Over the last nine months the home groups at my church have been studying the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. We’ve been considering the life of the early church, how it grew and what spiritual characteristics it demonstrated. One of these characteristics was a commitment to prayer and in Acts 4 we have a record of how the people prayed for boldness. Acts 4 records that Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the Jewish council because they had been teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When questioned by the council under whose authority they preached this message and healed the sick, Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit boldly proclaimed that it was in the name of Jesus Christ whom this council had crucified.
Acts 4:13 then states that ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.’
Unable to find any way to punish Peter and John, the council threaten them not to continue to preach in the name of Jesus and then release them. Peter and John return to the other believers and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
Acts 4:24-31 ESV says –
24. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25. 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? 26. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27. 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, 28. to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30. while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31. 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.
So what can we learn from this prayer to encourage and instruct us in our own prayer life?
Well the first thing we can observe is that pray was their natural response to the situation they faced. It was also an immediate response and one that they were united in doing. Note also how they began their prayer. They didn’t just launch into a request for help or for God’s intervention, no they began by extolling the wonder and majesty of the one they were addressing (v24). After praising God the believers continue their prayer by quoting scripture (v25), the words of David from Psalm 2:1-2. They recognise the Holy Spirit speaking through David as a messianic prophecy fulfilled in what they had witnessed in Christ’s persecution and death at the hands of king Herod, Pontius Pilate and people of Israel (v27). But they also see in that the work and purposes of God being fulfilled (v28).
From this we can see how important it is that we have an understanding of Scripture and can therefore include it in our own prayers. By doing this we are able to claim God’s promises to us and acknowledge His sovereignty and the mighty work of His hands in our lives.
The believers conclude their prayer, not be asking God to remove the threat they faced but in asking for boldness so that they may continue to witness for Christ (v29). They put the honour and service of God ahead of their own well-being. In the light of what these earlier church believers prayed we are faced with a challenging question – do we seek the same thing when we pray – are we concerned for the honour of God and the salvation of others even if it comes at a personal cost to us? I would suggest that this is something we all need to spend time reflecting on particularly as we live in an age where belief in the Bible and the name of Christ is increasingly ridiculed and frequently resisted.
God answered their prayer in a mighty way as verse 31 says that the place they had gathered for prayer was shaken, they were also filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. How great is our God!
Almighty and sovereign God, I praise you because you are in control of all things and that your purposes are being worked out day by day; none can stand against you. By your grace I ask that just like your people in Acts 4, I too would have boldness to declare the wonderful name of the Lord Jesus Christ and hope of the gospel of salvation through Him and His death and resurrection. May your people rejoice, your kingdom be increased and your royal name be honoured this day.