Thursday, May 9, 2013


Acts 4:23-24, “And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.  And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to heaven with one accord…”
Confronted by opposition and threats Peter and John returned to their companions, their fellow believers, and they all joined together in prayer.  With one accord they acknowledged God to be the creator of all things (Acts 4:24) and sovereign ruler over all (4:25-28).  They prayed that God would grant them confidence in their great commission ministry (4:29-30).  God answered by shaking the ground beneath their feet and by granting them strength to speak the word of God with boldness (4:31).
If there were ever a time in the history of America for believers in Christ to devote themselves to prayer it is now.  The church in America is entering into a period of unprecedented opposition.  The Bible is pervasively disdained in public discourse.  Those who hold to its truths are mocked.  New laws and policies are adopted to eradicate the mention of God (the God of the Bible) from public settings and institutions. 
The church has been given a task that rises above all others in importance–to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23).  But the task and the message are too often set aside in the pursuit of lesser concerns.  The gospel itself is frequently misrepresented.  Many shrink back from declaring its essential elements amidst the concern for ‘political correctness.’  The church has long held to a Laodecean approach to ministry that overvalues its own ability and assets.  Too often neglected is the warning of our Lord Jesus: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Peter and John and the members of the early church were Spirit-led to a correct response to the challenges of their day.  They prayed.  They asked God to do that which they couldn’t do for themselves.  They needed boldness and confidence in proclaiming the gospel--a Spirit-borne confidence that God alone could provide (Acts 1:8).  They asked God for it.  He readily provided it for them.
Prayer isthe activity of worship and it has various aspects (the ACTS model for example speaks of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and prayer).  But boiled down to its essence prayer is talking to God about our needs and praising and thanking Him in His response.  As believers we are exhorted to come before the throne of grace (bringing our needs before Him), “that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  If our eyes were opened to see who is coming before the throne of grace what might we see?  Would we see the throne devoid of petitioners?  Would we see the larger proportion of our brethren coming from places that are more sensitive to their ongoing dependence upon God?  The persecuted believers from around the world.  Those living in great poverty.
Is it possible that our prosperity (as American Christians) have blinded us to our need?  The rising opposition to the truths we hold dear is a cause of concern to us, but what is our response?  To think that we can respond to these matters in a God-honoring way according to our own strength and wisdom is a tragic mistake.  What is needed is a Spirit-borne compassion for souls, A Spirit-enabled understanding of truth, and a Spirit-empowered boldness is proclaiming the gospel.  No amount of human wisdom or ability can substitute for that which the Spirit of God can provide.  He is able to empower us to do things that we could never do on our own.  The Apostle Paul himself recognized his need and asked for prayer on his behalf (Ephesians 6:19).
Given these realities—the urgent need of our day and the present anemic condition of the church—you would think that God’s people would humble themselves before God and cry out to Him for help, but that is not the spirit of our day.  Prayer meetings have long since been abandoned or are left unattended.  Those left praying are oftentimes more concerned with Aunt Bertha’s big toe than the need for boldness in fulfilling the gospel mandate (Lest I’m misunderstood I’ve got nothing against Aunt Bertha and I think it is perfectly acceptable to pray for her sore toe, it’s just that far too often our prayers are earth-bound when they need to ascend to a higher plane of concern; Cf. James 4:2-3).
Years ago Leonard Ravenhill wrote of the need for God’s people to pray: “The Cinderella of the church today is the prayer meeting.  This handmaid of the Lord is unloved and un-wooed because she is not dripping with the pearls of intellectualism, nor glamorous with the silks of philosophy; neither is she enchanting with the tiara of psychology.  She wears the homespuns of sincerity and humility and so is not afraid to kneel….Poverty stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer.  We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers; few pray-ers; may singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters.  Failing here, we fail everywhere.”  One wonders what he would think of the current state of affairs.
Our own church has had its challenges in this regard.  We have regular times of prayer and have a prayer list that transcends mere earthly concerns, but to get to the point of the Acts 4 example of one accord praying for boldness in fulfilling the gospel mandate—we’ve got plenty of room to grown.  I’m encouraged though by some recent developments.  Years ago when I first came as pastor our Bible Study/Prayer meeting generally consisted of the two elders and their wives and my wife and myself.  Week after week went by when that was all who were in attendance.  We would pray for the various needs put before us—and that was that.  Over time the Bible study/Prayer meeting would vacillate in its emphasis in either Bible study or prayer, but was never particularly well attended.  It’s grown, however, in recent weeks and my repeated assertion that--“If there was ever a time for Christians in America to pray it is now”—required that we work to facilitate that.
After my return from my recent trip to Uganda I spent a couple of weeks in our Bible study focusing on the need for us to pray.  On one such occasion the Bible study took up so much of our time that it left little time to do so.  We have a dear 94 year old brother who attends.  He challenged me that we were not devoting sufficient time to pray.  “You call that a prayer meeting” he said, and gave some examples by way of his own experience of how it was in days gone by when God’s people were more attentive to such things.  He later asked for my forgiveness for confronting me in the matter, but I was glad that he did.  We changed the way that we do things.  Prayer comes first now in our Bible study.  We have 15-20.  We have a prayer list but are not bound by it.  We pray for the health of the church, for boldness in our witness, for the leaders of our country, for the health of our marriages and families, for our children and teens—and yes, for our physical needs also.  It brings joy to my heart as I witness God’s people making their way to the throne of grace with their requests. 

Given the current spiritual decline of our country, the growing opposition to the cause of Christ, and the anemic state of the church--it is high time for the church to humble itself before God in prayer.  Casting aside all ill-conceived notions of self-sufficiency, in confession of sin, and with Spirit-borne faith in God, let us gather ourselves before the throne of grace.  Like our early church brethren let us cry out to our Sovereign that He might strengthen us with heavenly resolve and power that opposition to the cross might be met with divinely powerful resources.  The God who shook the earth and emboldened our brothers is able to do the same in this needy day.  Now more than ever it is a time for the church to pray.
Pastor Jerry