said to Joan, "Why don't you ask Jesus to help you..." The young woman said, "I thought my mother was the one who needed certifying - to make a remark like that." But Joan was desperate. So, after her mother had left, feeling very silly, she just said, "Jesus. Help me." That is all she said - "Jesus. Help me." It was enough. Jesus did help her. Joan began to attend church where she had to unlearn her prejudices. After sixth months she was made whole. The TV program ended with a shot of Joan teaching in Sunday school. She was a radiant - confident, vivacious and happy. What a testimony to the name of Jesus - precious name, oh how sweet, hope of earth and joy of heaven.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. v31. This was a wonderful answer to the prayers of the church. The Holy Spirit cheered their hearts, restored their confidence and emboldened them. We, in embattled Britain, tormented by the swelling tide of secularism, must hope for an infilling of the Spirit to increase our effectiveness as opportunities are given to witness for Jesus. It wouldn't take much to dispel people's complacency and arrogance. The events in New York on September 11th increased church attendance in our country. Perhaps the awful terrorist attacks were a sign that no-one is secure and safe in this life and that we need to look forward, as did Abraham so long ago, to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Heb11v10.
God uses many means to preserve the faith. I recently read a travel book by Colin Thuberon about his experiences in Russia. He said that all over that vast country the church was re-emerging. New monasteries and cathedrals were being built. He asked the question: how had the church survived? For 60 years there had scarcely been a church open. The priests had been dispossessed, exiled or shot. So how had the people kept the faith? The Russian people had been helped to do so by: the religious pictures or icons they had in their homes, the liturgy that they had learned - the set prayers and responses of the services, and Bible stories that had been committed to memory. All through the dark, dark, days a mother or grandmother would pass on the precious truths of Christianity preserved by these three means of grace to their children or grandchildren.
Paul says when writing to the Ephesians Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. He also describes the most potent means of tapping into that mighty power: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Eph6v18.