How is your prayer life? A lot of ink has been spilled over the importance, the practice, the form, and the blessings of prayer. But in my experience, the discipline of praying is still one of the most difficult things for believers to engage in. Most of us find it hard to strike a regular rhythm of praying, it can be difficult to see prayer as a conversation with our Heavenly Father who is invisible to us, and oftentimes it is hard to know what to say.
Sometimes we get into the habit of lobbing up 911 prayers where we just call upon God to get us out of some difficult circumstances or we only pray when we find ourselves in serious need of something. Other times the act of praying can feel like a waste of time because it seems like our prayers do not get any higher than the ceiling of the room that we are praying in. I also think it is fair to say that we often divorce the discipline of prayer from the discipline of reading God’s Word. It is easy to forget that God wants to speak to us through his Word and that he wants us to speak back to him through our prayers. I am sure you get the struggle with prayer, right?
This is why I am really grateful for our study in the book of Acts and specifically our study of the text in front of us today. It might be helpful to remember that we have already observed a bunch of prayer in the first couple chapters of this book. I also think it is helpful to remember where we are in the story. Back at the beginning of chapter three, Peter and John were headed to the temple to pray (3:1). They encountered a lame man who asked for some donations, but they prayed for him, and he was miraculously healed (3:2 – 10). They preached the gospel to a large crowd (3:11 – 26), and then they got thrown in jail overnight and brought before a religious council, questioned about the healing, threatened to no longer preach about the crucified, risen, and returning Christ, and then released (4:1 – 22).
One of the things I said as we began studying in chapter three is that we can be certain “that Luke wants us to remember that the early church was extremely devoted to prayer; not only [were] Peter and John headed to the temple in [that] passage but the entire section (3:1 – 4:31) is bracketed by prayer meetings [it begins and ends with prayer]. Prayer is the activity that fuels the preaching of the gospel.”2 I would add that prayer is also the fuel of our relationship with God; our relationship with God is only as strong as our devotion to the Word of God and prayer. Look at how the early church prayed in our text and pay special attention to the reason, the content, and the results of prayer.
23When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ – 27for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do what your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
#1: THE REASON FOR PRAYER (V. 23)
The 911 prayers I mentioned earlier are not altogether bad. We are human and our Good Father has no problem with us coming to him in prayer because we are facing some difficult circumstances or even better, coming to him in gratitude when we are experiencing some really good circumstances. The point here is that as humans we have plenty of reasons to pray. The question is: Do we stop and take advantage of those reasons as opportunities to approach our Heavenly Father in prayer?
Luke tells us in verse 23 that just as soon as Peter and John get released from the council, “they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them” (v. 23). I find it really refreshing that Peter and John went to their friends and gave them a report of what had taken place. I can see them all gathered up in a small home and recounting all of the details from witnessing God doing an amazing miracle, to the powerful sermon they preached, to the night they spent in that dark jail cell, to the frightening events of being questioned and threatened by the most powerful religious gang in the city.
I bet it was an animated conversation. And it led them to realize that they had plenty of reason to pray. So, they immediately began to pray as a group of friends who know that their only hope is in God alone. How often do you find yourself driven to your knees in prayer? What circumstances have you been facing (sins against you, sin within you, needs that are beyond you) that you have been treating like the snooze button on your alarm clock instead of jumping out of bed and hitting your knees in prayer? The reasons to pray are all around us. The question once again is: Will I take advantage of those reasons as opportunities to approach my Heavenly Father in prayer?
#2: THE CONTENT OF PRAYER (VV. 24 – 30)
Once again, it is difficult sometimes to know what to pray or what words to use when we do pray. It’s almost like we sometimes think that God wants us to have our words just right before we come to him as though he is a loan officer or a boss who will only answer our requests if we get our proposal just right.
