Martin Luther said; “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Abraham Lincoln said; “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.” Billy Graham said; “Prayer is the rope that pulls God and man together. But, it doesn’t pull God down to us: It pulls us up to Him.” Corrie Ten Boom said; “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.” Brother Lawrence said; “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” John Wesley said, “God does nothing except in answer to Prayer.” John Bunyan said; “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” C.S. Lewis said, “Lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” Andrew Murray said; “Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things ‘above all that we ask or think.'”
They were a Praying Church:
In this study we will look at a third mark of the Normal Christian Church.There are five things we need to see about prayer.
1. Prayer always precedes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 1:14) “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
After the Apostles had received the Great Commission they joined the other believers in Jerusalem and constantly devoted themselves to prayer as they waited upon the Lord to pour out upon them the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8) They were told to wait in Jerusalem until they had been endued with power from on high. So they gave themselves to prayer until they received what was promised. If we want to see a revival then prayer and expectancy for it must be the main emphasis in our praying.
The disciples had already received their hands on theological training but were not yet equipped for the great work the LORD had in store for them. Now they were not inactive but worked as they prayed and prayed as they worked. They had to make a decision about someone taking the place of Judas so they drew lots which was a Biblical thing to do. In this they were also seeking the LORD’S guidance and as a result Matthias was added to the eleven apostles. It was a genuine and spiritual thing for them to do.
However, after the Holy Spirit had fallen on them they became a spirit-filled, Spirit-led fellowship and empowered to start the work that the Holy Spirit had assigned to them. After they had been praying they were all baptised with the Holy Spirit and after Peter had preached 3,000 people were saved and added to the fellowship in one day. We also read later where the Lord added daily to the Church those who were being saved!
When we really allow the Holy Spirit to have His way with us we must be willing to lay aside anything and everything He tells us to lay aside that would hinder Him from working in and through us. He knows what can hinder us from being clean vessels through whom He can pour out His love, His light and power to others. However, without believing, persistent praying there will be no spiritual power! Remember the LORD wants our availability to Him before anything else. In the book of Acts in virtually every case where people were baptised with the Holy Spirit it had been preceded by prayer.
Once the 120 had been baptised with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost daily regular prayer became an indispensable part of their regular worship and service for the Lord. We read; “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:41-42) Prayer was part of their way of life. Someone has said “we can pray in the context of life or we can live in the context of prayer!” While they continuously devoted themselves to the Apostles doctrine and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread they undergirded everything by prayer. They were enjoying Holy Spirit led discipleship!
Years later, when the Apostle Paul was writing his letters he wrote; “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard (garrison) your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). And again he wrote; “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Again may we always remember to pray as we work and to work as we pray! In this way we will always remain filled with the Holy Spirit.
2. Prayer always results in bold and powerful witnessing and in service for the Lord Jesus.
(Acts 4:31) “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Peter and John had been hauled before the religious hierarchy at Jerusalem and had been severely censured not to continue preaching. Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit once again and gave a bold and powerful testimony to them about the Lord Jesus. Eventually they had been released. Meanwhile the fellowship at Jerusalem had also been feeling the pressure and opposition from the religious establishment or we could say; “the college of Cardinals.” Yet what did they do? They prayed the promises of God because they knew that the LORD would always honour His Word.
They did not pray for protection or for a cessation of hostilities but they did pray that the LORD would give them power to proclaim His word and work signs and wonders by the hand of Jesus. Even though they asked to LORD to consider the threats made against them the main thrust of their prayer was that they might be courageous in witnessing with signs following. Well the results were astonishing. We are also told that “they lifted their voices to God with one accord.”
There is a story about a Pastor who stood by watching his church burn down. He was feeling somewhat angry and dejected at seeing such a sight. While he was standing there an unbelieving rather cynical neighbour came up and stood beside him. Together they watched the church burn. The minister was so angry he turned to the man next to him and said; “I have never seen you in church before!” His neighbour replied; “Well to be honest I have never seen the church on fire before!”
