Studies In Acts

"In Prayer"

They all joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14).

The first disciples of Jesus had witnessed powerful events--the resurrection and the ascension of their Lord.

They had been commissioned by the risen Christ to an awesome task, serving as His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

No wonder we find them on their knees "together"! Mutually dependent upon God, they were mutually engaged in prayer.

1. "In prayer" they awaited the promised Spirit.

Jesus had commanded them to "wait for the gift my Father promised" (v. 4). He referred to the Holy Spirit, who would cleanse them from sin and energize them for service. They obeyed. While they waited they prayed. Jesus had earlier taught them that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13).

Among other things, they likely prayed for patience to wait. It is never easy to delay an exciting task.

And they likely prayed for receptivity to the Spirit. They must have been dealing with anything that soiled the welcome mat.

2. "In prayer" they conducted a needed election.

Peter rehearsed the tragic fall of Judas, and declared that it was "necessary" to choose a qualified replacement for the lost apostle. They "proposed two men," but did not resort to popular opinion or human wisdom to decide the matter. Instead, they prayed for divine direction: "Lord, you know every one's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry..." When God's choice was indicated, they accepted it without question or dissent (vv. 24-26). What a lesson is here for all our church elections, indeed, in all our church relations.

As a result of these prayer meetings the Church now had its basic structure and its given message. They lacked only the power that would assure success to their mission. That power soon came--on the day of Pentecost. We learn from this that if we provide the channel God will send the power.

 

Devoted To Prayer

They devoted themselves to...prayer (Acts 2:42).

Underscore that word "devoted." Prevailing prayer never happens accidentally or automatically. To pray effectively we must devote ourselves to prayer. Prayer must be a daily practice in private and a frequent activity with other believers. From the context of this statement we learn some vital lessons about prayer.

1. Prayer was informed by doctrine: "...to the apostles' teaching..."

The apostles' teaching expounded the Old Testament and created the New Testament. It is from the Bible that we learn the true content, intent, and extent of prayer. Unless we understand the Scriptures, our prayers will become spent emotions or empty rituals. The school of prayer has Jesus for its teacher and Scripture for its textbook.

2. Prayer was enlarged by fellowship: "...and to the fellowship..."

Meeting together allowed the believers to know what God was doing in each one's life. They knew what to praise Him for and what to petition Him for. They could then strengthen one another's resolution and faith, thus making their prayers more practical and effective.

3. Prayer was linked to ritual: "...to the breaking of bread..."

Many scholars interpret this phrase as a reference to the Lord's Supper. This ritual, by holding before us the atoning death of Jesus Christ, provokes love and inspires prayer.

Prayer includes thanksgiving, and thoughts of the cross should inspire gratitude. Prayer includes petition, and thoughts of the cross should incline us to pray for purer hearts and nobler lives. Prayer includes intercession, and thoughts of the cross should prompt us to pray for those who need the Savior. Prayer includes adoration, and thoughts of the cross deepen our adoration for the Lord.

Devotion to prayer is linked here to the outreach and growth of the church: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (v. 47).

Let us devote ourselves to prayer. We couldn't ask for better reasons or better results.

The Time of Prayer

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer...(Acts 3:1).

Peter and John were men "filled with the Spirit" and "devoted to prayer" (2:4, 12).
They helped themselves by honoring "the time of prayer." We learn from them that the Spirit fosters both spontaneity and regularity in prayer.

1. The time of prayer became the time of miracle (vv. 2-8).

At a temple gate the apostles were accosted by a crippled beggar pleading for alms. To his surprise they gave him a hand up, not a handout. The lame man was instantly healed "in the name of Jesus Christ." The power of Jesus' name was channeled through men of prayer.

Without prayer nothing good happens. Through prayer anything good may happen. Those who do not pray cannot be conduits of the love and power of Christ. If Christians neglect the time of prayer, those who might have been helped continue to suffer from unmet needs. Prayer is costly, but not praying is costlier still.

2. The time of prayer became the time of opportunity (vv. 9-26).

A crowd gathered and a message was delivered. A message was delivered and salvation was offered. Salvation was offered and a multitude was saved: ...many who heard the message believed" (4:4).

The miracle itself saved nobody; the message did. Peter would later pay this tribute to the power of the gospel:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For.... "the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

Prayer resulted in power released and people redeemed.

