We’ve been looking at the things the first church Jesus established devoted themselves to after they had believed in Jesus as the Son of God, turned from their sins to God in repentance and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. God gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them for the rest of their lives on earth. Then it says, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer. The fact these new Christians devoted themselves to these four things certainly indicates that these are all very important parts of living as God wants us to live. It wasn’t just that they made a point to do these each Sunday when they worshiped together. The idea of being devoted to each of these indicates the tremendous value they placed on each. It is obvious they recognized that these four things are vital to our pleasing God want walking with Christ in our daily lives.
Focus on the matter of prayer. The other three things on the list refers to things they would do together. But prayer is both a together activity for a Christian and a very private or personal aspect of faith. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that when we pray we shouldn’t go out in the crowd and pray in a way that is meant to show the world our devotion to God. Instead he said if we did these things before people to be seen by them, we already have our reward. But enter into a private place and pray between you and God alone and the God who hears in secret will reward you.
If we took that to mean that we shouldn’t have public or corporate prayers as a church or even as a family, we would miss the point by several miles. Jesus prayed in public on different occasions and is pictured in Luke 9 as praying privately in the midst of a crowd of people. The church that was launched on this occasion in Acts 2 prayed publicly when they had difficult situations to deal with such as when Peter and John were arrested for healing the cripple man at the gates to the temple. They prayed for God to give them more boldness so they could speak his word with boldness before the world. Prayer, like every other part of living for God, can become a ritual, a habit that requires little thought or heart. It is easy to fall into the habit of praying at the same times each day and saying most of the same things, praying for the same people day after day. Our prayers should rise out of our hearts and our personal devotion to God. Paul gives a strong hint as to the nature of our prayers when he described how as new children of God we receive the Holy Spirit as a gift from God and we cry out to Him, Abba Father. Abba was the Hebrew word that a child used in speaking intimately to his dad. It is comparable to our talking to our Daddy. If someone ask me who my father was, I quickly tell them about the man I called Dad as long as he lived on this earth. I can’t imagine going up to my dad and calling him “Father”. It would likely leave the impression that this is a very formal relationship. But God wants us to come to him as our Abba or dad.
What kinds of things do you pray about? It is certainly easy to get into a rut and pray the same prayer over and over again. But prayer should rise from our heart and the challenges, fears, concerns and joys we experience each day. It should be full of the names of people for which we thank and praise God. But it should also be filled with gratitude for all the ways God has blessed us in the last few days. Our prayers should be for the rulers and authorities in the land and for leaders in the church where we worship God. But prayer is also about request that we make for God to bring into our life the blessings and opportunities He alone gives, so that we might do good and lead others to him. In Acts 4:25-31 Peter and John had been released after being beaten for their good work in healing the cripple man. The church prayed fervently for Peter and John, but they prayed for the whole church that God would give them great boldness. They asked God to “Stretch our your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of you holy servant Jesus.” God was so moved by their prayer that the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. It is absolutely amazing as you read the writings of Paul and his request for prayers from different churches that it usually will center on God giving him more boldness in preaching the word of the Lord. Think about it. How long has it been since you heard anyone in church pray for more boldness? I hear lots of prayers for healing and comfort for the hurting and that’s good. But I would plead with us to include boldness in the number of things we ask God for today.
Why did they pray for boldness? They knew persecution was coming to them right away. They knew the world was in desperate need of the gospel message they had from God. They knew that often the very ones who needed the message of Jesus most were often the ones who wanted it least and would even turn on them for telling them God’s truth.
Obviously we need to pray in times of hurt that God will bring blessings into our lives to heal and solve the hurts we struggle with. We need to pray when things are going great as well in thanksgiving and for open doors to spread the message of faith and reconciliation to the world. As years pass it is amazing that when you pray there are lots of people you want to pray for because of all the trouble and sickness they are facing. But I must not become so focused on those who are hurting that I lose sight of the marvelous blessings from God that come to us daily.
It is interesting to me how public prayers have changed in church through the years. I remember the day when just about every person who led a prayer prayed for the preacher, for the elders and the spread of the gospel through the world. But I don’t hear that prayer often anymore. Maybe it is circumstances and size the makes the difference but I remember when prayers were very personal and people prayed for family, friends, and fellow Christians by name to help them with the struggles of life. It seems we become more generic in our prayers as time moves on.
I would strongly suggest to everyone that we spend some personal time reading the prayers of Jesus from the model prayer to his prayer in John 17 and that we read the prayers of Paul in his letters to different churches, especially read Ephesians 1:15-22 and 3:14-21. I love his prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 so much I want to use it as my prayer for you as you read today. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”