Corporate Prayer in the Book of Acts

 

“Our prayers are powerful weapons in the hands of God. It is said that Mary Queen of Scots (Bloody Mary as she was sometimes called) was more terrified of John Knox’s prayers than she was of any army that might be brought against her.”[1]

This morning I want to continue on our theme of corporate prayer by showing you how the early Church in the book of Acts prayed and what the results of those prayers were.  They were prayers more powerful than anything John Knox prayed; for they were prayers that shook the earth and the heavens and broke open the missionary enterprise.

Out text informs us that On the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place when suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:1-2).  This begs two questions: Who was together? And why were they together?  In order to answer these questions let us back up to the first chapter where the Apostles are told to wait for the gift my Father promised, and which you have heard me speak about (Acts 1:4).  As part of the waiting, we are told the Apostles all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:14).

In these two verses we are told who was present on that day of Pentecost: The 12 Apostles, the various women who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others (Luke 24:10), Jesus’ mother and brothers and it is very likely that the others known as the 70 were also present.  And what are they doing?  They are waiting, but interestingly, they are waiting by constantly being joined together in prayer (Acts 1:14).  So on Pentecost, these folks are together praying, as they have been doing everyday for the past 50 days.

What does it mean to be constantly praying? The word translated constantly is used fairly infrequently in the New Testament, and that means we can get a pretty good idea of the intended meaning of the word by looking at the other verses where it is used.  In Romans 13:6 we find it used of civil magistrates. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. So here constantly is translated as full-time.  In Romans 12:12 we find the word again: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Here constantly is translated faithful. And in Col. 4:2 we are urged to Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  Again, the word is translated devote yourselves.

From these usages and the other 8 NT occurrences which all share similar semantic scopes, it is fairly easy to conclude that being constantly in prayer is another way of saying these early believers scheduled their lives in such a way that prayer was at the top of the list of activities in which they engaged.  When they awoke they prayed, when they ate they prayed, when they worked they prayed.  But all of those things can be done alone, in the course of daily life, and no doubt they did each of these, but even more is implied in this passage, for we are told, they were joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14).  These folks scheduled their lives not only to be in prayer a lot, butt o be in corporate prayer a lot.  They found times of meeting frequently, most likely daily in order to pray together.

And that is the difference between them and most of us in the western church.  The western church, our church included has not placed a very high value upon corporate prayer.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t be out of turn to say that we haven’t placed any value on corporate prayer.  How often do we gather together with the express purpose of praying?  How often can we get the entire church together in order to attend a prayer meeting?  Do we, as Christians believe that we should schedule our lives around gathering together for a corporate prayer meeting?

I hope that this morning you will come to understand why corporate prayer is so important.  But more than just understanding why, My prayer is that you will come to believe in corporate prayer and will intentionally schedule your life in such a way that you can join with others in the church to pray regularly and consistently.

We aren’t told what these believers were praying in Acts 2:1, but we are told they were all together and based on what they were doing, it is my belief that this isn’t just an adjective describing their physical presence together, but that also describes the union of their hearts.  These believers were united in a longing to see Christ exalted.  They were united in a longing to receive the promised gift of the Father.  They were united in a hope of receiving power and being Christ’s witnesses.  And though they shared this longing, they were timid and afraid.

But they came together and poured out their hearts to God, one with another seeking his face, asking him to fulfill his promises, interceding for one another and the world, and simply enjoying God – for that is what corporate prayer is all about.  Let me repeat that: Corporate prayer is all about coming together with other believers and pouring out our hearts to God in unity, one with another seeking God’s face, asking the Lord to fulfill his promises, interceding for one another and the world, and simply enjoying the love of our Savior.

And the results are staggering:  As a result of this constancy in corporate prayer, we are told that 4 things happen:  First, the Holy Spirit comes as the sound of a wind, then as flames of fire.  Second, the Gospel message is preached to unbelievers as Peter stands up and addresses the crowd.  Third, people are saved; in fact, about 3000 people were added to their number (Acts 2:41).  And fourth, the Church is birthed and devotes itself to 4 things: apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and to the prayers (Acts 2:42).

In fact, as we walk through the book of acts, we are going to see that when the people of God gather to pray, frequently some subset of these 4 results occur and often all 4 of them are the outcome of their continued devotion to corporate prayer.