This story challenges us to be faithful to "the time of prayer." We will not be effective when we speak to people about God unless we have been faithful in speaking to God about people. God will work through the lives of praying men and women.

Together In Prayer

They raised their voices together in prayer to God (Acts 4:24).

The Sanhedrin knew Peter and John as men who "had been with Jesus" (v. 13). Having lived with Him they were men schooled in prayer. From them, therefore, we may learn valuable lessons for our prayer lives.

1. Prayer was a response to threat.

"After further threats they [the Sanhedrin] let them go"(v. 21).

The apostles were ordered to keep quiet about Jesus, but they had prior and higher orders to speak of Him (vv. 18-20). Now they are seriously threatened and they wisely react. They do not resort to conflict or demand their rights. Instead, they engage in prayer in Jesus' name. They followed the example of Jesus: "...when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

2. Prayer was an exercise in unity.

"They raised their voices together in prayer." Being in trouble together, they sought strength and courage together. Praying together maximizes clarity of thought and intensity of faith. Special promises are given to those who agree in prayer (Matt. 18:19-20).

Many things tend to divide Christians. Mutual opposition from the world and mutual access to the throne of grace should unite them.

3. Prayer was a channel of power.

"After they prayed...they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly" (v. 31).

Their mission continued in the face of threats. They bore witness to Christ boldly, not safely. They would pay a severe price for their fidelity to Christ and the gospel, but nothing could stop them for they had an inner power greater than the outer pressure.

We too live threatened lives. We too have the resource of praying together. We too can be filled with the Spirit and bear witness boldly to Jesus Christ.

Here are some simple but effective lessons to learn from this portion of God's Word. When you are threatened, pray. When you are praying, trust. When you are answered, witness.

Prayer and Preaching

We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).

Preaching and prayer have been linked together from the beginning of Church history. To sever that link grieves God and retards growth. To maintain that link is to assure the Church of the best possible preaching and the surest method of growing.

1. Preachers need time to pray.

"We will turn this responsibility over to them and we will give our attention to prayer..." (vv. 3-4).

All believers should pray, but those who preach should especially pray.

Time is made for their prayers by the delegation of other responsibilities to other persons. The apostles were taught to wash feet; they wouldn't regard waiting tables as beneath their dignity. They refused in order to devote their attention to weightier matters to which other believers had not been called. Only study and prayer can enable men or women to preach effectively.

2. Preaching and prayer are vitally connected.

"We will give our attention to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (v. 4).

Prayer opens the preacher's mind to receive the word from God.

Prayer supplies the preacher's courage to proclaim the word to others.

Those who have inherited the apostles' ministry of preaching have also inherited their resource of prayer-and the responsibility to use that resource wisely.

3. Prayer is an appropriate means of consecrating others to their particular ministries.

"They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them" (v. 6).

By praying, the apostles recognized the value of all service to God. Nothing done for Him is trivial; everything done for Him should be the subject of prayer.
By praying, the apostles recognized the dependence of all servants upon God. Just as it took prayer to make good apostles, so it took prayer to make good stewards.

"So the word of God spread. The number of disciples increased rapidly..." this is the ultimate reason and result of linking prayer with preaching and all other ministries.

Christlike Prayer

Stephen prayed... (Acts 7:59).

Stephen was a man of courage who became the first martyr for Christ. He was also a man of prayer. The two facts are related.

1. "Stephen prayed" in obedience to Christ.

"While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed..."

In Matthew 5:44, Jesus commands, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Here Stephen is seen and heard practicing what Jesus preached.

Prayer didn't soften the stones but it toughened the martyr's spirit. Stephen lived and died in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing and nobody could force him from that path of obedience.

2. "Stephen prayed" in commitment to Christ.

"Stephen prayed, `Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'"

True prayer is not escapism. It does not exempt one from suffering. It does enable us to trust ourselves to the Lord in the worst situations we face.
The dying Christ committed His spirit to the Father. Here the dying Stephen commits his spirit to Christ. Our security lies not in escape or comfort but in a personal relationship of loving and trusting the Lord.

3. "Stephen prayed" in emulation of Christ.

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Stephen's concern was not for safety or revenge, but for the pardon of his killers. His prayer recalls that of Jesus from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing "(Luke 23:34).

