READ – Acts 4:23-31
Everything was going great. The momentum was building. The Holy Spirit filled the church, the preaching was bold and powerful, 3000 people came to faith in Jesus – and this was only the first day of the church’s existence! The next few months were filled with joy, radical acts of generosity, awe, heartfelt praise to God and deeper connection to others than they had ever experienced. One day a man who had been crippled from birth was suddenly healed and was leaping in the temple praising God. As everyone stared in shock, Peter told the crowds that this man’s healing was a sign of the spiritual healing that had come in Jesus (3:19-20) and the coming restoration of all things (3:21). This is when the religious leaders had enough. They thought they were done with Jesus once and for all. But instead of Jesus’ death squelching the movement, somehow it was only making it stronger. They seized Peter and John, held them overnight and told them never to talk about Jesus again. The young church was faced with its first experience of adversity. How did they respond? They prayed. Their prayer teaches us some very important lessons about prayer – especially praying in adversity.
1. THE GROUNDS FOR PRAYER
Grounds #1 – Our Adversity. Life with be full of adversity. Prayer is how God meets us in our adversity. Apart from prayer we won’t be able to make sense of or mature through the adversity we face. The church needed to go back to their prayer book (the Psalms, see 4:25, 26) to understand that faithfulness to Jesus (the King, the Messiah) didn’t guarantee an adversity-free (or adversity-lite) life. In fact, it was in adversity that Jesus accomplished his greatest work. The same is true for his people.
Grounds #2 – God’s Sovereignty. None of our adversity is outside of God’s sovereignty - his loving and good plan for us. Prayer is where we learn to see all our adversity in light of God’s sovereignty. The church began by praying God’s sovereignty into their situation (4:24). They prayed Psalm 2 to remember that the worst thing that happened in the history of the world (the cross) was a part of God’s plan. He had predestined it to take place. In the worst thing that happened (the greatest evil) in the world, God planned to bring about the best thing, the greatest good. The same is true for how he works in our adversity.
2. THE CONTENT OF PRAYER
Praying Scripture. Often, we don’t know what to pray. We just don’t seem to have the words. Other times our prayers seem like one long wish list of requests. Notice where this prayer begins. Before anyone asks for anything, they pray Scripture (Psalm 146, Psalm 2). Before they asked for anything – they LISTENED. Prayer is not a one-way conversation. Praying Scripture is how we listen to God and hear him speak into our adversity.
Praying for Boldness (not to be comfortable). The most striking aspect of this prayer is that the church did not pray for an end to adversity! Instead they asked for boldness. They prayed the gospel into their situation. They prayed for the boldness to believe that their adversity could not ultimately defeat them. They remembered that God wins through defeat; that Jesus was raised from the grave; that God turned the tables on evil. Since God uses adversity to make us more like Jesus, to bring glory to Himself and show the world who He is, they asked for boldness to keep speaking this message of unconquerable hope.
3. THE GOAL OF PRAYER
Much of our disappointment about prayer comes from having the wrong goal. We can be very religious in our prayers believing that if we are living rightly and asking rightly, God will give us what we want. We can be very irreligious when it comes to prayer, thinking, “God didn’t answer me when I prayed for ______, so what difference does prayer really make?” Both these approaches to prayer look different, but both treat prayer as a means to an end. A Christian doesn’t pray to simply get more from God. A Christian prays to get more of God. This is the ultimate goal of prayer.
Notice the order of how God answered their prayer. They asked for boldness, but God didn’t answer by zapping them with boldness. He fills them with the Holy Spirit. Which is another way of saying, He gives them himself. In being full of God’s presence, they become bold.
A GUIDE FOR PRAYING IN COMMUNITY
Based on Acts 4:23-31
Notice that the church in their adversity did not retreat to their private prayer corners for individual times of prayer. They prayed together in community. Praying with others in adversity is critical. Left to ourselves, we often can’t pray in our adversity or we struggle to find a sense of God’s presence as we pray. Private prayer is essential – but it’s not enough to get us through times of adversity. We need to join our hearts and voices with others. This guide for prayer is focused on learning to pray in community through our (and others’) adversity.
1. What adversity are you currently facing? What’s most challenging in your life right now? Share with the group.
2. “The perspective of God’s sovereignty… is perhaps the most important teaching that [we] need to have in times of crisis” (Ajith Fernando). Before asking God for anything, begin by praying passages of Scripture focused on God’s sovereignty like the church did in 4:26.
· Psalm 146 is where they turned. You can begin praying this Psalm line by line as an outline.
o Other suggestions: Isaiah 40:12-32 or use the first few phrases of the Lord’s Prayer as an outline.
o Our challenges and trials can cause us to lose sight of God and his sovereignty. Our adversity becomes bigger than us, bigger than God, bigger than anything else in our lives. Pray that God would again become bigger to you than your adversity.
3. Pray the gospel into your adversity like the church did in 4:27-28.
· Thank Jesus for how He chose adversity for your salvation.
· Thank Jesus for how He knows what your adversity feels like. (see Hebrews 4:14-16)
· Thank Jesus for how He faced the temptations of adversity for you (i.e. believing that God doesn’t love us or care for us, losing hope, wanting his will over God’s will).
· Thank Jesus for how He defeated adversity through his suffering and bold love.
· Thank Jesus for how He uses our adversity for our good and God’s glory (even when we can’t see how) – Read and pray slowly through Romans 8:18-39.
4. Ask God for His comfort, strength and boldness in adversity like the church did in 4:29-30. Ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit to drive out fear, anxiety and worry. Pray this for each other.
· Use Ephesians 3:14-19 as guide for this kind of prayer.