The early church prayed ...
1. In Confusion for Direction (Acts 1:14).
2. In Victory for Boldness (Acts 4:23-31).
3. In Danger for Deliverance (Acts 12:12-17).
4. In Uncertainty for Guidance (Acts 13:1-3).
Over the past few weeks at Rock Valley Bible Church, we have been looking at the subject of prayer. These messages have come from a burden. They have come from a burden of mine. It has come from a burden for us as a church. I long for us to be a dependent people; dependent upon God; dependent upon God for everything.
I long for us to a demonstrably dependent people. In other words, when people come up and see our church and say, "What is the key to your church?" "Why do the people love the way that they do?" "Why do the people share the love of Christ so freely with those outside the faith?" I so long for us to say, "God." I so long for us to demonstrate this by pointing to our prayers. I so long for us to say, "We are a praying church."
And when someone says, "What do you mean?" I so long for us to say, "Come with me. Let me show you something." I want to bring them to our Sunday morning prayer meeting (which meets at 9am every Sunday) and say, "Look and listen to how we pray. together. We pray as if we are dependent up on the Lord in everything." I want to bring them to our small groups and say, "Look and listen to these people pray. They pray as if they are dependent up on the Lord in everything." I want to bring them into our homes and say, "Look and listen to this family pray together. They pray as if they are dependent up on the Lord for everything." I want to bring them into our bedrooms and say, "Look and listen to this couple pray together. They pray as if they are dependent up on the Lord in everything."
And I fear that we cannot do this. I fear that there are marriages in our midst where husbands and wives rarely (if ever) pray together. It's an indication of our self-sufficiency and lack of need of God. I fear that there are families in our midst where dads and moms and children rarely prayer together. It's an indication of our self-sufficiency and lack of need of God. I fear that many of you don't ever pray together in a small groups of believers of any kind. It may be an indication of our self-sufficiency and lack of need of God. I know that many of you don't pray in our Sunday morning prayer meeting. It may be an indication of your self-sufficiency and lack of need of God. I love the legendary story of Charles Spurgeon taking people through the Metropolitan Tabernacle and showing them the prayer meeting in the basement and remarking, "Here is our power house." 
Now whether or not this actually happened or not is up for debate. But what is not up for debate is how Charles Spurgeon responded to the constant questions about the success of his ministry. On many occasions, he would simply reply, "My people pray for me." This comes from an eminently gifted man. One who could have stood upon his gifts alone! And yet, Charles Spurgeon was a humble man. And his congregation was filled with praying people.
As I told you a few weeks ago, they regularly had several thousand at their prayer meetings every Monday night, as they poured out their heart to God. And if some would point to the giftedness of Charles Spurgeon as the reason for the great numbers that attended their church, they were able to respond by saying, "Come to our prayer meeting. And see the true source of our power as a church."
Such is my heart -- that people would look upon our church, and wonder about the source of God's working in our lives. And we would direct them to our prayers as the source of power at Rock Valley Bible Church. Our prayers in our homes and our prayers with others in the church.
And this morning as we open our Bibles, I want for us to spend our time in the book of Acts. I want for us to look at the prayer meetings that took place in the early church. My message is entitled, "Early Church Prayer Meetings." That's not a reference to the prayer meetings that take place at 6am. It's a reference to the prayer meetings that took place in the early church. Because the book of Acts records a few of them.
The first one comes in the very first chapter -- Acts, chapter 1. The book of Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus with his disciples for forty days speaking to them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). And the disciples were confused. They asked Jesus, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). To which Jesus replied, ...
It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Soon after this, Jesus ascended into heaven. He was lifted right up into the air, where a cloud soon took him out of their sight (Acts 1:9-11). At this point, I do believe that the disciples of Jesus were confused and discouraged and without direction. The one who had guided them for three years had died, but then had risen. He taught them some difficult things for 40 days, and then rose up out of sight.
Now what? I believe that the disciples did what only they could do. They gathered to pray. Look at verse 12, ...
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
That's 11 disciples. Along with some women and the brothers of Jesus all praying together. I know that this is reading into it a little bit. But, I believe that they were praying, ...
This is my first point. The early church prayed In Confusion for Direction (Acts 1:14). In other words, I don't think that the disciples quite knew what they were going to do next. Jesus was gone. He had spoken a bit about some kingdom. But they didn't know when this kingdom would come or what it all meant.
And they were looking for direction in their lives as to what to do next. And the next thing that we read is that they appointed a successor to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:16). And soon after this, God came with power. Look at chapter 2.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
I believe that this was an answer to the prayers of the early church. They were praying In Confusion for Direction (Acts 1:14), and God gave them the Holy Spirit. And with the Spirit, they became bold witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And with that, the kingdom was spread to the Gentiles. We are still waiting for the kingdom to come to the Jews.