In his moving account of life in Castro's prisons, Armando Valladares tells of a Protestant minister from whom torture could not compel hatred. When beaten he would look into the face of his tormentor and pray our Lord's prayer from the cross. Just before he was machine gunned to death, while prisoners were being cruelly beaten, he once again echoed that prayer. His fellow prisoners called him "the Brother of the Faith." Valladares said, "Very few men knew his real name, but they knew that he was an inexhaustible store of faith. He managed somehow to transmit that faith to his companions, even in the hardest, most desperate circumstances." Only a praying man could so live and forgive.

When you are mistreated, pray and trust and forgive. Live and die in Jesus-like love. How? "Stephen, full of the Spirit..." That's how! "The fruit of the Spirit is love."

Persecution, Preaching, Prayer

...they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15).

"Great persecution" scattered the church, and the scattered "preached the word wherever they went."

"Great joy" attended Philip's preaching in "a city in Samaria," where many believed and were baptized.

"Great signs" attended Philip's ministry, attracting Simon Magus, a converted magician.

At this point, enter Peter and John. Three references to prayer occur in the record of their follow-up ministry.

1. Prayer was made.

Peter and John "prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (v. 15).

Following prayer they laid hands on them, and they did receive the Spirit.

The Spirit is God's gift in answer to prayer. The apostles did not control Him; He controlled them. God sovereignly bestows the Spirit; church leaders do not automatically confer Him in rituals.

2. Prayer was urged.

"Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord" (v. 22).

Greedy Simon Magus wanted to merchandise the Holy Spirit for his personal gain. Peter rebuked him in sizzling words, and urged him to pray for pardon, unsure that it would be granted.

3. Prayer was requested.

"Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me" (v. 24).

Scared witless, Simon Magus wanted someone the Lord had already answered to pray for him. We are not informed that Peter prayed, or with what results if he did. We are taught that praying persons receive prayer requests.

This story of evangelism begins and ends with references to preaching.

The scattered Christians "preached the word" (v. 4). Philip "proclaimed the Christ" and "preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (vv. 5, 12). Peter and John "proclaimed the word of the Lord," "preaching the gospel" on their return home (v. 25). Preaching produced the converts and inspired the prayers. That should tell us to pray much for preachers and preaching

Prayer Lessons

...ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying...(Acts 9:11).

Saul persecuted Christians in good conscience, thinking that he was doing God a service, for he regarded Jesus as a Jewish impostor and Christianity as a dangerous contagion.

The shock of learning that Christ was alive and reigning from heaven blinded him. Through Ananias he was instantly healed, and soon began his career as a gospel preacher. Ananias was told, "he is praying." From this incident we may learn these lessons:

1. When you can't do anything else you can pray.

Circumstances may forbid other activities, but one can pray anywhere, anytime. This does not make prayer a last resort. For Saul it was a first activity.

2. When praying you can see with your soul what you can't see with your eyes.

The entry and activity of Ananias was not visible to Saul, but he had seen it "in a vision" and was not surprised by what happened. We see farther and clearer on our knees than on our feet.

3. Prayer helps to ready a person for the future, whatever it holds.

"I will show him," said the Lord, "how much he must suffer for my name." As the Lord's "chosen instrument" to proclaim the gospel to Jews and Gentiles, kings and commoners, Saul would be a man of prayer. From that communion with God he would find the courage his life and death required.

4. Prayer, conversing with God, prepares us to converse with people.

Saul's first activity, after submitting to Christ, was prayer. His next recorded activity was preaching. All who pray are not preachers but all who preach must pray. Otherwise, their preaching will be powerless and fruitless.

5. Praying doesn't make one a Christian, but being a Christian will make one pray.

Saul prayed daily as a Pharisaic Jew. He now prayed as a convert to Christ. Christians do not monopolize prayer but prayer is one mark of a Christian. A non-praying Christian is a flying giraffe--the creature doesn't exist.

"On His Knees"

Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed (Acts 9:40).

A highly publicized miracle enhanced Peter's reputation as a channel of divine power (vv. 32-35). Logically, his help was requested when Dorcas died. A man on his knees got a woman on her feet.

Three kinds of people emerge in this story.

