42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Even though I took some time off a little over a week ago, one date I am really looking forward to this summer is Aug. 10 because barring any unforeseen circumstances or emergencies, Marilyn and I will be leaving that day for a vacation to one of our all-time favorite locations: Glacier National Park in northern Montana. But after hearing my sermon title for today, you may very well be thinking that perhaps it’s time I took that big vacation now. For I have entitled my sermon for this Pentecost Sunday, “Is Prayer a Good Idea?”
Some of you are probably thinking, “What an odd title for a sermon! Of course prayer is a good idea. We all know that. And it can be confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible.” Well, my friends, if you’re somewhat baffled by the title of this sermon, you are probably going to be even more bewildered by what I’m going to talk about today because as we celebrate the birthday of the Christian Church, I’m going to prove to you that those earliest of Christians did not – I repeat, DID NOT – think that prayer was a good idea. Hmmm – sounds like a vacation might be just the thing I need, right? Well, maybe not. Just stay with me for the next few minutes and you’ll understand why I would make a statement as outrageous as that.
Now where in the world did I come up with such a strange notion that those early Christians did not think that prayer was a good idea? Well, believe it or not, I got it straight out of the Book of Acts, which details the birth, the development, and the growth of the early Christian Church. Let me show you what I mean by pointing you to 3 scenes from the 1st 6 chapters of this book.
Scene #1 takes place in chapter 1 of Acts and shows that prayer precedes power. The disciples of Jesus had just spent 3 years in his presence, listening to him, studying under him, witnessing his miracles. They had seen him feed the hungry multitudes with hardly any food at all. They’d seen the 4-day-old corpse of Lazarus raised from the dead. They’d seen the lepers cured, the blind made to see, the deaf made to hear, and the lame made to walk. They’d seen demons cast out and had even done many of those miracles themselves.
In addition to all that, in Acts 1 we find them wrapping up another 40 days in the presence of Jesus following his victorious resurrection from the dead, an event which confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was everything he claimed to be. He was the long-awaited Messiah. He was the divine Son of God. He was our one and only Savior from sin and our one and only hope of salvation. What more could they possibly need before they were sent out to carry that life-changing and soul-saving Gospel message to others? Surely they’d had enough training and education, hadn’t they?
Apparently not, for before they are told to witness, they are told to wait. In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus tells them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And in v. 8 he says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Apparently, after all they had been through with Jesus, the disciples still were not quite ready or qualified to be witnesses for Jesus. They needed something more and that something more was power, the kind of power that only the Holy Spirit could give. So what did they do? They waited. And while they waited, what did they do? Well, Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Ten days later, as the Old Testament harvest festival of Pentecost was being celebrated in Jerusalem and the city was packed to overflowing with people, that prayer time led to power time as the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples in such miraculous fashion that they were given the ability to preach the Gospel in languages they had never spoken before.
At first the crowd that gathered to see what was going on was stunned. They were perplexed. Some of them even accused the disciples of being drunk. But as they listened, their amazement soon became conviction and their conviction became conversion, and some 3000 of them were baptized and added to the body of Christ that day.
Again, what had the disciples been doing as they waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised to send them? They had been praying, right? So the Christian Church was basically born out of a prayer meeting. And that right there tells us that those early Christians did not think that prayer was a good idea.
Why do some of you have a puzzled look on your face? Like I said before, just stay with me and everything will become crystal clear later on. Let’s move on to scene 2 now and maybe that will help you to see that the early church did not think prayer was a good idea. Whereas scene 1 showed that prayer precedes power, scene 2 reveals that prayer follows persecution. In the 4th chapter of Acts we see the church growing. Verse 4 tells us, “many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”
Unfortunately, the rapid growth of this new religious movement proved to be quite unsettling for the Jewish leaders so one day they had Peter and John arrested and told them to no longer preach in the name of Jesus. To which they responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After further threats and warnings from these Jewish leaders, Peter and John were released. And when they returned to their fellow believers and told them all that had happened, guess what they all did! Acts 4:24 says, “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” Literally, in the original Greek, it means they created a symphony of prayer to God. Then a few verses later it says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
There you have one more confirmation that the New Testament church did not consider prayer a good idea. And if you’re still not convinced of that truth, let’s move on to scene 3. Scene 1 showed that prayer precedes power. Scene 2 revealed that prayer follows persecution. And now in scene 3 we will see prayer became a permanent priority of the church.
