My sermon from 1/27/13: “Prayer in the early church”

Posted: January 28, 2013 in Sermons
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If you haven’t picked up on it yet the elders and pastors have decided to re-emphasize prayer in 2013. The vision of Lawton EMC is to be a praying church that makes disciples and plants churches nationally and internationally. We want to be a group of people that values prayer. We want prayer to become our church’s MO, or Modus operandi. We want it to be the default mechanism of our church. It’s our desire that prayer be the foundation, the pillar, and the covering of our church body.

So far, Pastor Roger has preached on why the early church prayed and to whom they prayed to. And last week we learned the different postures of prayer that we see in the early church and in the Bible. And so I began to diligently study the Scripture this week to see if I could find what exactly we are supposed to be praying about. To paraphrase 1 Timothy 2:1 and Ephesians 6:18, I learned that we should be praying with all kinds of prayers for all people on all occasions with all kinds of prayers. I found that redundant and not very helpful.

Instead of ending there, I decided to revisit the early church in the book of Acts and ask, “What specific things did they pray for could be of help to us in our Christian walk?” The first thing I found out is something I already knew from life itself: Just like in life you sometimes don’t know what to say in difficult situations, sometimes we pray when we don’t know what else to do. Maybe the disciples were feeling that way after Jesus left in the beginning of Acts. It doesn’t say exactly what the disciples were praying about. In Acts 1, Jesus tells them to “wait for the gift” the Father has promised and in Acts 1:14; a large group had gathered together praying constantly. They were simply waiting in prayer. Praying and waiting.

Sometimes, as Christians, we don’t know exactly what to pray. And that is OK. Prayer is a gift from God, anyway. We are sinners, and it’s only because of Jesus Christ that we can have a legitimate audience with the God of the Universe. It’s because we stand in his righteousness that the Father accepts us. And it’s the Holy Spirit that creates in us new life. And so when we pray it’s the Holy Spirit who helps us. And sometimes, we don’t know what to say. In Romans 8:26 it says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what to pray because the Holy Spirit will help you.

But then again, sometimes we can see specific instances when those first believers prayed…

First off, the early church prayed for guidance.

We see this right away in the book of Acts as the disciples decide that they must choose a replacement for Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus and then took his own life. In Acts 1:23 they choose two men Joseph and Matthias. They prayed that God would show them which man was to fill the slot, so to speak, and be the next appointed leader. To decide who it would be, we read that they “cast lots” which was a common Old Testament method for determining God’s will.

Again in Acts 13, the leaders of the church in Antioch were fasting and praying together when God called two of them, Saul and Barnabas, to leave the church for a special mission. The church didn’t kick them out, and they didn’t leave without the blessing of the church. The elders of the church fasted and prayed more, placed hands on them (a symbol of praying over them), and sent them into other regions to spread the gospel. Then, when Paul and Barnabas were on their missionary journeys they were establishing new churches in the cities they visited. In Acts 14:23, we read that one of the things they did was appoint elders, through prayer and fasting, to lead the church.

It’s very clear that the early church believed in seeking the Lord with prayer and fasting before major ministry decisions were made. We also must be a church that seeks God’s will for the future leaders of this church. Today, we are going to be having our annual business meeting where we choose who will be the next leaders of the church. I hope you have been praying about this already. If not, I encourage you to take some time this afternoon to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in these decisions.

In addition to choosing leaders, we see in Acts that prayer was part of the role for those in Christian leadership. In Acts 6:4 we read that the elders were to give their attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” This is so important. It really is the most important thing. It’s what we, as elders of this church, focus on. We pray for the body, in general. We pray for specific needs of individuals. We pray that we can lead the church’s attention to prayer and the Word.

In Acts 16, we see on two occasions that Paul and his associates were looking for a “place of prayer.” I hope you have your own private “place of prayer,” but here they were traveling and as a group wanted to find a suitable location. Just to remind you, every Sunday morning at 8:15 we make these first two rows a place of prayer for the church and then every other Sunday evening from 6-7:30 pm, this also becomes a place of prayer that you can be a part of.

Thirdly, we see that Paul asked for the churches to pray for Him as a leader. He writes this in more than one letter, but you can find a specific example in 2 Corinthians 1:11. Paul plainly says to the church “you help us by your prayers.” Church, praying makes a difference. You do help your pastors and elders when you pray for us. Are you praying for your pastors and elders? You should be.

In addition to guidance, we also see in the book of Acts, that the early church prayed for the needs of other believers. In many places in the New Testament, we see the words “prayers and supplication” or “prayers and petitions” used together. I know that a petition is a list of names, like when you are trying to get something on the ballot for an election. But what is “prayer and petition?” Well, when you petition someone you are asking for a specific request. So, in prayer it means to ask God for help.

The early church asked for help when they were suffering persecution. In Acts 4, Peter was in prison and the church gathered to pray. After his release, they prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison again because he wouldn’t stop preaching publicly about Jesus. And as Pastor Roger explained last week, the church there in Jerusalem was praying “earnestly” for him. And we see it a third time in Acts 16, but this time it was Paul and Silas when they were in prison in Philippi. They were praying and singing hymns while they were locked up.

The early church also prayed for physical needs of fellow believers. In Acts 4, after Peter and John were released from prison, one of the things that the believer’s prayed for was for God to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Jesus. God used these miracles to bring people to himself.

James 5:14 echoes the importance of prayers. Turn with me there. It says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Are you sick? Call an elder or a pastor to come and pray over you. We really need to be doing more of this, church. When the elders come forward after church and stand up here, come up and be prayed over. Don’t make excuses. If you think you have never been in a position that you needed prayer for then you have a big problem. It’s a sin called “pride.” Stop acting so tough.