But the reality is that God is our Heavenly Father who enjoys us coming to him with nothing but a few broken sentences full of bad grammar, a little bit of faith that we are clinging to with every ounce of weak energy we have, and a small recognition that God is the Sovereign Promise Keeper. Isn’t this the way we first came to him for salvation; with nothing but our jacked-up sin-filled life, a tiny shred of hope and faith, and an acknowledgement that God is fully capable of putting the pieces of our lives back together as we come into relationship with him? Isn’t this how we first came to him? Why do we get duped into thinking that we need to have everything all put together in a nice shiny presentation when our relationship with him has always been about him taking the jacked-up pieces of our lives and restoring it?
This is basically how the early church came to God in prayer. They have their reasons to pray and so they pray. They begin by admitting that God is the Sovereign Creator (v. 24), they remember what God has promised throughout history in his Word regarding the coming Savior (vv. 25 – 26), they acknowledge how God has fulfilled his promise and plan of redemption in the person and work of Jesus (vv. 27 – 28), they ask God to help them remain faithful in speaking the gospel with boldness despite the threats of their enemies (v. 29), and they also ask God to continue doing miraculous things so that Jesus would be revealed to more people (v. 30).
This is the content of their prayer: God is sovereign, God promises, God saves, God strengthens, and God reveals Jesus. And I think it is also worth noting that their prayer is not the most beautiful grammatical thing, but it is deeply rooted in their knowledge of God’s Word. God speaks to us through his Word, and we speak to him in prayer. One way to pray is to use the “A-C-T-S” acronym which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.3
From the text in front of us though, we could pray like this: Admit that God is in control, Remember God’s promises, Confess sin and God’s ability to save, Ask God for provision, and Beg God to reveal more of Jesus. Admitting, Remembering, Confessing, Asking, and Begging might sound like this:
“Father, I admit that you are in control of everything because you are the Creator of everything. I remember that you have promised to rescue me from Satan, Sin, and Death and to never leave me or forsake me. I confess that I am completely broken, rebellious, and full of sin but I trust that you are mighty to save me through the shed blood and broken body of Jesus at the cross. I am asking you to help me in my weakness, my poverty, and my needs. I am begging you to draw me close and to reveal more of Jesus to me. – Amen.” The only left to do after praying is to look for the results.
#3: THE RESULTS OF PRAYER (V. 31)
I mentioned earlier that sometimes we struggle with prayer because it feels like our prayers hit the ceiling in the room we are praying in and then fall to the floor. I have learned that when we pray, we sometimes are praying for the wrong thing in our human weakness. Let me show you what I mean from the text; look at it with me.
In verse 31, Luke tells us that the results of the church’s prayer were that “the place in which they gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v. 31). These were some amazing results from the church’s time in prayer. These results are very similar to what happened in chapter two when they prayed for the Spirit to come and give them power to be witnesses of Jesus. The room gets shaken, the people are filled with the Spirit of God, and they continue speaking the gospel with boldness. God literally saw fit to answer their prayers in a very powerful way.
So, how is your prayer life? If you keep the application narrow here, it seems like God loves to answer prayers for boldness and strength to be his witnesses. History and personal experience are full of stories where God gives supernatural boldness to speak the gospel in the most intense situations. Notice too, how the church did not ask for the removal of suffering or persecution – they asked for strength and boldness; and God answered their prayers in a very powerful way.
Maybe this should lead us to pray more often for God’s help to endure difficult circumstances rather than to remove those difficulties. It is very possible that if we prayed this way – for boldness, strength, endurance – rather than for the removal of the difficulties in our lives, that we might actually experience our prayers soring high above the ceiling as God answers our prayers by filling us with a fresh presence of his very own Spirit and enabling us to be his witnesses despite even the most extreme circumstances. – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Joe Marino, Acts 3:1 – 10 | Fixing The Unfixable, (The Well Church, 2023). https://joemarino.org/acts-31-10-fixing-the-unfixable/#more-1951.
3 Derek W. H. Thomas, Acts, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2011), 108.
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