God’s House of Prayer in Action
God’s House of Prayer in Action
The physical temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be a house of prayer, but the religious leadership had hijacked it and turned it into a den of iniquity (Mark 11:17). In God’s good plan, however, His house of prayer was never ultimately intended to be located in a place but rather in a people – specifically, in the people who trust and love His Son (Mark 11:24-25, John 15:7). Thus we understand that Jesus’ disciples are a spiritual temple, established and built up in Christ our Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-5). The community of believers is God’s house of prayer.
Since this is so, it is not surprising that the reality of the church family as God’s house of prayer is on display in The Book of Acts. I thought it would be profitable to take note of the many references to prayer in this book and to observe what happened in conjunction with those prayers. Sometimes these prayers may have been instrumental in bringing about much good, as God answered the prayers of His people. Other times these prayers may have simply been an indispensable part of the believers’ relationship with God as He was powerfully present among them. In either case, it is evident that – within the realm of God’s kingdom – spiritual life and growth and mission happen in and through people and leaders and congregations that are earnest in prayer.
Twenty References to Prayer in The Book of Acts
- After Jesus ascended into heaven and they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples “[devoted] themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14 ESV).
- The disciples prayed as they sought the Lord’s pick for the man who would replace Judas on the team of twelve apostles. Their prayer was answered in connection with the casting of lots. (Acts 1:23-26)
- The growing church devoted itself to prayer, along with other things such as teaching and fellowship. God was powerfully present among them; they shared life together and loved each other; and more and more people kept getting saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
- “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1 ESV). In due course, they healed a lame man and then preached the message of the gospel. (Acts 3:2-26)
- Facing opposition and threats from the religious leaders, the church prayed to God. They reflected on God’s sovereignty and requested His strength to sustain their mission. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31 ESV)
- Meeting physical needs is a vital demonstration of love, but the apostles themselves could not make that the focus of their ministry. Other godly people could do those important acts of service. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4 ESV)
- In light of the need to care for widows within the congregation (referred to in #6 above), the congregation selected seven godly men to manage this ministry. “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:6 ESV)
NOTE: The effect of #6 and #7 above – maintaining the right priorities and demonstrating love for the widows (and also resolving conflict related to the widows, see Acts 6:1) – is that God’s Word kept going forth in saving power: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
- On the cusp of a martyr’s death, Stephen prayed to the Lord, asking two things: first, that the Lord would receive his spirit; and second, that the Lord would show grace to His persecutors. One of the persecutors standing there was named Saul. (Acts 7:54–8:1) Grace would soon overwhelm this young man, better known to us as Paul.
- There were new believers in Samaria, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. “Peter and John… came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15, 17 ESV)
- After the Lord apprehended Saul of Tarsus (mentioned in #8 above) on the road to Damascus, Saul was praying as he awaited the healing for his eyes(and, as it turns out, the filling of the Holy Spirit would also be granted to him in conjunction with his healing). (Acts 9:1-22)
- Peter was called upon to raise a dear Christian lady from the dead. He prayed before performing this miracle, and the effect of this miracle is that many people put their faith in Jesus. (Acts 9:36-43)
- Peter’s noontime prayer sits in the background to a vision that he received from the Lord. After he had prayed, he got hungry and wanted to eat. While he awaited his lunch, the prayer time was extended and the Lord spoke to Peter in a vision, teaching him that Gentiles are not unclean. This paved the way for Peter to go to Caesarea and preach the gospel to Cornelius and all the people who were gathered in Cornelius’ house – and they were saved! (Acts 10:9–11:18)
- Peter was arrested and put in prison. While Peter was imprisoned, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5 ESV). Shortly thereafter, the Lord sent one of His angels to break Peter out of jail, and then Peter reconnected with the brothers and sisters who were praying before he departed to another location (Acts 12:6-17).
- Following the Holy Spirit’s direction, the church in Antioch commissioned two of their leaders – Barnabas and Saul (=Paul) – for the mission field. The commissioning process involved fasting, praying, and the laying on of hands. (Acts 13:1-3)
- In Acts 13–14 Paul and Barnabas planted a number of churches. Before departing from these fledgling congregations, they entrusted their ongoing care to the Lord: “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 14:23 ESV)
- On Paul’s second missionary journey, he found himself in jail with his colleague Silas. Before the earthquake and the evangelization of the jailer, there was prayer and praise: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake…” (Acts 16:25-26 ESV)
- Paul had an extensive ministry in Ephesus, and the time had come to say goodbye. After giving a farewell address and final charge to the elders of the church, “he knelt down and prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36 ESV).
- Similar to #17 above, Paul and his team had spent a week with the disciples who lived in the city of Tyre. Luke writes, “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 one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.” (Acts 21:5-6 ESV)
- Paul recounts a time earlier in his Christian life when he received direction from the Lord through a vision that he had while he was praying. (Acts 22:17-21)
- While shipwrecked on the island of Malta, Paul had the opportunity to heal the chief administrator’s sick father. “And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.” (Acts 27:8-9 ESV)
Lessons for Reflection
Luke, who wrote Acts, certainly did not intend to recount every instance of prayer that he observed in the early church. But he surely did intend to make it clear to his readers that prayer played a key and indispensable role in the life and ministry of these 1st century believers. By distilling and simplifying the twenty references mentioned above, ponder the following lessons:
- Lesson #1: Prayer is connected to anticipating, waiting for, and receiving the Holy Spirit (references 1, 9, 10).
- Lesson #2: Prayer is connected to identifying or commissioning missionaries and other church leaders. (For identifying a leader, see reference 2; for commissioning leaders, see references 7 and 14)
- Lesson #3: Prayer is connected to performing miracles. (See references 4, 10, 11, and 20)
- Lesson #4: Prayer is connected to standing firm when confronted by opposition and persecution. (references 5, 8, 13, 16)
- Lesson #5: Prayer is connected to receiving power or guidance for the fulfillment of our mission (references 5, 12, 16, 19).
- Lesson #6: Prayer is connected to entrusting one another’s well-being to the Lord, particularly at times of departure. (See references 15, 17, and 18).
- Bottom line: Prayer belongs at the heart of the church (reference 3) and at the heart of gospel ministry (reference 6).
Brothers and sisters, prayer is central because grace and power originate in the Lord, not in us. We come empty-handed, eager to receive Him and all that He promises us, so that we might be full-hearted participants in His fellowship, in His suffering, and in His mission. Lean in, O Church, and pray!
NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash