THE PRAYER MEETING – 1
The New Testament Church ѕ birthed in prayer!
There is, of course, something deeply significant about the opening pages of the Acts
of the Apostles. Would it be overstating it if we were to suggest that it is more
significant than the opening pages of the Gospels? Perhaps! The Gospels begin with the
birth of Jesus Christ, the promised Saviour of God’ s people and nothing could be
more significant than that. Simeon could hold the baby Jesus in his arms and recite the Nunc
Dimitis expressing that he was now ready to depart because “my eyes have seen Thy
salvation” (Lk 2:30). In the birth of Jesus all the promises of a coming Messiah find
Or do they? It is true that the coming of Jesus in his incarnation in flesh and blood
is momentous: it inaugurates the change from bc to ad. It is Luke, interestingly enough,
who again signals this change by pointing to John the Baptist, whose ministry fell largely
before Jesus’ public ministry, and saying: “I tell you, among those born
of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God
is greater than he” (Lk 7:28). Significant indeed! And yet, there is something about
the opening chapters of Acts that surpasses it. For, in a very real sense, the work and
ministry of Jesus did find its complete fulfillment until he had laid down his life at
Calvary, been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven.
Think of it this way: the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates Jesus’ deity,
validates his teaching, and attests to the completion of the work of atonement he came to
perform. It is the signal that he is King, that he rules over death and the grave. It
provides for us the assurance that every word he uttered was true, that every promise he
gave was certain of fulfillment. The ascension which followed some 40 days after his
resurrection was God’s confirmation of his Son’s status. He “went up,”
promoted we might say, to sit at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
But even these events are preparatory, for the event which the opening chapters of Acts
anticipate and relate is Pentecost. Following some ten days after the ascension, Pentecost
is what Jesus had prepared his disciples for during that period between his resurrection
and ascension. They were instructed to wait in Jerusalem, “for the gift my Father
promised, which you have heard me speak about” (Acts 1:4). But what is Pentecost? And
why is it so significant?
Pentecost marks the point of transition from the old to the new covenant. When Paul
cites a passage of Isaiah and adds: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now
is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2), he has in mind something that is particularly
true of the age in which he (and we!) live ѕ the age between
the two comings of Christ: that there is a “now” about it, whereas for Isaiah it
was to some degree “not yet”. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured
forth, the “last days” began (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). We who live post
Pentecost are those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor.
What did those disciples do who had witnessed the ascension of Jesus into the clouds
above the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11)? Apparently, they returned to a room in the city of
Jerusalem to pray (Acts 1:14). To remain in Jerusalem following the events of the past few
weeks was in itself an act of courage.
1. The Church at Prayer
It is surely significant that the first
cameo portrait we have of the church without the physical presence of the Saviour is one
in which they at prayer. Between the two advents of Christ, the church is a supplicating
church. In the next chapter, Luke gives us a summary of the distinctive marks of the
church after Pentecost. He mentions the teaching they receive from the Scripture,
the fellowship they enjoy with one another, as well as their participation in the
Lord’s Supper. Additionally he mentions the priority given to prayer in the life of
the church (Acts 2:42). Writing in 1960, William Still could say:
A hungry people, an anointed man, the Word of God, the Spirit’s breath in prayer
and worship and spiritual fellowship, the water, bread and wineѕ
you need nothing else to form a Church that will come alive and alight, and glow and burn
and flame its way through a community and people and nation, until by spontaneously
improvised strategies it makes its way to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The question we have to ask ourselves, separated as we are by a gulf of 2,000 years of
history, is this: why do we not equally sense the urgent need for prayer as these early
Christians did? Of the many things that mark the church in the twenty-first century,
prayer is not one of them. Many churches have no weekly prayer meeting. And even among
those who do, one wonders how many would attend it if it were not for the lure of the
weekly church supper!
The problem we face is the rampant spirit of individualism we inherit. Our generation
finds it difficult to think in corporate terms. It is shocking to many a Christian that
there are some things we can only do togetherѕ as the
body of Christ. We are too quick to recite the slogan:
“Me in my small corner; and youѕ in
2. Praying with one voice!
Luke adds an interesting fact about the nature of their
praying. He tells us that they prayed “with one mind” (Acts 1:14). The word he
uses is one which he use ten times in the course of the Acts of the Apostles and has the
connotation of unanimity about it (Cf. Acts 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 7:57; 8:6; 12:20; 15:25;
18:12; 19:29). Its meaning is brought clearly in something Paul says, using the same word:
“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same
mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with
one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6).