When the believers prayed here in Acts chapter four they expected to get results. They expected the LORD to answer their prayers. They expected him to fulfil His word. They not only believed He could do it but counted on Him to do it! They did not give up when things were tough or looked as if they would never change. The LORD most certainly answered their prayers; “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Once their prayers had been answered the fellowship was united as one, real needs were met, there was bold powerful witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus and great grace was upon them all! They knew nothing about strategies for Church growth or evangelism in those days! Soon after they had been scattered through persecution we read that; “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4).
3. Prayer is the key to effective ministry of the Word of God.
(Acts 6:4) “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The Apostles at Jerusalem had been involved in the task of handing out bread to widows and also to other related tasks that took up their time. They felt a need to concentrate on preaching and teaching but also knew that they needed to pray as they studied and study as they prayed. They selected seven men for the task who were men full of faith and the Holy Spirit so that the Apostles could spend time waiting on the LORD while giving themselves constantly to prayer and study of the Word. This is the duty of those pastors, teachers, elders and prophets who need to give themselves to prayer and Bible study so that their fellowships are rightly led.
One of the unfortunate trends in the Church today is to see Pastors spending more time sitting on committees and in Church meetings and in administrative tasks of one sort or another than spending much needed time in prayer and study of the Word. We all need to pray as we study and study as we pray. The Apostles gave themselves over to doing just that and the Holy Spirit was able to move in power through their ministry to the fellowship. We read; “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)
4. Prayer and fasting is always involved when setting people apart for ministry and service.
(Acts 13:1-4) “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
Paul and Barnabas had been down in Antioch exercising a regular ministry along with other prophets and teachers in the local fellowship. It was obvious that they were called and gifted for apostolic ministry and Paul himself was called to Missionary work years before after his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus Road. They were already called and gifted but were not sent out straight away. It was when the Holy Spirit spoke through certain Prophets and teachers that Paul and Barnabas were sent out.
Sometimes God’s timing is different than ours. Sometimes there may be years between a person’s call and their commissioning to ministry. The Lord takes more time to prepare some than He does with others. Even after they heard from the Holy Spirit they prayed and fasted again before sending them out. They wanted to be sure that it was the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a calling and gifts needed for the task for every believer in the local body of Christ. He not only initiates the call but imparts the gifts needed to fulfil that call.
Paul understood this when he wrote; “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11).
We do not call ourselves into ministry or decide what gifts we would like to have. The Holy Spirit is sovereign in this matter. He, and not we, determines our avenue and sphere of service and imparts to us the gifts we need to successfully complete the task that He has assigned to us in the local Body of the Messiah. A person may have gone through Theological College and be even ordained but if they have not been called and gifted for the task then ultimately they will not succeed in their ministry and service for the Lord. This can be one of the major reasons why a leader has burn out and has to lay aside the ministry.
It can also be the reason why a church declines in membership. Of course some are called and gifted but even though they started out in the Spirit’s power they end up operating in the power of the flesh and lose their spiritual power and effectiveness. Pride is a very deadly enemy to those in positions of leadership. In a war the sharpshooters go for the officers first because they know that if the officers are gone then the soldiers are most vulnerable. So it is in spiritual warfare the devil always goes for the officers. When a believer falls into serious sin it is a very serious matter, however, when a leader falls into serious sin there are consequences that affect the whole Church and in some cases will cause others to stumble.
If a believer is not called and gifted for the ministry then they had better stay out of it otherwise there most likely will be serious consequences somewhere down the track and not only for them and their families but for the wider Body of the Messiah. In all aspects of service and ministry the Holy Spirit is sovereign and not only determines the avenue of service and ministry but also imparts the gifts needed according to His good, acceptable and perfect will.
We may well be serving the LORD and even doing the best we can but if it is not in line with His will then we will never be deeply satisfied within. Finding the will of God and doing it might at first seem something that we would never have chosen but in submitting to the blessed Holy Spirit in this matter it will in the end prove to be the best and the most sweetest thing in all the world.