1. Weepers.

Grieving widows "stood around...crying." Their grief was deep because their loss was personal. She had furnished them with clothes in their urgent need. Her gain was now their loss. Theirs was a natural reaction to their friend's death.

2. Prayers.

One is mentioned but others may be inferred. Peter knelt to express submission. He knew that he could not reverse death, but he knew Jesus could. He had been present when the daughter of Jairus was restored to life. He was expecting supernatural intervention.

3. Believers.

"Believers and widows" is, in the Greek, "saints and widows." The NIV translation, while inaccurate, is quite permissable. In the NT saints are made by faith, not by works. The saints were certainly believers, otherwise they would not have sent for Peter.

As a consequence of the miracle "many people believed in the Lord." Once again we see prayer and miracle resulting in harvest.

Prayer lessons from this passage:

(1) When you are in sorrow, pray.
(2) If you can't pray with faith, send for someone who can.
(3) Pray in submission to God, recognizing your inability to supply the answer.
(4) The life that is given you through prayer should be spent in service.

Praying Regularly

He gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (Acts 10:2).

Cornelius was an exceptional army officer. He was "devout and God-fearing" and had influenced his family and some of his troops to be like that. He was a stranger to Christianity but prayed more and lived better than many Christians. We can learn from him.

1. The value of regular praying.

The character of Cornelius was shaped by his communion with God.
The influence of Cornelius was strengthened by his communion with God.
What a person is and does owes largely to prayer or to want of prayer.
Praying people have an intimacy with God and an influence over others that comes in no other way.

2. The effects of regular praying.

Praying opened his eyes. He had a vision and saw "an angel of God." The hour of prayer became a moment of revelation. He received instruction and guidance that changed his whole life for two worlds.

Prayer opens us toward God so that He can speak to us, teaching and guiding us by His words.

Praying opened his hands. The angel brought him God's commendation for his giving and praying. The two are related. True prayer is the spring of compassion for the needy about us.

Prayer opens us toward others so that we see them and react to them as does God.

Praying prompted his obedience. Told to send to Joppa and fetch Peter, he called two servants and one soldier and promptly dispatched them. When you talk to the Lord you soon learn that He is in charge. Prayer is not a man or woman giving orders to God; it is God giving orders to a man or woman. Prayer teaches us who God is and who we are.

Of course, all we have said about what prayer is and what praying does has reference to true prayer, not to all prayer. There were men in Jesus' day who prayed regularly, but they were not gracious like God or generous to people. They were selfish, grasping, pitiless men who played a major role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Their prayers were empty rituals done for show and void of blessing. But true prayer will have the value and effects we have listed in this study.

Prayer and Progress

Peter went up on the roof to pray (Acts 10:9).

Acts 10 records a vital segment of church history--the first Gentiles enter the church. The church will be a union of Jews and Gentiles in a new community of faith. It all flowed from prayer. Recounting the incident, Peter began with these words, "I was in the city of Joppa praying..." (11:5). What flowed from his praying can be summed up in these statements:

1. "He saw heaven opened..." Prayer brought revelation.

While praying, Peter saw the vision and heard the voice that prompted him to act against his prejudices and visit a Gentile home with the gospel message. As it had for Cornelius, prayer prepared him for new understanding. Praying people are open to divine truth.

2. "He arrived in Caesarea..." Prayer brought guidance.

The Holy Spirit guided Peter's ministry and told him to go without hesitation with the delegation from Cornelius. He dismissed whatever other plans he might have made and obeyed the Spirit. Praying people are subject to divine direction.

3. "He said, 'I am only a man...'" Prayer produced humility.

Peter was a VIP in the early church. Once ambitious for place, he now refuses the homage offered to him by Cornelius, saying, "Stand up, I am only a man myself." He learned humility through communion with God. He regarded himself the equal, not the superior, of others. Praying people shun human adulation.

4. "He ordered that they should be baptized..." Prayer preceded progress.

As Peter preached Christ, the Holy Spirit fell upon the listening Gentiles. Peter learned that God would save the Gentiles without their first becoming Jews. To refuse them baptism would be opposition to God. So began the worldwide Gentile harvest of which we are a part. Praying people are keys to church growth.

From Peter's experience and its consequences, we should easily see the importance of prayer for our own lives. As we pray, God can teach us, guide us, humble us, and employ us as instruments of church growth. Prayer enhances our holiness and usefulness.

