Compelled to Pray
April 20, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
This is part one in a multipart series about prayer. The elders of Oak Hills recently have been reading a book on prayer during their session meetings called Prayer Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in our Homes, Communities, and Churches, by Megan Hill. This little book explores the biblical foundations, fruits, and practices of praying together. The elders have found it to be very encouraging and challenging. I want to share some gleanings from Hill’s book while adding some of my own observations about prayer.
Megan Hills starts her book on prayer by digging into the Scriptural foundations for praying together. One of her early chapters surveys the entire Bible to demonstrate that the people of God, from the very beginning, have been people of prayer. Let me share some highlights just from the early church in the book of Acts:
“Christians in Acts prayed together:
• at the selection of Judas’s replacement (1:24);
• after Pentecost, as a mark of the spiritual life of the new believers (2:42);
• at shared meals (2:46);
• at the set times in the temple (3:1);
• for boldness, when faced with the threat of persecution (4:23-31);
• as the special priority of the apostles (6:4);
• for the Spirit, with the church at Samaria (8:15-17);
• in the middle of the night for Peter when he was imprisoned (12:5, 12);
• at the sending of Barnabas and Saul (13:1-3);
• when appointing elders for the church and committing them to the Lord (14:23);
• at the sending of Paul and Silas through Syria and Cilicia (15:40);
• on the Sabbath with the devout women of Philippi (16:13);
• at the place of prayer in Philippi again (16:16);
• in the prison in Philippi at midnight (16:25);
• with the Ephesian elders as Paul departs for Jerusalem (20:36-38);
• in Tyre with the disciples and their wives and children; for Paul as he sets sail for Jerusalem (21:5-6)
• with thanksgiving for food onboard the ship (27:35-38);
• for Publius’s father on the island of Malta (28:8);
• with the brothers in Rome who traveled to meet Paul (28:15).
For the early church, there was much to do. But essential to their gospel-proclaiming, bread-breaking, widow-feeding, and church-planting work was praying together…wherever the gospel went, wherever churches were established, God people were praying people” (Hill, p. 37-38).
What compelled the early church to devote themselves to such a habit of praying together? Could we be compelled in the same way to cultivate such a habit of prayer?
Habits are formed and shaped by beliefs. If you believe that diligent dental care will provide comfort and longevity of use of your teeth, then you will develop daily habits of brushing and flossing. If you believe that personal hygiene and cleanliness will positively impact your career and relationships with others, then you will shower and use deodorant on a regular basis. The same is true for prayer. Foundational beliefs will compel you to habits of prayer.
What are some of those foundational beliefs that compelled the early church?
1. God is sovereign. When the church prayed for boldness in Acts 4, they affirm that the death of Jesus, carried out at the hands of Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews, was ultimately the predestined plan of God (4:27-28). Everything that takes place, even the greatest sin of all time, killing Jesus, occurs according to the will of God. The early church believed that God is sovereign so they appealed to and trusted in him through prayer.
2. God has a plan for you and me. In appointing a replacement for Judas and when the church of Antioch prayed for Paul and Barnabas, the church acknowledged that God has specific plans for his people. Prayer was the means to know and submit to God’s plan. Our lives are not a series of random, hap-hazard circumstances, to which we’re left guessing on how to respond. God has made us and planned each of our days.
3. God responds to prayer. While we affirm the absolute sovereignty of God, we must also acknowledge the mysterious dynamic that God responds to prayer. Twice in Acts apostles were imprisoned and praying and God delivered them (Peter in Acts 12; Paul in Acts 16). Peter, with the new Christians in Samaria, prayed for the gift of the Spirit to be extended to this ethnic group and God responded (Acts 8). Through prayer, God performed miracles among his people. The early church expected and looked for God to respond to their prayers.
4. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. A number of the prayers mentioned in Acts are “merely” prayers of thanksgiving. The church thanked God for food, deliverance, the Spirit, safe travel, and for fellowship. When you are humbled and recognize your dependence on another, you grow in gratefulness for their provision. This is the relationship of the church with God.
What compels you to pray? Allow a rich and deep understanding of God and his gracious ways to spur you to habits of prayer, just like the early church.