This year has been a year of changes and challenges for us all. It certainly isn’t the year we were expecting as we headed into a new decade just a few months ago. As church leaders we are having to face situations that we haven’t faced before and make decisions in a continually changing set of circumstances. Wouldn’t it be great if God could give us some kind of blueprint for when traditional church is not possible, during a time when our society is rocked by racial tensions, by political division and by a constant fear of death? Actually, God has given us exactly that – the book of Acts.
When the church began they could not follow what would later become normal church traditions. In addition, the Roman Empire was a place of racial tension, political divisions and death was never far away. How did the church thrive then? And how can the church thrive now? We could look at the way the church responded to authority, or how they cared for one another, or how they were evangelistically effective wherever they went, or how they were willing to face changes to their own traditions, etc. But for now, let’s think about prayer.
When Peter was miraculously rescued from Herod’s prison in Acts 12, he immediately went to the gathering of believers that he knew would be praying for him. Eventually he got let in. Imagine their joy at this immediate answer to prayer standing in their midst! Wouldn’t it be great to know what they had been praying? We are not given that information in Acts 12. But back in Acts 4, when Peter and John returned to the believers after another bruising encounter with the authorities, we are given their prayer. In Acts 4:23-31 we can find seven truths that gripped them. And if these truths will grip us, then we too will be stirred to pray in these difficult times:
1. God is in charge (v24)– “Sovereign Lord!” That is a great way to start a prayer in troubled times. They are praying to the One who is in charge of everything. The term used here is only used three times in the New Testament, but on each occasion it is crying out to God in the context of monumental or trying circumstances. God is in charge, the Master, the Boss. The best person to speak to about what we are facing.
2. God created everything (v24b)– If God made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, that really does mean something for our prayer life. We are not praying to one local and restricted deity among many. We are praying to the God who made absolutely everything. That means that absolutely anything we are facing is a challenge from within that creation. A disease, a financial challenge, enemy armies, global political crises … they are all very much within this creation. He made it all. Pray to Him.
3. God can predict history (v25-27)– In their case they knew that what was described by David a thousand years before in Psalm 2 had come to pass before their eyes. David anticipated the future gathering of nations to oppose the Lord and the Messiah. The ultimate fulfillment may still be in the future, of course, but they had watched Herod and Pontius Pilate and Gentile soldiers and Jewish people uniting in their opposition to Jesus. But God is God, so it was no surprise. Pray to Him about the challenges facing you – they are no surprise to God.
4. God planned this history we now live (v28)– Not only had God predicted it, but what they had watched was actually God’s plan. God is working His great purposes out and that includes 2020. Not only is all of this no surprise to God, but it is part of God’s greater plan that is being worked out. We can be excited to participate in the history God is writing, and we should certainly pray to Him about it all!
5. God sees our specific challenges (v29)– Just minutes earlier they had been threatened by the authorities. Now they are praying to a God who looks on those threats and cares about His people. This was the revelation that Hagar received years before. God actually sees me and the challenges before me. We are not invisible pawns in a great chess game being played at a higher level. God actually knows the specific challenges we face. That truth should make us want to pray!
6. God is working today (v30)– For that group in Acts 4 it was important to recognize that God was at work all around them with healings and miracles. None of that was taken away because Peter and John had been threatened. It is important in a time of crisis to not lose sight of all that God is doing around us. We may not see the miraculous signs described in this verse, but the miracle of regeneration is taking place across the world today. As we pray for our local context, the church is being built and the gospel is continuing to spread in this world.
7. God answers prayer (v31)– Notice that when they had prayed the place was shaken. Impressive! But that wasn’t the answer to the prayer. Actually, the final line should grab us – “they continued to speak the word with boldness.” That was the very thing they had requested. Actually it was the only thing they had requested. They didn’t ask for circumstances to change (although they probably did when Peter was imprisoned in Acts 12); instead they prayed for boldness in the midst of their fear.
Let’s make sure we are gripped by these same seven truths so that as we face real challenges, we too can pray with confidence to the God who is in charge, who made everything, who predicts the future, whose plans are being worked out, who sees our specific situation, who is at work today and who answers our prayers.