5. Prayer is powerful and effective for those who are experiencing persecution.
(Acts 12: 5) “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God”
King Herod had laid his hands on certain believers in Jerusalem and James the first Bishop of the Jerusalem fellowship had been killed with the sword by Herod. James was the first Bishop not Peter. Because this act of violence pleased the Jewish leaders he also had Peter arrested. Satan through Herod was already trying to kill off the leaders. Peter was put in prison overnight and in the morning there was no doubt that Herod would most likely kill Peter as he had previously done to James the brother of our Lord. However Peter was miraculously delivered out of the prison supernaturally.
After he realised what had happened he went to Mary’s house where the believers had been gathered in prayer for him. When he knocked on the door a servant girl came to the door. She recognised Peter’s voice and instead of opening the door she went and told the others that Peter was standing outside. Well their reaction was quite the opposite of what they had been praying.
They believed that the LORD could answer their prayer and were even praying fervently but when Peter turned up outside they did not believe it. They actually said to the servant girl; “You are out of your mind!” but she persisted. They came up with the notion that it was his angel. When they saw Peter they were in shock!
It is one thing to believe that the LORD hears and answers prayer. It is another thing to believe that he can answer our prayers as a fellowship but something quite different to count on Him to answer our prayers. Undoubtedly the believers were fervent and consistent in their praying and some had faith, however, when the LORD actually answered their prayers they were gob-smacked at the answer they received.
One thing we can learn from this is that whenever persecution and opposition arose the first thing they did was to give themselves to prayer. Persecution and opposition was fierce and persistent and they desperately needed the LORD to empower and to strengthen them at such times. Once before they had been under threat and intimidation by the religious leaders and had been praying fervently to the LORD and on that occasion they had not been praying for protection but for boldness to preach the word with signs following. Of course their prayer was heard and on that occasion the whole building shook as the Spirit was poured out enabling them to speak the word of God with boldness.
Today in many countries there are believers who are in prison for their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. They need our prayers. We cannot pray for all of them individually of course but we can pray for some of them. We can have a prayer list of some with their names and details on their situation and pray for them regularly as they desperately need our prayers.
In the Bible we are encouraged to pray in faith and in believing that God will not only hear our prayers and petitions but answer them according to infinitely divine will. If we are open to the Holy Spirit in our praying then He will lead us to pray according to the will of God and if we pray according to His will then we know that if He hears us in whatever we ask we know we have the petitions we have desired of Him. But we must always pray in faith, not only believing that He can do it but counting on Him to do it.
We must believe that we have already received what we have asked for and not doubt. God will always answer our prayers when they are in line with His will. One thing we must also remember that if we harbour un-forgiveness towards someone in our heart then our prayers will go unanswered as fervent as they might be.
The Lord Jesus encouraged us to pray in faith and at the same time to make sure we are not harbouring an unforgiving spirit in our heart. “And Jesus *answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions” (Mark 11:22-26).
The apostle John also encourages us to pray in the will of God when he writes; “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14).
The Lord Jesus also told a parable to show at all times that we ought to pray and not to lose heart. It is found in Luke 18:1-8. There was a judge who neither feared God or respected man. There was a widow in that city that needed legal protection from an adversary and she persistently kept coming to that judge for legal protection. She did not give up but kept pestering him to the point where he just had to do what she was asking him to do. Now he was an ungodly man yet heard her plea and answered her request because of her persistence. When Jesus had spoken about this situation he went on to say; “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
The word Jesus used for faith here also implied “faithfulness” which contains the idea of persistence and perseverance even under pressure. The late Derek Prince once asked the question; “How then do we persevere? He answered it when he said; “By persevering!” Sometimes when we are under pressure the tendency is to get ourselves out from underneath the circumstances that we are under but through perseverance the Holy Spirit will change us and then at the right time take the pressure away.
As it is written; “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you; draw near to God and He will draw near to you!” We read in the book of Acts that after the Church has been under the pressure of persecution that the Lord gave them relief for we read; “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31).