I believe that this hits directly at us by way of application this morning. Are you confused in your life? Are their circumstances in your life that you just don't understand? Perhaps there are things in your life that you find discouraging. Circumstances beyond your control where you desire some comfort and some clarity from the Lord. Then I would exhort you to pray. I would exhort you to pray with others.
Gather some other believers around you and pray with them. Better yet, gather where some other believers are already praying, and join them in prayer. When those in the early church were discouraged and in need of comfort, and so, they sought the Lord. They sought him earnestly.
Note again back in chapter 1 and verse 14, "All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer." That is, a high degree of commitment and a high degree of passion. You might translate it this way, "They gave themselves to prayer."
And when you do the calculation, you see that they were at this for days. Chapter 1 and verse 14 takes place forty days after the resurrection. Chapter 2 and verse 1 takes place fifty days after the resurrection. That means that they were giving themselves to prayer for a week and a half until God gave his Holy Spirit to them.
Please note that it was their desperation that led them to pray. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know what would happen. All they knew is that Jesus had promised to do something (1:8). And so, they gave themselves to prayer.
Now, it may just be that your life is going pretty well right now. Your job is stable. Your family is intact. You have direction for the next decade in your life. And maybe you feel no need to pray for yourself.
Perhaps there are others in your life who need your prayers. So, I ask you to come and pray with the people of God at Rock Valley Bible Church.
Let's move on to my second point. Not only did the early church pray In Confusion for Direction (Acts 1:14). But, they also prayed, ...
Turn over to chapter 4. The context to this prayer is Peter and John's release from prison. They had been arrested for preaching salvation in Jesus. Look at verse 1, ...
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
And so, the next day they stood before the religious establishment and gave their defense. We pick it up in verse 8, ...
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The counsel conferred together (Acts 4:15), and charged them "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). And they then released them (Acts 4:21). And we pick up the prayer meeting in verse 23, ...
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 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, 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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 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."
This was a spontaneous praise gathering! Peter and John had been in custody of the religious leaders. They didn't know what would happen to them. For all they knew, Peter would be crucified as Jesus had been.
And yet, such was not the case. They were merely threatened and released. And the church responded with praise to the Sovereign Lord who has power over the affairs of this life. And no doubt, had the power over the religious leaders in the city.
That's the message of Psalm 2 (that they quoted in verses 25 and 26), in which David prophesied of the hatred that the rulers of the earth would have against the Christ. And the posture of God is one of amusement.
It's sort of like the eight year-old boy who stands up against an NFL football player, threatening to beat him up. The NFL player would simply laugh at the 60-pound weakling who mutters the threats. And oh, the little boy may strike the first blow. But, soon afterwards, the boy will be at the mercy of the linebacker.
There is no threat. The words are idle words. Because, the professional football player is simply no match for such a little boy. And the same was true when the religious leaders rose up against Jesus and struck him dead on the cross. They thought that they had landed the final punch. But, in reality, it was God "who sits in the heavens [and] laughs" at them (Psalm 2:4).
All of their devious plans were under the sovereign control of the Almighty! Look again at verses 27 and 28.
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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
The death of Jesus was no accident. It was no revolution gone astray. It was all orchestrated by the hand and plan of God.
Such was also the case with the arrest of Peter and John. The early church knew full well of God's sovereign hand in all of these matters. Peter and John were not at the mercy of the religious leaders. They were at the mercy of God. And so, they prayed in verse 29, ...
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,
And that's exactly what happened. God took note of their threats, and God granted them boldness. In fact, they were so bold that Acts, chapter 5 records how they were arrested again for defying the order of the religious counsel. They were so bold that Gamaliel, one of the most prominent Pharisees, stood up and said, ...
... I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And the rest of the story of the book of Acts, and, indeed, the rest of the story of the Christian church, has been this: You are not able to overthrow them. The boldness of the Christian church to testify of the saving blood of Jesus Christ has spread the gospel throughout all of the world.
Now, let me ask you, "Do you need boldness?" "Do you need boldness in telling others about Jesus?" If you are anything like me, the answer is a resounding, "Yes." Then, how about praying? How about praying for it with others? The early church prayed together for boldness, and God granted their request. Do you think that he would do the same with us? I believe he would.
I know that it's the dead of winter right now. But, it's a good time to start thinking about your summer when people are out. It's easier to talk with neighbors when it is nice outside. It's a good time to start thinking about how you might be bold with your neighbors with the message of Jesus. And it all begins with prayer.
See, it's not great education that gives you boldness to speak. Nor is it the ability to answer all of life's questions. Rather, it's time spent with Jesus that gives boldness. Look at chapter 4 and verse 13, "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."
So, I ask you to come and pray with the people of God at Rock Valley Bible Church. Perhaps God will great us all great boldness to speak with others about Jesus as he did in the early church.
