With the Early Church in the School of Prayer
The Bible has much to show and say about prayer. This teaching becomes incarnate in the Person of Jesus. While He walked the earth and taught His disciples, Christ lived by communion with His Father, particularly by prayer. The book of Acts, as a continuation of His teaching and work (1:1), and so it is no surprise that we see the church regularly at prayer. As those who seek to learn from Him how to pray, it is helpful for us to study the 30 times that prayer appears in the book of Acts. This study will not yield a comprehensive biblical portrait of prayer, but it will present us with some important places to start developing our own prayer life as we see NT principles in action. (An asterix below represents the church at corporate prayer. It is instructive to note how often the church is reported as praying together.)
Following the example of the early church:
1. we pray when we are waiting for the fulfillment of divine promises.* Acts 1:14 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer. Acts 6:4 We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
2. we pray when we need to know the mind of the Lord on a matter.* Acts 1:24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chose to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.
3. we pray when we need fellowship with the Body of Christ.* Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (the syntax of this sentence shows that “fellowship” is explained by communion and intercession.)
4. we pray when we need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit unto bold and effective ministry.* Acts 4:31 And they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place they were meeting was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
5. we pray when we are appointing faithful, Spirit-filled members for ministry to the body.* Acts 6:6 Therefore, brothers, pick out seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty…these they set before the apostles and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
6. we pray when other believers are longing to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit.* Acts 8:15-16 They sent to [the Samaritans] Peter and John, whom come down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
7. we pray when we need to repent for the wicked intention of our hearts. Acts 8:22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
8. we pray when we are blind and wish to regain our sight. Acts 9:11-12 Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.
9. we pray when we require resurrection power to be released. Acts 9:40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body he said, “Tabitah, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. Acts 28:8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him.
10. we pray when the gospel needs to break into new territory. Acts 10:2,4,30-31. Cornelius…a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously and prayed continually to God…And an angel of God came in and said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.”
11. we pray when we need God to shatter prejudices that limit our obedience. Acts 10:9 Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray…And he saw the heavens open and a sheet descend…And their came a voice, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”…What God has made clean, do not call common.” After Peter recounts the vision in 11:5”When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
12. we pray when we need God to break bars of iron.* Acts 12:5, 12 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church…[After he was miraculously released] He went to the house of Mary, where many were gathered together and were praying.
13. we pray when we are setting members apart to be sent out by the Spirit.* Acts 13:3 The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
14. we pray when we are committing young believers/disciples to the Lord.* Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 20:36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Acts 21:5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to on another.
15. we pray when jail limits our ministry to rejoicing.* Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
16. we pray when we are seeking communion with Jesus. Acts 22:17 When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and I saw him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.”
In looking at this portrait of prayer in the book of Acts, notice especially:
1. Prayer is often corporate. It defines and describes Christian fellowship (see esp. Acts 2:42)
2. Prayer is Christ-centered. It acknowledges and exalts Him as the Lord (i.e. Acts 1:24 and 2:36)
3. Prayer is communion. Jesus meets and speaks with His people as they pray.
4. Prayer is confession. It glorifies the Lord as the One with the wisdom, strength, forgiveness, watch-care we need. To move without prayer is presumption.
5. Prayer is consistently effective. The clear pattern in Acts is that the Lord responds to His people’s prayer.