And prayer does work. Don’t stop praying. MaryBeth Allen gave me permission to share with you a result of prayers from her friend Dee Dee:

“Late last fall I [MaryBeth] heard about my good friend [DeeDee] from childhood who was given a month to live by her doctors due to a rare weakened blood vessel disorder. When I saw her last, she was so weak she could barely communicate and was getting ready to let her kids know she was going to be with Jesus. She is only 40 and has 3 young children. Many people prayed for her and I asked you all to pray too. This is the result of that:

On Tuesday of this week, we got this response:

“I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU to ALL of you that have been praying and fasting for me…God has heard your prayers!!! I got the results of my scans back…and I am OFFICIALLY HEALED!! Whoot Whew!!! The scans show that the blood vessels are no longer weak…and all of the pooling blood is GONE!!! My doctor said if she had not seen this with her own eyes she would not believe it!!! ONLY GOD is able to do THIS!!! Our God is AWESOME…and SOOO worthy of praise!!! THANK YOU ALL SOOOO MUCH for the love you have shown our family, we have been SOOO blessed to have so many people uniting in prayer, providing meals, sending cards, messages and gifts …we could not feel more loved!!! I will NEVER be able to express how much all of you mean to me… I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH !!!!”

God hears our prayers and miracles still DO happen!”

The early church prayed for guidance, they prayed for the needs of one other, and they also prayed for the needs of unbelievers. For example, in Acts 28 when Paul was on the island of Malta he prayed for and healed the chief official’s father. Then many other sick people came to him for prayer and healing as well.

More importantly, though, we see the example in Scripture of praying for the spiritual needs of others. If you remember when Stephen was being killed he prayed that the Father would not hold that sin against them (the same prayer that Jesus prayed about those that killed him).

Turn to Romans 10:1. Here we see what Paul prayed about regarding the Israelites. It says, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” We believe that salvation is a gift from God; therefore we pray for unbeliever’s to be saved. I hope you are praying regularly for more people to come to saving faith in Christ. Do you pray for unbeliever’s to be saved?

So, following the example of the early church we pray for guidance, we pray for the physical and spiritual needs of believers and unbelievers. And finally, the early church prayed for God’s Word to spread.

In the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Colossae in Colossians 4:3, he said, “pray God may open a door for our message.” And then in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 he says, “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” He is saying that you’ve received the message of salvation that is available through faith in Christ, now pray that others hear it and respond. Pray for more opportunities. Pray for more salvation decisions. Pray for more churches to be established. Pray for us.

And when you pray, pray for boldness. That is what Paul was asking for himself in Ephesians 6:19-20: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, or which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” When I think of the great apostle Paul, I think of someone who speaks boldly for Christ wherever he goes. But here he is asking for prayer from others so that he would be able to be bold and fearless in his communication. This is a great encouragement to me, because I feel so helpless and weak and not-bold so often. Please pray for me.

In Acts 4:29, the first church prayed that God would enable to them to speak his Word with great boldness. This is such an important thing to ask God for that I took a minute to look more closely at this word. The word “boldness” can also mean “outspokenness, confidence, openly/publicly, plainly, or with courage.

I know for some of us this comes easier than with others. It’s easier for some people to “speak their mind” than it is for other people. Some of us are naturally more outspoken than others. But this word doesn’t mean that we are to be overbearing. Boldness is not having to get your two cents in” as a part of every conversation that you hear (or overhear). But on the other hand, boldness does mean not always being quite because you are afraid to speak your mind.

We learn that from Acts 2:29, Peter said: “I may say to you with confidence…” And then in Acts 4, Peter demonstrates a clear presentation of the gospel.  “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (vs. 4:13). It’s the image of holding your head up and looking straight. In other words, we can drop the “awe shucks” approach to sharing our faith.

In addition to being confident, I want us to look briefly at three ways Jesus used this same word which should be helpful for us.

1) Jesus taught that speaking with boldness is speaking plainly. In Mark 8:31-32, Jesus spoke boldly or plainly, about how he was going to die and rise again. Boldness is speaking plainly. Christians, we need to avoid the tendency of vagueness. Sometimes we are vague because we don’t know why it is we believe what we do. You need to specifically know why you believe what you believe so you can speak plainly about it.

2) This same word, boldness, is used in John 16:25, to describe how Jesus taught publicly. In other words, you need to be able to speak openly about your faith and about the gospel. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. If someone asks what you believe don’t just mumble something about it being a personal relationship. Instead, be able to speak openly about what you believe.

3) Finally, Jesus taught that it means to speak clearly. In John 16:25, this was the word Jesus used to describe how sometimes he taught figuratively, but now he was going to be speak clearly about things. As Christians, we need to be careful about speaking Christian-eze. That is a language that only other Christians speak. I’m not saying we can’t use words that are in the Bible like “sin” or “justification.” I’m just saying we need to make sure we are clearly defining those words when we are involved in conversations with others.

Pray that the Gospel message would spread, and that God would use you to speak confidently, plainly, and boldly.

In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! [take courage, be strengthened] I have overcome the world.” Our courage comes from Jesus because He has overcome this world and our sins. So take heart!

What difference would it make to our life together if this was what we prayed for?

  • Do we pray for God’s guidance when making decisions, especially with regard to our current and future leaders?
  • Do we pray for the needs of one another regularly?
  • Do we pray for the salvation of lost people among us?
  • Do we pray for the spread of the message and our bold witness?

“Prayer is not preparation for work, it is the work. Prayer is not a preparation for the battle, it is the battle.” –E.M. Bounds

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