If we move forward in the story of the early church to Acts 3 we will find that Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon (Acts 3:1).  I believe this is important, for it shows us that the Apostles didn’t stop praying after Pentecost, they continued in the habit and way of life that had developed from before.  These guys don’t even get into the prayer closet, but because of the patterns they had and the prayers they had been praying, as they were going to pray the Holy Spirit show up on the scene and heals a lame man and the gospel is preached.  2 of the 4 results are explicitly stated in this story of two Apostles just heading out to pray.

In chapter 4, Peter and John are again together speaking in the temple and they are brought into the Sanhedrin to be questioned and after that in verse 23 we encounter another one of these early church corporate prayer meetings.  Here is how it plays out: (Acts 4:23-24) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

This corporate prayer meeting started with a report about normal daily experiences.  And then after hearing he report, the church begins to pray about the things in this normal daily experience that concern them.  They start by finding a common unity in their beliefs: God is the Creator.  They move on to recognizing him as the Author of Scripture and the sovereign ruler of the earth.  They sense how the present experience of the church is making it clear that the world is in rebellion toward their sovereign and so they make a request for boldness in speech and for miracles to accompany the proclamations.

And the Results are phenomenal: The Holy Spirit comes in power we are told in 4:31, the gospel is preached in the latter half of chapter 5, people are saved in as more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number (Acts 5:14) and miracles occur (5:15-16) as the sick are healed and evil spirits are cast out.  All because a group of believers dared to lift up their experience of life to God and to ask for courage and power to declare the gospel.

In chapter 6 we encounter another prayer meeting, this time when the Apostles pray for and appoint the 7 deacons.  Though we read this and assume that the apostles were responsible for prayer and the deacons for service, a better understanding would be that the apostles were responsible for leading the church in prayer and word while the deacons were responsible for leading the church in service to one another.  These deacons didn’t suddenly quit attending the corporate prayer meetings that the church had been holding as part of her devotion and constancy in prayer.  That would be ludicrous to posit.  They continued to pray and to pray with others they just gained a new form of service to lead and guide.  And again the result of this prayer and commissioning of the corporate body was the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).

In Chapter 8, the Apostles pray for the Samaritans who are repenting and as a result of praying with and for them, we are told they receive the Holy Spirit and the gospel is preached and presumably more souls are saved though that isn’t explicitly stated.

In chapter 12 when Peter has been arrested and is miraculously released from prison, what do we find the church doing?  They are praying, together.  In fact, we are told, When this had dawned on him [that he was free and outside of the prison], he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying (Acts 12:12). But a few verses earlier, we are told the church wasn’t just praying, they were earnestly praying to God for Peter (Acts 12:5).

What exactly is earnest prayer?  Well, in Luke 22:44, as Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane and he is sweating blood we are told he was praying earnestly and in anguish. (And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.)  I don’t know about you, but that tells me there was a deep desire and unrest in their souls about the outcome of this particular situation.  There was a lot of concern and so they turned to the only thing they could think of who could superintend this situation and that meant they turned to God.  Again in that earnestness is implied not only unease or discomfort with the present but also a unity of the church in the situation.  In fact, there was such earnestness that they folks are praying in the middle of the night.  When was the last time something was on the heart of this church to such a degree that we were willing to gather and pray all night?  Persecution has a way of bringing out a need for being dependant upon God doesn’t it.

“But what exactly did they pray for Peter? The passage does tell us. Did they pray that he might be released? Probably! Did they pray that he might be given strength in his hour of trial? Undoubtedly! Did they pray that he might witness a good confession, that he might die a “Christian” death, if that was God’s will for him? Surely they did! They had no means of knowing what it was that God intended for Peter, and all of these prayers were admissible. What we do know is that God answered their prayers by releasing him from prison in an extraordinary way. There were three things weighing against Peter: Herod Agrippa, the unbelieving Jews and Satan. But there were three things weighing in on Peter’s side: a ministering angel, a sovereign God and a praying church.”[2]

And like in the other prayer meetings we have explored so far, the results were grand: The Holy Spirit arrives on the scene and affects Peter’s miraculous release, and Peter leaves to preach the gospel and according to church history he establishes the church in Rome and hence souls are saved because of a church willing to pray fervently, and earnestly together.