Surprise!

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (Acts 12:5).

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying (Acts 12:12).

Agrippa I, who executed James, kept the peace by pleasing the majority, and it pleased them to have Jewish Christians put to death. Accordingly, he imprisoned Peter, intending to have a public execution. Then followed a series of surprises, set in motion by a praying church.

1. A surprising omission.

We commonly assume that the church prayed for Peter's release, and speak of the irony of their unbelief when their prayers were answered. But nowhere are we told that they prayed for Peter's escape. They might have been praying that he would die bravely and swiftly, as had James. We simply don't know. James' death would give them scant hope and faith for Peter's release.

2. A surprising escape.

Peter's jailbreak surprised "the Jewish people" who "were anticipating" the apostle's execution (v. 11). It surprised the guards and the king, who imagined themselves securely in charge of the situation.
The escape even surprised Peter, who was not praying but sleeping. He thought he was dreaming, until the night air cleared his mind and the reality of the escape "dawned on him" (vv. 9, 12). James' death and Jesus' words (in John 21:18-19) would not incline him to expect freedom.

3. A surprising reception.

Peter hurried to the house of Mark's mother, where the maid who answered his knock was so surprised to see him that she didn't unlock the outer gate but fled to the house and interrupted the prayer meeting with an incredible news flash.
Those who had been praying were so surprised that they thought she was bonkers. When they finally admitted the apostle, "they were astonished" (v. 16) --an understatement.

It is surprising that we don't pray more, and that we don't expect more from God. It is surprising that prayer is so often delegated to church leaders instead of "many people." It is surprising that we would read of Peter's escape and conclude that prayer could always get us out of trouble.

Prayer and Missions

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).

"They" seems to refer to "the church at Antioch," for it was to the whole church there that these apostles, "Barnabas and Saul," reported when their first missionary journey had been completed (14:27).

This church was distinguished for its accumulation of talent (five "prophets and teachers") and for its unselfish surrender of leaders for the work of Christ elsewhere.

The relationship of prayer to their worship and to their missions program is instructive for us.

1. Prayer and obedience.

During worship the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." He probably spoke these words through one of the "prophets" who ministered in the Antioch church.

A praying church creates an atmosphere within which revelations of the divine will can be delivered.

A praying church creates an atmosphere within which disclosures of the divine will are promptly obeyed.

In giving up Barnabas and Saul, the church was sending its choicest leaders to proclaim and teach Christ in other places. Communion with God inclines individuals and churches to give ready obedience to the made-known will of God.

2. Prayer and ordination.

Sending was preceded by prayer and fasting, with the imposition of hands upon those being sent.

This ordination ceremony did not convey to the chosen missionaries any special qualities or abilities they had not already possessed. Instead, it marked the church's awareness of their grace and gifts for the ministry they were embarking upon. It "set apart" these two for a divinely chosen task.

The praying church became a sending church. They took their hands off the apostles as surely as they had laid their hands on them. They gave them up without complaint. The God who had sent men to them with the gospel was free to send men from them with the gospel.

How did the church fare without these talented and devoted leaders who went elsewhere to offer Christ to a perishing world? The answer is found in the record of the missionaries return to the sending church: "Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord." The original five had become "many." The church gains more than it gives when it is faithful to God's directives!

With Prayer and Fasting

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23).

Through the gospel preaching of Paul and Barnabas, "a large number of disciples" had been won in several cities. Revisiting these cities, the apostles strengthened and encouraged these disciples "to remain true to the faith."

To meet their need for continuing instruction and supervision, "elders" were appointed. Local leaders having been supplied, the apostles then committed the churches to the Lord "with prayer and fasting."

1. Prayer and fasting.

Prayer and fasting are frequently linked in the New Testament. Each is mentioned without the other, implying that neither is essential to the other. We can fast without praying and pray without fasting. When the two are united, each discipline strengthens the purpose of the other. The aim of both is effective and joyful communion with God. Apart from obedience to His will both are empty forms and spiritually useless.

2. Prayer and fasting and commitment.

Through prayer and fasting these churches and their newly appointed leaders, were committed to the Lord. The Greek word translated "committed" means "delivered over to." Paul and Barnabas put these believers into the hands of the Lord for good reasons:

(1) The Lord was the source and object of their faith. Commitment to Him is the natural and necessary expression of continuing faith.

(2) They needed divine protection as they endured human persecution. Entrance into the kingdom of God was "through many hardships" (v. 22). The Lord would not lead them around hardships, but He would bring them through their trials.

(3) Paul and Barnabas had been committed to their task by a praying and fasting church (13:1-3). They wanted the churches they had planted to become faithful and fruitful reproductions of that sending church.

Jesus, praying from the cross, committed himself into the Father's hands. This is sufficient reason for all believers to be committed through prayer to God's keeping. There is no safer, better, happier place to be!

Prayer, fasting, commitment--these are the challenges facing leaders and followers in the church today.

The Place of Prayer

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13).

Paul entered Europe with the gospel after he had a vision in which a man from Macedonia pleaded for help. His mission was launched at Philippi, a "leading city" of Macedonia. There he found, not the man in his vision, but some women "who had gathered " at "the place of prayer." Great events followed.

1. The place of prayer.

Jews were dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world. Where ten or more men could be rallied they formed a synagogue. Otherwise, they formed a "place of prayer," usually an open-air place beside the sea or a river. There men, but more often women, would meet to pray, recite the Shema, study the Torah, and be addressed occasionally by visiting rabbis. Since Philippi had no synagogue, the Jewish population was obviously small.

2. The place of preaching.

Paul and his companions spoke to the women gathered at the place of prayer. This is the first record of gospel preaching and teaching in Europe. It was Paul's custom in every city he visited to begin his preaching mission at the local synagogue. If expelled from there he would use some suitable place to house a Gentile congregation. That is, when he could stay in town and out of jail long enough to do so.

3. The place of power.

One of Paul's listeners was Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira. She was "a dealer" in purple dyes or purple-dyed fabrics for which Thyatira was famous. She was also "a worshiper of God" who had not heard of Jesus Christ. She
was a Gentile who had become attracted to the monotheism and morals of Judaism. Two grand openings occurred. "The Lord opened her heart" to receive the gospel, and she opened her home to house the missionaries. She provided a base of operations for the continued work of Christ in that important city.

Prayer, preaching, and power are frequently linked in Holy Scripture. From communion with God flows a power that makes the transmission and reception of the gospel message effective in changing human lives. Apart from such prayer, preaching becomes mere public speaking and audiences remain the slaves of their sin.

 

The Power of Prayer; Jesus Kayos Python

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future (Acts 16:16).

A road to "the place of prayer" becomes the setting for a miracle of deliverance. The power is not confined to the place but resides in those who frequented the place in order to commune with God.

1. A possessed girl.

Luke describes her as possessed by a "pythian spirit." Python was a mythical serpent who guarded the temple of Apollo. The word "python" came to mean a demon-possessed person through whom Python spoke.

This girl was the slave of greedy men who exploited her fortune-telling to line their pockets with cash.

She hounded Paul's steps for days, giving him and his colleagues free, true, but unwanted publicity for their missionary task. For a parallel, see Luke 8:28, where a demon possessed man is compelled to recognize and shout aloud the truth about Jesus.

2. A praying man.

That Paul was enroute to "the place of prayer" is significant. He was a man who lived in communion with God.

Turning to the girl, he commanded the demon to "come out of her." "From that moment" she was freed. Many scholars are convinced that the miracle implies her conversion to Jesus Christ.

She had advertised, by compulsion, a mission she did not share. Now she experiences the truth she had formerly cried out but had not lived out.

3. A persecuting mob.

The slave owners, their meal ticket destroyed, dragged Paul and Silas before "the magistrates." A crowd joined them in "the attack." The authorities, either sympathetic with the slave-owners, or intimidated by the riotous mob, or prejudiced against Jews-or all of the above--had Paul and Silas "severely flogged" and "thrown into prison."

To be a man or woman of prayer can exact a heavy price at times. Prayer releases power and incites persecution.

"The name of Jesus" is mightier than all demonic forces that torment human minds and lives. Those who are faithful to "the place of prayer" in submission to the will of "the Most High God" channel that power. To be such persons is our privilege and challenge. 

 

Prayer, Praise, and Power

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25).

