A Prayer for Power Under Pressure
Text: Acts 4:23-31
Good morning! This morning, we’re going to be looking at one of the greatest recorded prayers in the bible. There are many great prayers in the Scriptures, but what sets this one as unique is that it is prayed by a church that is one body, united in Christ, called to some higher purpose outside of themselves and yet in need of God to propel them forward.
For the past month, we’ve been looking at the identity, calling and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ and we’ve been gearing ourselves up to build something wonderful together that would bring glory and honor to God. LET’S NOT MERELY BE THE CHURCH UNITED, LET’S BECOME A GREAT CHURCH THAT DOES A POWERFUL WORK OF GOD IN THIS LAND AND REGION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
But in order to move forward, we’re going to need help. We’re going to need God to lead us and empower us and launch us out. This is what this prayer is all about. And so turn in your bibles to the book of Acts 4:23-31...(Read the text and then open in prayer)
Verse 23 – The Release of Peter and John
• Peter and John were jailed because they were teaching and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2)
This preaching of the gospel arose because of the miracle of the healing of the crippled beggar back in chapter 3. Peter and John, filled and empowered by Holy Spirit, proclaimed that it was the risen Jesus who was responsible for the man’s healing.
And upon hearing the proclamation of the risen Jesus, this disturbed the elders and chief priests so much that they decided to put them in jail. And before releasing them, they warned them and threatened them not to speak anymore about this Jesus and the resurrection.
• Verse 23 tells us that after being released, Peter and John went back to their own people
This doesn’t refer to their natural family or clan, but to the new family established by the Holy Spirit which is called the church.
o There’s something nice about this statement – it speaks of a safe home or community which is the church of Jesus Christ. A lot of people these days are hungry for community...they are lonely...and since many of these people are spiritual or religious, they seek community with their neighbors or with joining a country club or elks lodge or in a bar...anywhere and anyone that they could find friends and be around people who are safe.
Peter and John had such a place to return to after their ordeal in jail – the church – their own people...
Verse 24 – The Church Turned to God in Prayer
• Beautiful picture of the early church coming together in unity to pray
The response of the people was unified – together, it says, they lifted up their voices together in prayer to God.
Although this may sound obvious, this gives those of us who don’t know what prayer is or assume it’s one thing a picture of what the early church did when they prayed...
o They raised their voices... Here we see that they lifted up their prayers or raised their prayers up to God as if lifting up a physical item up to God. The word for ‘raised’ is an actual word meaning lifting up or elevating or taking from a lower vertical plane to a higher vertical plane...
The text also mentions that they lifted their voices.
o Together... the people prayed together. Of course, we can pray when we are alone and hopefully all of us pray on a regular basis alone with the Lord. But here we see that they prayed together. There’s something special when Christians come together and pray to the Lord together...
COME AND JOIN US WHEN WE PRAY TOGETHER!
o To God... and a final mention here – the people lifted up their voices together in prayer to God. They didn’t pray to the stars or to the spirits out there or they didn’t mumble ludicrous words to themselves...they directed their prayers to God.
THE ACTUAL PRAYER...
• “SOVEREIGN LORD...” The first thing they establish in their prayers to God is that he is sovereign. Before any denomination was formed, but church polity or structure was formed, the early church held a common understanding of God – that he was sovereign.
The sovereignty of God means that he is God and he does as he pleases. God’s word and intentions are established and predetermined and God ordains all things to pass and occur and nothing thwarts his sovereign will.
o One of the laws we live with on this planet is the law of gravity. Jump off a house and you will fall down. Despite your dislike of gravity or how much you theorize that it doesn’t exist, the law of gravity doesn’t care or isn’t held captive to your opinion of it, it just is and you and I are subject to its dropping force.
Likewise, God is sovereign and regardless of how people rail or protest or choose not to believe in God or believe that their choices and desires are independent of the law of God, guess what. God is regardless of how we think of him or not. Much more solid, therefore, than even the law of gravity, God is and he does as he wills and pleases and nothing and no one can thwart his will. God is sovereign.
• GOD IS THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS...The second thing they acknowledge is that God is the Creator of all things – the heaven, the earth, the sea and all living things...
Most of us acknowledge that God is the Creator...but we may sometimes take this for granted. For the early Christians, however, establishing that God is both sovereign and the creator of all things basically supports their understanding that GOD IS STRONG. GOD IS MIGHTY. GOD IS IN CONTROL!
o Whether we like to admit it or not, a lot of things in this life scare us and frighten us or discourage us. Live your life long enough, and you will discover that there are things out there that seem menacing, threatening and intimidating...THIS IS WHY THE SOVEREIGN AND MIGHTY GOD IS SO COMFORTING TO US.
Verses 25-28 – Reference to Psalm 2
• Not only does God remove our fears, God himself is never afraid and is never worried or threatened even when the nations plot against him...Look at verse 25...the reference in the prayer is to Psalm 2 (turn there is you can – read through verse 4) You see that? God laughs from heaven when anyone threatens him or his Anointed One...