In chapter 13 Paul and Barnabas find themselves in the midst of a church that was worshipping and fasting.  Worshipping is a broad term that encompasses prayer, singing, the reading of the word and its explanation, and in this midst of this corporate time of prayer and worship, the Holy Spirit arrives on the scene, reveals his plan to send Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel to the gentiles, the church responds in excitement and prays some more for them and then sends them off and what happens?  Souls are saved all across the Mediterranean: Ephesus, Colossi, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and elsewhere, to name just a few cities.

On one of his trips, Paul finds himself in prison with Silas and they praying and singing hymns to God about midnight, and the other prisoners are listening to them (Acts 16:25).  Now this is a really cool prayer meeting because these guys are out in public and they aren’t ashamed of the situation they are in, nor are they ashamed of the gospel, nor are they uttering quiet little prayers under their breath.  They are praying aloud and inviting their cellmates to hear what they are saying to God.  How many of us when we head out in public for dinner, don’t speak as quiet as possible in order to not offend, or not let others know we are praying?  Take note, Paul and Silas are bold even in their prayer life in public and the result is similar to all the other situations we have examined: The Holy Spirit shows up on the scene and frees them, the gospel is preached to a Philippian jailer and his family and they come to believe the good news.

Do you see the connection between prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of souls?  It isn’t coincidental that Luke wrote this history of the church in this manner.  He wanted to make sure the church understood the point at which all beneficial ministry begins, and that is in the church gathering together to pray to God exalting his name, lifting up our situations, and asking for his help.  And all of this being done regularly, frequently, in a sense of desperation and utter dependence.  And when it happened, when the church recognizes her need of God’s mighty hand, when they people of God are willing to reorder their lives to seek his face in the world, then and only then was the Spirit set free to do wonderful works of salvation.

So in closing, let me remind you that corporate prayer is the most powerful weapon we have in fighting for the Kingdom of God, for when the people of God gather together and pray, the book of acts tells us that the Holy Spirit will comes in power, the Gospel will be preached, people will be saved, and the Church will be built, strengthened and established.  If those are your heart desires, will you consider joining us in a time of corporate prayer tonight at 6 p.m.?  If you are still unsure or unconvinced that corporate prayer is for you, reflect on this final story:

“Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. [Spurgeon was a pastor who saw thousand of people come to faith in the late 19th century London.]  While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.”

 

Sermon Outline

 

  1. All together in one place (Acts 2:1-1, 1:4, 14, Lk 24:10)
    1. Constantly defined – Rom 13:5, 12:12, Col 4:2
    2. Together implies unity, unity in what
    3. What is prayer: communing with God, seeking his face, asking him to fulfill his promises, interceding for others
    4. RESULT:

i.     HS comes in power (2:3)

ii.     Gospel is preached (2:14ff)

iii.     Souls are saved, 3000 (2:41)

iv.     Church devoted to 4 things (2:42)

  1. Peter and John headed to pray
    1. RESULT:

i.     HS comes, gospel preached

  1. Peter and John released from Questioning: All raised voices together in prayer
    1. Report is made
    2. Response is to pray for things God is doing
    3. Unity in prayers

i.     God is creator 4:24

ii.     Author o scripture (4:25-26)

iii.     State of world in rebellion to God as sovereign (4:27-28)

iv.     Request boldness and miracles (4:29-30)

  1. RESULT:

i.     HS comes in power (4:31)

ii.     Gospel preached

iii.     Church continues ministry one another (4:32-35)

iv.     Souls saved (5:14)

v.     Miracles occur (5:15-16)

  1. Apostles pray for Samaritans to receive the HS
    1. RESULT:

i.     HS give (8:17)

ii.     Gospel preached (8:25)

  1. Peter Arrested, Church praying earnestly
    1. Earnest defined

i.     Luke 22:44 drops of blood, about stretching, lengthening beyond can do

ii.     Unity implied in the passage and ddesire

  1. Midnight prayer gathering (12:12)
  2. Didn’t expect answer (12:12-15)
  3. Paragraph from other sheet
  4. RESULT:

i.     HS acts to release

ii.     Peter leaves to preach gospel

  1. Paul & Barnabas 13:2-3
    1. RESULT: HS comes reveals plan, Gospel preached to gentiles, souls to be saved
  2. Paul and Silas in prison (16:25)
    1. Result: HS arrives to free them, gospel preached, jailer and family saved

 

 

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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