In Acts 6 we read of a problem that developed in the early church that threatened to divide these new believers. The Greek-speaking Jews were complaining to the Hebrew-speaking Jews that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. Now surely a problem of this magnitude, which had the potential to split the church wide open, would be dealt with by the leaders of the church, who were the disciples, right? But that’s not what happened. Instead, in vv. 2-4 we read the disciples’ suggested solution. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Do you understand what they were saying, my friends? This huge problem that had developed, as important as it was, was still not nearly important enough to take up the time of the church leaders. Rather they saw their most pressing and essential priority to be prayer and the ministry of the word, thus leaving further proof that the New Testament church did not consider prayer a good idea.
Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “How in the world can you make a statement like that, Pastor Meyer? After the passages you just read and the scenes you just described, I see just the opposite. How can you say that those early Christians did not think that prayer was a good idea?”
Well, my friends, I can say that because it’s true. They did not think that prayer was a good idea. Instead, (now listen very carefully) they saw prayer as a great idea, as the driving force in their lives and the primary energy behind their movement. Prayer was not just a good idea to them; it was an absolute necessity. It was their most essential tool. It was the very oxygen that breathed life into the body of Christ.
One author has put it this way: “Prayer was not important, it was imperative. It was not just a part of the church, it was the heart of the church. It was not just one thing they did, it was thething they did. It was not just customary, it was crucial.”
My friends, in the light of that example, let me ask you something. Could it be that the Christian Church in America has lost a lot of its influence today and its former ability to impact the culture in which we live because we haven’t been tapping into the power of prayer the way our predecessors did? Could it be that prayer is looked upon by many Christians today as just a good idea, and not as a driving force? Or let’s get a little personal here. Could it be that you’ve been feeling rather weak lately, at least spiritually speaking, because you haven’t been spending much time in your Father’s presence?
Could it be that many of us have become like the man who bought a chain saw because he had a lot of trees to cut down on his property? He’d never used one of these before, but the fellow who sold it to him told him he should be able to cut down 50 trees a day. Well, the 1stday he took it out he only cut down 5 trees, the next day only 5, the following day only 5. So he finally took it back to the hardware store and said, “I don’t think this thing works. I’m only cutting down 5 trees a day rather than the 50 you told me I’d be doing.” The storeowner took the saw, looked it over, then pulled the rope, and the engine roared to life. And the man who had bought it said, “What’s that noise?” Obviously he had failed to tap into the power behind that power saw.
Could it be that we’ve done the same when it comes to our spiritual lives? Could it be that we have failed to tap into the power that God makes available to us when we pray? Last Sunday we sang that well-known hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” May I ask you something, my friends? When’s the last time you spent an hour in prayer? How about a half hour? How about 15 minutes? 10 minutes? If I were to announce this morning that on Wednesday evening of this week I have arranged to have my favorite author Max Lucado speak here, I have no doubt that our church would be packed to overflowing and we’d be turning people away in droves. But if I announced today that this Wednesday night we’re going to meet for an hour of prayer, I wonder how many people would show up.
I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I’m just trying to awaken us to the realization that maybe we’re missing out on a wonderful, awesome privilege and some incredible, life-changing, history-impacting power by failing to spend time – and by that I mean both quality and quantity time – with our Heavenly Father.
So when will prayer become more than just a good idea? How about when we’re more prone to pray for somebody than gossip about them? How about when we are more willing to turn our anxieties over to God rather than turning them over and over again in our minds? How about when we pray more for the government than complain about the government? How about when we hurry to God’s house on Sunday morning not just because of the fellowship we enjoy there, but because our church has become a house of prayer? How about when we pray, not out of obligation, but because deep down we believe what God tells us in his Word – that the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much?
So is prayer a good idea? No, it never has been. It wasn’t in the New Testament church and it’s not for us either. Instead prayer is a great idea and it should be the driving force in the Body of Christ and in every Christian’s life. So… let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, we confess to you that we have not always prayed as we should. Many of us have allowed so many other things to take precedence over this important means of communicating with you. Many of us are ashamed to admit that we have treated prayer more like a fire extinguisher, reaching for it only when we need it. We regret that we have failed to tap into the power of prayer and that we have sometimes looked upon prayer as a last resort rather than the 1st thing we should do. Forgive us, Lord, and help us from this moment on to become true prayer warriors who recognize prayer as the driving force in our lives and our homes, in our church and our communities. And grant that as we pray, we might be drawn ever closer to your Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins that we might live with you forever and who himself spent many a night in prayer. Hear us then, just as you have promised to do, for we come to you in the precious and powerful name of that Savior Jesus Christ.