PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Today brings us to the end of our devotional journey through the book of Acts. My prayer from the very beginning was that we might catch a glimpse of not only what God did in the first Christian Community as it evolved, but also that we might catch a glimpse of what God wants to do in and through the community of Jesus Christ in this day, in the year 2021, through a community of faith like ours.
I am sure many things stuck out to you as you read through the passages each day. Today I want to just hit on one thing that really grabbed me, and challenged me that I believe just might be the crucial foundation stone for each and everyone of us as individuals but also the crucial foundation for the church, our church, the community of Jesus Christ.
What I want to look at together for a few moments is the role of prayer in the book of Acts and among the Christians whose story we have been told about. So, let's dive in.
That prayer is important in the story of the early Christian community is evident in chapter one at verse 14 we read “all these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women including Mary the mother of Jesus as well as his brothers.” The centrality of prayer continues throughout Acts and even further into the New Testament, if you read through Paul's writings there too we will see the value and emphasis that is placed on the role of prayer. In Acts, we have read of prayer meetings, and frequently have been told that the believers continued constantly in prayer.
In Acts 2:42 we read about the Community of Faith that grew and developed, and as it grew and developed they were certain markers that distinguished them, for example we hear that “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Of course, the importance of prayer had been modeled for them by their Lord Jesus Christ. You likely recall from the gospels, how Jesus had modeled prayer for the disciples, and that one day they came to him and asked “teach us to pray”. I do not think that they were looking for some kind of method or technique in prayer. I believe what the disciples saw was an intimacy in Jesus’ relationship with the Father, there was something different about his prayers, from what they perhaps had observed for some time in the life of the synagogue. We know that Jesus would enter into times of solitude, away from his public ministry, for times of prayer. Sometimes devoting an entire night to prayer. Jesus prayed in public before performing deeds of mercy and power, he prayed in times of crisis like we witness in the garden of Gethsemane and at the Cross. The disciples saw something unique, and they longed for Jesus to teach them how they might be lifted into the presence of God the way he was.
In the book of Acts we find several examples of times of prayer, including the following
· Prayer gave the apostles unusual boldness in witnessing
· Prayer gave the Christians strength to joyfully suffer and even die for the cause of the Lord (Remember Stephen)
· Prayer led people to be filled with the spirit of God.
· Prayer brought life to the dead and great miracles.
· Prayer defeated the destructive plans and obstacles of those opposed to the work that God was doing.
· Prayer released the first missionaries to head out and begin to plant churches.
· Prayer opened prison doors and resulted in salvation of prisoners and led to conversions of the Jailer and his family.
· Prayer gave direction to people in delicate situations.
We are left with little doubt the prayer was important to the Community of Jesus that we have described to us in the book of Acts. Teaching and emphasis on prayer doesn't stop there, for if we continue to read beyond the book of Acts throughout the rest of the New Testament we're going to find and discover that prayer was vital to every follower of Jesus Christ. At least the New Testament writers encouraged all followers of Jesus to embrace the life of prayer. Jesus prayed. The church community in Acts prayed. James Prayed. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)Peter prayed. He wrote “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” (1 Peter 4:7) John prayed. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.” (I John 5:14-16) Jude prayed. At the end of his letter he offers a well used benediction. “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”
Paul prayed. Paul's prayers are comprehensive and detailed full of faith and hope. He offered petitions and intercessions for the growth of believers and infant churches. He prayed for love, for completeness, for unity, for hope, for full assurance of knowledge, for knowledge of God's will, for continued growth and fruitfulness, to name a few themes. Many of the doxologies we use in our own worship today, come from Paul’s letters. Paul also calls others to pray, and ask others to pray for him. Paul genuinely believed in the reality, power, and practice of prayer.
Perhaps that's enough to remind us that prayer was a serious and continuous practice among the early church believers. It was a practice of laying hold of God, of claiming God's promises, of coming to God as a Father who gladly meets the needs of his children, of standing in the presence of God as intercessors, of waiting for God to act as the sovereign Lord.
I cannot imagine that this practice of prayer came naturally to the followers of Jesus Christ, anymore than it comes naturally to us. If you are like me the life of prayer is had to be cultivated in my life, it is easy for me to get distracted away from a life of prayer which leads to an intimacy with God. However, here is what I do see in the book of Acts and in the New Testament that as the Early Church, as these believers gave prayer a foundational place in their community, they experienced some marvelous even miraculous answers to prayer. God did not fail his people. and God will not fail his people today!
Our Catechism says “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us. Moreover, God will give his grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask him for these gifts and thank him for them.”
So, Prayer, personal, and according to Acts, the Communal prayers are equally important. So, then prayer ought to be an important foundation in our own lives as well. Let’s pray believing in the promises of God, for God is faithful.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.