Acts 16 records three conversions that laid the foundation of the church in Philippi. The first convert was a businesswoman, the second a fortune teller, and the third a jailer. In his conversion prayer is seen in customary associations.

1. Prayer and praise.

Despite shock and pain, the imprisoned missionaries were "praying and singing hymns to God." They ignored a perfect opportunity to whine, complain and backslide. Instead they communed with God, combining petition and praise. You cannot pray without being inspired to praise, or praise without being incited to pray. God is the source of all blessings and that truth makes prayer and praise twin activities.

2. Prayer and power.

"Suddenly an earthquake..." The power of God shook the earth beneath the prison, loosening chains and opening doors. Prisoners made no effort to escape, fearing God more than they feared Roman justice. The quake was obviously a divine response to human prayer and praise, and that paralyzed with awe those who otherwise would have fled in glee.

The power of God shook also the heart of the alarmed and bewildered jailer. Paul acted quickly to prevent him from suicide and to introduce him to new life. A brief catechism led to a dramatic conversion. The power that changes people is greater than the power that convulses nature.

3. Prayer and proclamation.

Paul and Silas "spoke the word of the Lord" to the jailer and "all his family." They believed the gospel and were baptized, probably using some of the water fetched to wash the wounds of the missionaries. They fed him upon the bread of life, and he in turn "set a meal before them."

Next morning Paul and Silas were released. Before leaving Philippi they visited Lydia's house "where they met with the brothers and encouraged them"--no doubt by further preaching and teaching and prayer.

Three stories told, three conversions recorded, which formed the foundation of a church that delighted Paul's heart and served his needs when he was once again a prisoner for Christ's sake (Phil. 4:10-19). And prayer was a factor in all three miracles. No wonder Jesus said that we "should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).

Farewell Prayers

When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed (Acts 20:36).
All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray (Acts 21:5).


These references to prayer are too similar to warrant separate study. Both are farewell prayers, the first with elders from the church at Ephesus, the second with disciples from the church at Tyre. The first was marked by tears and kisses as good-byes were said, for the elders would see Paul no more. Since the Tyrian disciples had urged him to avoid Jerusalem, where "prison and hardships" awaited, the same emotional accompaniments were likely in the second case. When you love, good-byes are hard, and prayers can help.

1. Their posture.

In both cases those involved "knelt to pray." Kneeling was not always practiced but here it was most appropriate. It symbolized their submission to God as the Sovereign of their lives. Kneeling was a silent confession of His right to command and of their duty to obey. In the light of predicted ordeals, kneeling would be a natural impulse.

The Christians at Caesarea also begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Luke writes, "When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done'" (21:14). This too was prayer. As theologian Gustav Aulen has written, "The prayer of all prayers is always 'Thy will be done'."

Kneeling is an effective reminder of our submission to the divine will.

2. Their petitions.

The content of their prayers is unrecorded but may be deduced from the context in each case. They doubtless commended one another to the keeping of God, since trials awaited all of them (20:28-31).

They doubtless prayed for the health and growth of their churches, a subject certainly discussed with the Ephesians, and probably with the Tyrians (20:32).

They doubtless prayed especially and earnestly for Paul's protection and deliverance, for they loved him as a brother in Christ.

In connection with the first farewell prayer we read, "they would never see his face again." In connection with the second, "we went aboard the ship, and they returned home." Prayer eased the pain of separation, for the God to whom they prayed would be with each of them though they could not be with one another. In Him was their union, peace, and strength.

Prayer, Guidance, Testimony

When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. "Quick," he said to me, "Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me (Acts 22:17, 18).

Paul had been arrested to save him from a lynching. He requested and received permission to address the mob. What mattered most to him was not his personal welfare but his mission as a witness to Christ. His words about praying on this occasion are taken from the speech he was making to that angry mob. He was referring to what had happened during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion to Christ.

1. Prayer in the service of guidance.

Paul receives a message from the risen Christ, directing him to leave Jerusalem at once and go "far away to the Gentiles" (v. 21). The reason given was simple: "They will not accept your testimony about me."

Paul must have thought otherwise; he argued briefly with the Lord (vv. 19-20). But when the Lord replied, "Go," he went. This is one of several references to guidance that was given to praying men. Communion with God is vital to the reception of His guidance.

