- M. Bounds stated: “The church today needs praying people to meet the fearful crisis that is facing her. The crying need of the times is for…God-fearing people, praying people, Holy Ghost people, people who can endure hardship. We need people who will not count their lives as dear unto themselves (see Acts 20:24) but count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ…. The people who are so greatly needed…are those who have learned the business of praying—learned it on their knees, learned it in the need and agony of their own hearts.”1
God has called his church to live in a constant conversation, seeking him in the midst of all things at all times.
This was the example of the early church (Acts 2:42), yet often, those in the church today seem to struggle with how to pray. For this reason, it seems fitting to look at the content of the prayers of the early church and allow their example to help shape, in part, our pattern for praying.
In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested for preaching the resurrected Jesus. They are therefore arrested and subsequently released. After recounting these events to a group of believers (Acts 4:23), they prayed, and the contents of that prayer are recorded in Acts 4:24-30.
So, let’s examine the highlights of their prayer in order to find some helpful insight that might be instrumental in shaping our prayers.
- They addressed God as he had revealed himself to them.
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,” (Acts 4:24)
This address of Sovereign Lord and Creator God are designations taken from Old Testament revelation.
A temptation exists today to exert our imaginations and cultural inclinations in prayer. This approach is not inherently wrong, but if left untethered to the foundational revelation given in the Scriptures, it can lead us to pray to God in a way other than that which he has already revealed himself to us. For example, the reason we ought to pray to God as Father and not Mother has nothing to do with material parts of God’s anatomy. After all, God is Spirit; however, in God’s sovereignty, he has chosen to reveal himself as a Father to us; thus, his revelation should shape and govern our prayers.
Building on this last point, notice that…
- They prayed Scripture.
“…who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:25-27).
Quoting Psalm 2:1-2, they acknowledged that these are the words of God given through David. They affirmed the inspiration of Scripture in praying the Scriptures back to God.
They acknowledged the context of this passage, which revealed that the people of God have always been persecuted. This text pointed them to Jesus, who as their Savior suffered and died for their sin. This revelation served as a catalyst and a guide for their prayer in acknowledging God’s sovereignty in bringing about his plan of redemption.
- They submitted to God’s sovereignty.
“…to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28).
They didn’t just acknowledge God’s sovereignty, but there is a note of submission in their prayer as they looked at the Scriptures and the cross from the past and used that as the lens to examine their current circumstances.
They used this to help them to trust in God’s perfect timing. God has a mysterious plan of redemption in the midst of this evil.
These perspectives led them to their request.
- They asked for continued obedience with boldness, and that God would continue to reveal himself to the lost
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
They wanted to be faithful and see the gospel go forward!
They asked for steadfastness and for signs and wonders to be performed. Why did they pray for signs and wonders? Because, they wanted the world to see in these early days of the church the confirmation that Jesus was the Lord and Savior. Throughout Acts, signs and wonders were verification before the world that their message of Jesus as the resurrected Messiah was true.
1E. M. Bounds, E. M. Bounds on Prayer (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker, 1997), n.p.