Let's move on. The early church prayed ...
This comes in Acts 12. I love this story because it speaks so directly about a prayer meeting. And it hits so much at where I land with my feeble faith. Let's pick it up in verse 1, ...
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.
This is but one event in a long line of persecutions recorded in the book of Acts. Here we see James killed and Peter imprisoned. And from the best we can tell, Herod was planning on killing Peter as well. The death of James had pleased the people. He was planning to present Peter to the people once the feast was over. And so, as can only be expected, we read verse 5, ...
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter was in danger and they were praying for him. Nothing will provoke your prayers more than when a loved one is in danger. A mother or father is sick and dying, and so, you will pray. A child has a life-threatening accident, and so, you will pray. A child is in moral danger of making a bad choice, and so, you will pray. A marriage of your friends is in trouble, and so, you will pray.
And so, likewise here, Peter was in trouble and the church who loved him greatly was praying. Now, we don't know what they were praying for. They may have been praying for deliverance -- that Peter would be released. They may have been praying for Peter -- that he would remain strong; that he wouldn't deny the faith as he had once done when Jesus was on trial; that he would be faithful unto death.
I sort of think that both of these things were prayed for. Isn't this how we pray?
"O God, we pray for our brother Peter. He has been a faithful servant of the gospel. He was with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. He was with the church from day 1.
You have used him mightily. Through his preaching, thousands have been converted. He is the one who brought the gospel to the Gentiles.
And we pray that his fruitful ministry would continue one. We pray that you would protect him. We pray that he would not meet the sword as James did. We pray that Herod would show him mercy. We pray that Herod would grant his release.
And yet, O God, if this is not your will, we pray that you would keep him faithful. We pray that he would remain strong. We pray that he would be faithful unto death."
Praying for deliverance and faithfulness. Praying for faithfulness. Never in a million years would the church have expected God's answer to their prayers. God delivered Peter from jail in a most miraculous way.
Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
Then, I love what happens next.
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, "You are out of your mind." But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, "It is his angel!"
Stop bothering us! Don't you know that we are praying for him right now! He is scheduled to appear before Herod at this very moment! We need to pray now for him. So, stop and be quiet. We need to pray.
How like us all! How like me! I pray and pray and answers are before me. I seek guidance, direction, the will of God. But I am blind to the answers. Only afterwards do I see how God had answered my prayers.
And how many ways has God worked his gracious hand in our lives in response to our prayers, and we have missed it. Those at the prayer meeting were able to see it.
But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Tell these things to James and to the brothers." Then he departed and went to another place.
Here's the big question: Do you think that God would have rescued Peter if the church had not prayed for him? Now, of course, that sets off all sorts of theological questions of prayer and God's sovereignty (which is for another time). But, really, the question causes you to think, doesn't it?
James said, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Could it be that God's blessing upon your life lacks because you aren't asking? Could it be that God's blessing upon our church lacks because we aren't asking?
Now, I'm not advocating a health/wealth/prosperity sort of praying. Because, James warns, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3). Rather, I'm simply pondering if God would use our church in greater ways for his kingdom, if we would simply ask; if we would gather and pray fervently together for him to use us for his kingdom.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come!" How about praying, "Thy kingdom come through the labors of Rock Valley Bible Church"? That souls would be saved. That lives would be changed. That doubters would believe. That the world would see that you are real in our lives!
So, I ask you to come and pray with the people of God at Rock Valley Bible Church.
Finally, let's look at our last point this morning. The early church prayed ...
This comes in chapter 13 with the church in Antioch. God had greatly blessed this church. To get a glimpse of the blessing upon the church, look back to chapter 11.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
And in chapter 13, we find the church at a crossroads. They didn't quite know what they should do. There were many gifted and well-trained men at the church. There were was much work to do in spreading the gospel. What would they do? In chapter 13, we see them seeking the Lord.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
We see here a prayer meeting of seven of the leaders of the church. We don't know much about several of them. But, we do know quite a bit about two of them, Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas was the great encourager, always trying to get others involved in the ministry. He is the one who brought Saul to Antioch in the first place (Chapter 11). He is the one who was willing to give John Mark a second chance. He gave of his wealth to help the needy (Acts 4).
Saul was the great teacher. He had the best mind in the world at the time. God would entrust great things to him.
And God says, "Set apart these men for the work." And off Saul and Barnabas went. And thus launched the great missionary movement. You can read of their story in Acts 13-14.
Here's the thing: I doubt that anyone had this in mind -- this missionary movement. It was a God-thing. It's a value of prayer meeting. God may reveal vision to us as a church, something that we would never choose for ourselves. I know that we (as elders) are praying like this. God, what would you have for us?
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
January 24, 2016 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.