2. Guidance in the service of mission.

Jesus did not send Paul away merely to save his life. The Lord is not dedicated to the longevity of His people. He sent Paul away to those who would receive his testimony, so that the kingdom of God might be extended in the world. The spread of the gospel for the salvation of sinners is more important than the comfort and prosperity of saints.

Jesus sent him "far away" for that was where he was most needed and could be the most fruitful.

The crowd reacted to Paul's reminiscence by calling for his death (v. 22). To them he was a renegade Jew, a traitor to his people. Prayer may insure acceptance with God, but not with people.

Some lessons are obvious here:
The Lord speaks to those who speak to Him. His word comes to persons who pray.

The Lord treasures His witnesses, but He spends His treasure, He does not hoard it. We are His to employ, not to coddle. He sends us, not to spare us, but to reach others.

Whether far away or at home we have a dual obligation--to live in communion with the Lord and in service to those who need Him.

Prayer and Priorities

Paul replied, "Short time or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains" (Acts 26:29).

Paul was defending himself before King Agrippa. In his fervor for the gospel, he directly challenged the king to believe. Scornfully, Agrippa replied, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" The text is Paul's intense, courteous response, and it lays bare his heart as a man of prayer.

1. Prayer as an expression of desire.

Sometimes we criticize prayer as a wish list, much like the "suggestions" a person makes to others before Christmas shopping is done. But in a sense, all petitionary prayer is a wish list. It expresses to God what we want for ourselves and for others. The rare Greek word used here for "pray" can be translated accurately as "wish."

2. Desire as an expression of priorities.

What we most desire we most earnestly petition from God. Listen to people pray and you will soon learn what they value most in life. To Paul, nothing mattered more than the conversion of others to Christ. He was indifferent to his circumstances and triumphant over his sufferings because his gospel mission was his top priority (20:22-24).

3. Priorities as an expression of love.

Paul placed his gospel mission above personal comfort or even life because he loved Christ and those for whom Christ died (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Here his love for the king and "all who are listening" compels his speaking and praying. He desires that all of them may experience his Christ but not his chains. Love and prayer are interactive. The more we love the more we will pray. The more we pray the more we will love.

Hallmark sells cards under the slogan, "When you care enough to send the very best." When we care enough for the Lord and for the lost, we will do our best praying and our best speaking. We will place greater value on evangelism and discipling than we do on physical or material comfort. We will be faithful to the mission of the church even at the cost of "chains." When we are opposed our "defense" of ourselves will really be an "offense," an earnest witness to Jesus Christ as mankind's only Savior.

Prayer and Healing

Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him (Acts 28:8).

This is the last mention of prayer in the book of Acts. It occurs in a dramatic context of shipwreck, kindness, and healing.

1. After shipwreck, kindness.

276 men escaped the sea when their ship was wrecked. The Malta islanders treated them with "unusual kindness," adding to their welcome a roaring fire to warm and dry the shipwreck survivors. The islanders were a superstitious people. When a snake bit Paul, they assumed that justice was over-taking a murderer. When Paul remained unharmed they thought he was a god. Pagans though they were, the islanders were hospitable and generous, a perfect illustration of what John Calvin called "common grace."

2. After prayer, healing.

The governor's father was ill with what sounds like Malta fever, which could last from two days to three years. Paul prayed, laid hands on him, and "healed him." In Scripture, praying and imposing hands do not always accompany healings. God can work in a variety of ways to accomplish like results.

Prayer identified the Lord as the source of healing power. Imposition of hands identified the apostle as the channel of healing power. Paul would be seen as neither murderer nor god, but as the empowered messenger of the one, true, living God.

3. After healing, opportunity.

Paul's ministry was enlarged as other sick were brought to him for healing. Elsewhere his healings were wrought in a context of gospel preaching, and doubtless he proclaimed the gospel to these islanders.

For other illustrations of how healing led to enhanced opportunity for sharing Christ, reflect back on Acts 3:1-4:4 and 9:36-42. Each of these healings were also accompanied by prayer.

The man who prayed and healed was a prisoner enroute to trial. Unpleasant circumstances are not a hindrance to prayer and faith. Pleasant situations are not essential to fruitful ministry. What happens to us is never as important as what God is allowed to do for others through our love, faith, prayer, and witness.