They are to glorify God with inward unanimity and outward singularity of expression! One
inward sentiment; one outward voice! It is much more than the thought that they were
“together” in the same place. One can be in the same place but not at all
of the same mind! As the Welsh preacher, John Elias (1774-1841) once put it: Union is the
strength and the glory of the church. There is union and concord in hell against us. May
we withstand them by a stronger and better unionѕ union with
The power of united prayer as it rises to the throne of God with the corporate
Amen of the people of God is a powerful tool that we have been given. This is all the more
startling given the nature and background of those present at this prayer meeting. Luke
records the names: “Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas,
Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas
the son of James” (Acts 1:13). In the next verse Luke adds that present also
were Jesus’ mother, Mary, as well as other women and “His brothers” (Acts
1:14). Men and women, relatives, fishermen, a tax-collector, and a zealot! All these had a
singularity of purpose about them as they gathered together. It would be difficult to put
together a more disparate group of people, and yet they have a common mind as they gather
in this room: to pray for the same thing to the one Lord. Nothing displays our unity
better than our praying together! Try praying immediately after a quarrelѕ it is almost impossible to do!
Luke is intent to tell us that not only were women present during this prayer meeting;
they also took part in the praying: “These (the men just mentioned) all with one mind
were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the
mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). It may be argued that the
passage does not necessarily imply that the women prayed publicly, but were simply there
silently giving their consent. In support of this view, many have cited the prohibition of
Paul in 1 Corinthians 14: “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are
not permitted to speak” (v.34). That seems clear enough! But, as often happens with
passages that appear clear, there is a context in this passage which demands that we
don’t see this a prohibition of all forms of vocal participation. Is Paul suggesting
that it is wrong for a woman to take part in a public recitation of the Lord’s
Prayer? Or to participate in the singing? Or even to say “Amen” at the end of a
man’s prayer? Three chapters earlier, Paul had already envisaged that woman took part
in the prayer of the church (1 Cor. 11:5). What Paul does seem to be doing is forbidding
women entering into public criticism of their husband’s prophecies in the public
worship of God. He is not saying that women should never speak at all, in any context
whatever in the public worship of God.
The event described by Luke was not, of course, a worship service where certain
principles of worship become applicable. It was a prayer meeting. The point? That everyone
is encouraged to pray in the community of God’s people.
3. Praying with urgency!
Luke tells us that they were “continually devoting themselves to
prayer” (Acts 1:14). Not only were they of one mind; they were also persistent.
“Pray without ceasing” Paul tells us (1 Thess. 5:17). Using the same word as
Luke uses in our passage, Paul can urge us to be “devoted to prayer” (Rom.
12:12). Eusebius (who was almost a contemporary) says that one of those present spent so
much time on his knees that his knees became as hard as a camel’s!
Jesus told a story about persistent prayer in which a man hammers on the door of a
friend at midnight. It is his persistence that gains him entry. The point? “And I say
to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall
be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who
knocks, it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). It is this quality of importunity
(to use the familiar King James rendering) to which Jesus signals his approval. It is as
James reminds us, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And
perhaps we can add: when we do ask, we stop asking too quickly!
The word used in the parable of the man whose friends arrive at midnight means impudence,
or even shamelessness. It is like a child who looks forlornly at its parents in the
face of some disappointment or other, and says: “But you promised!” It is the
promise that encourages the shameless persistence. In other words, the shamelessness is
but an expression of faith. It is because we trust our Father’s word that we keep
coming back to him until he grants us whatever we ask. Thomas Brooks cites Basil in this
way: “Let us with holy impudence make God ashamed that he cannot look us in the face
if he do deny our importunity.”
4. Praying with a purpose
The importunity that the Bible encourages is not an undisciplined
one. We are not to think that we can ask for anything at all that may please us, and so
long as we persist in it, God will grant it to us. That is a gross misinterpretation of
the nature of prayer. Prayer is covenantal in nature. That is, prayer is based on the
promises God has made. There is, to cite Calvin, such a thing as “illegitimate”
as well as “legitimate” prayer.
The occasion that drew these folks together was specific. Firstly, an explanation was
necessary as to the tragic death of one of the disciples, Judas. A suicide always needs to
be carefully explained and was potentially a source of great difficulty for the disciples.
Then, there was the need to choose his replacement. Luke specifically informs us that
prayer was offered for this very purpose (Acts 1:24). God guided his church through
prayer. True, they did use lots in the final selection process (Acts 1:26)ѕ the final occasion in the Bible in which this method is employed
in the church’s infancy periodѕ but, lots without prayer
is a godless method. “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from
the LORD” (Pr. 16:33).
The election of officers is perhaps one of the greatest tests a church can pass
through, and the fact that they chose two people, Joseph and Matthias (Acts 1:23)
highlights the fact that not only was there to be a successful outcome in the eventual
choice of Matthias, but also in the fact that Joseph was not chosen. Grace would be needed
to ensure that the church did not fall apart at this very point.
The only way to ensure unity in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances is
pray. Those who pray together stay together, as the saying goes. As E. M Bounds once
wrote: “The life, power, and glory of the church is prayer… Without it, the
church is lifeless and powerless.”
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