Sermon Recap — October 27, 2019

Praying Together (Part 2)

Christopher Patton
Acts 4:23-31
October 27, 2019
Sermon Audio

Introduction

I stand here to confess frankly that from my inmost heart I attribute the large prosperity which God has given to this Church vastly more to the prayers of the people than to anything that God may have given to me. I know it is so. – Charles Spurgeon

  • In our day, in Spurgeon’s day and ever since New Testament times, prayer has been a primary means God has used to advance the gospel, advance His kingdom and build His church.
  • Our narrative today bears this out.
  • Context: The threat of persecution for proclaiming Christ.
  • While the situation of the church today in the US and in our local church is certainly different (we don’t face that kind of persecution), the reality is Christians and churches in every generation and in every location face their own set of trials, setbacks and sorrows that have the potential to undermine God’s mission.
  • As has always been the case, how God’s people respond in such circumstances matters greatly. It matters for the cause of Christ, the advance of God’s kingdom, and the glory of God.
  • In our text, the early church responded by coming before the throne of grace together. They cried out to God together in prayer.
  • The question is – how will we respond when the difficult circumstances we at times face either personally or as a congregation — threaten to dampen our zeal and soften our commitment to proclaiming Christ and building His church together?
  • Six observations from this story that I trust will stir us as a church to emulate the early church’s example of prayer.

I. They prayed together

  • In the church today, when it comes to prayer, the emphasis is primarily on the believer’s personal prayer life.
  • While the scriptures certainly underscore the importance of private, personal, individual prayer – we do well to not neglect the corporate dimension of prayer clearly evident in the NT as well.
  • God does not intend for the local church to be simply a loose collection of individuals with a common purpose but rather redeemed sinners who become true friends (verse 23), who genuinely love one another as they labor side by side for the gospel.
  • Peter and John go to their friends, the church. They report back to their friends how the Sadducees warned them and threatened them.
  • How did they respond? Verse 24 — “they lifted their voices together to God.”
  • What better way to respond to adversity and trial — joining together, seeking God together, coming before the throne of grace together– boldly making our requests to God.
  • Application: How God is stirring corporate prayer in our church.

How could we expect a blessing if we were too idle to ask for it? How could we look for a Pentecost if we never met with one accord, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians. — Spurgeon

II. They prayed with confidence in God’s sovereignty

  • They lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord…. (verse 24)
  • I can think of no better place begin praying than to acknowledge, affirm, express confidence in God’s sovereignty.
  • That is to Express to God confidence and trust  that in all of life’s circumstances He is totally, absolutely, one hundred percent in control.
  • “Nothing happens” as the New City Catechism states – “except by Him and through His will.”
  • In verse 24, the people expressed their confidence in God as the Sovereign Creator.
  • Then in verses 25 -28 — they affirmed God’s sovereignty in the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • While it is true — vs.26 “the kings of the earth set themselves” freely and willingly against the Lord — the early church affirmed that Herod, Pontius Pilate and everyone involved in Jesus’ crucifixion also acted in accordance with vs. 28 what Gods hand and plan had predestined to take place.
  • In this very prayer, we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility side by side.
  • While the question of how God can be fully sovereign and man fully responsible is shrouded in mystery – the scriptures affirm both to be true – therefore we also affirm both to be true.
  • And when we come before the throne of grace in prayer –it is right and good to proclaim to declare to our souls and to the heavens that no troubling circumstance that befalls us is outside of the realm of His sovereign control.
  • Even as we plead with God in prayer to change things, what a source of peace and rest for our souls: God is sovereign and as such is working all things for our good and His glory.

III. They prayed for boldness in witness

  • And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness (verse 29)
  • When you read through the book of Acts, it doesn’t take long to realize that the primary and ultimate ambition and aim of the early church was to bear witness to Christ – to His person and His work.
  • Yet to do so proved costly.
  • For some, it cost them their very lives.
  • At this particular prayer meeting, the believers prayed essentially ‘God in the midst of this fearful threat of persecution, help us to remain faithful to the calling you have placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus….Come what may, help us to boldly proclaim Christ to the lost, dying world around us.’
  • At the center of the early church’s aspirations, ambitions, and dreams – was a passion to proclaim Christ.
  • Application: A good question to consider — “Is this same passion at the center of my aspirations, ambitions and dreams?”

IV. They prayed for God to manifest His power

[29] And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, [30] while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

  • God clearly demonstrates His power when and how He sovereignly wills. That said, he also delights to move powerfully in responses to the prayers of His people.
  • Will we be faithful to pray regularly and boldly with child-like faith–knocking on heaven’s door for God to move in these types of ways?

V. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit

[31] And 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. (ESV)

  • As Christians, we are granted the Holy Spirit at conversion, yet the biblical reality is that throughout our Christian lives we can be more or less filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Most often when the Spirit fills us, it isn’t dramatic. However, sometimes, as we see in this text, it can be.

“The place where that were gathered was shaken as if by an earthquake, and the Spirit descended upon them in a way they could perceive.” – ESV Study Bible

  • Sometimes, as in the text, when the people of God gather to pray, to seek God, to intercede – the Spirit of God manifests His power in such a way that God’s presence is unmistakably perceived by all in the room.
  • While we have no interest in seeking after emotional spiritual highs — it is right and good to ask God to pour out His Spirit and to manifest His presence and power in such a way that we encounter God and as a result, are changed.

VI. God answered their prayer

  • [31] And 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. (ESV)
  • With this imminent threat of persecution upon them, the early church could have run and hid and cowered in fear.
  • Instead, the people pleaded for boldness, and God answered their prayer. He gave them their request.
  • Filled with the Holy Spirit, the people continued to speak the word of God with great boldness.

Conclusion

  • Illustration: How God used a particular prayer meeting in my own life.
  • Encouragement about how God delights to move in response to our prayers.

Questions For Discussion / Application:

  • Re-read the text, Acts 4:23-31. What initial observations and insights do you have from reading this text?
  • When Peter and John were released from custody, the text reports “they went to their friends.” This points to the fact that God does not intend for the local church to be simply a loose collection of individuals with a common purpose but rather redeemed sinners who become true friends (verse 23), who genuinely love one another as they labor side by side for the gospel. Talk about biblical friendship. What does it mean, biblically, to be a true friend to someone?
  • How could we expect a blessing if we were too idle to ask for it? How could we look for a Pentecost if we never met with one accord, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians. — Spurgeon …. In what ways can you, can we practically make corporate prayer more of a priority?
  • How practically can we maintain that biblical tension in prayer of trusting in God’s sovereignty, yet also fervently praying, asking for God to move and change things?
  • In what ways have you seen God answer prayers in response to God’s people praying together for a specific request?
  • What answered prayers have you experienced in your own life?

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