• The Conspiracies of Herod and Pontius Pilate...
In verses 25 the early church recognizes that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the elders and chief priests all conspired against the Lord’s anointed Jesus and they thought that they had successfully defeated Jesus and his following without realizing that all of this was in accordance with God’s predetermined plan.
• Look at verse 28...their conspiracy against Jesus was all in accordance with the sovereign plan of God. The early church understand that God predetermined that everything that took place with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was all meant to be according to the sovereign plan of God.
God is not surprised nor thwarted nor does he ever have to resort to Plan B. God predetermines and foreordains all things and as tragic and sad as the death of Jesus was, God was in complete control – laughing at the attempts of the nations to conspire against his sovereign plan.
Verse 29 – Asking for Great Boldness
• And so having established that God is in complete control, the early church petitions the Lord for enablement to speak the word of God with great boldness. Regardless of the threats and warnings of the elders and chief priests to be quiet about Jesus, the early Christians asked the Lord to empower them to speak the Word of God with great boldness.
• Notice what they DIDN’T ask for...
o They didn’t ask that the Lord send fire from heaven to smite their enemies
o They didn’t ask for the Lord to send a deliverer or someone else to help them
o They didn’t ask that the Lord remove the threats
Instead, they asked for power and enablement to speak the word with great boldness DESPITE the threats and ongoing conspiracy of the Jewish authorities to squelch this movement. THEY PRAYED FOR POWER UNDER PRESSURE!
• Furthermore, they didn’t just pray for boldness, but GREAT boldness. It was a bold, audacious prayer – not a meager prayer.
o I wonder if our prayers ought to be bold and audacious...to just let it rip to God. To ask not merely for crumbs from the table, but for big and massive answers to prayer.
Verse 30 – Stretch Out Your Hand
• Their petitions continue as they ask God for power to bring healing and signs and wonder in the name of Jesus. As the Lord used Peter and John to heal a crippled beggar over 40 years old, so also the rest of the church began asking the Lord to use even them to be instruments of healing in the lives of others.
• Their prayers and requests to the Lord was that despite the climate of danger from outside forces seeking to destroy this Jesus movement, the early church prayed an audacious and bold prayer that the Lord would use their lives to bring his glory and power and healing and salvation to the lives of even more people than before.
• They never prayed, “Lord, make me comfortable and supply me with more money to buy more toys and fancy cars that I don’t really need.” It was a prayer asking that God would use their lives as vessels to carry the grace and power of God to others.
o WHAT DO YOU PRAY FOR? Do you pray at all in the first place? And if you do, what kinds of things do you pray for? Preparing for this message has been revelatory for me because it made me examine what it is that I pray for.
All of us should examine how we pray and what we actually pray for...if we’re honest with ourselves, many of our prayers are self-oriented or asking the Lord to supply our needs...and although there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these kinds of prayers, we should also consider things like the early church prayed for...boldness, courage to be unashamed of the gospel or of being identified as a Christian or to speak the truth in love to a loved one...not feeble prayers, but bold and audacious prayers.
Verse 31 – A Quake, a Filling and an Empowering
• After closing their prayer, the believers experienced a seismic response from God.
Here, we see that the presence of God was so strong in that place that the ground literally began to shake. Perhaps this is what it meant to experience the fear and awe of God. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool and freaky to experience the presence of God so strong that the earth began to quake?
• The believers were filled with the Holy Spirit
Back in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, the sound of a mighty wind filled the place where the believers were gathered, and the Holy Spirit landed on them...
Here, we see that after that initial indwelling of the Holy Spirit came another outpouring or filling of the Holy Spirit for empowering and enablement to preach the word of God with boldness.
o When you and I first came to Christ by repentance and faith, we received our baptism or initial filling of the Holy Spirit. I do not subscribe to an additional baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion. BUT I DO BELIEVING IN THE NEED FOR ADDITIONAL FILLINGS OF THE SPIRIT.
This is what we see here in verse 31. The Christians who had already received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, received an additional filling of the Spirit after this prayer meeting. What this tells us is that despite the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we need additional fillings or times of refreshing by the Holy Spirit. For as powerful and wonderful and awesome is the presence of God the Holy Spirit in us, over time we can suppress the Spirit as they fall prey to threats, fear, intimidation, distraction, temptation, persecution, isolation, etc.
o A crude and imperfect example of this might be like a car that has a full tank of gas in it, but of course over time the tank runs low and we won’t get very far with no gas. The car needs to go to the gas station to get re-filled with gas in order to keep going.
• The believers went forth and spoke the Word of God boldly
Their prayer was not passive! They didn’t pray that God would take care of everything or that some angel would come and do the work for them. They prayed for courage and power – and received it from Holy Spirit – and afterwards they went out and spoke the Word of God boldly.
o St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depends on God and work as though everything depends upon you.”
The believers believed in both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. They had a high regard for God and a high regard for obedience.
Reflections of the Prayer of the Early Church
• Rather than fret, they turned to the Lord in prayer
• Their view of God influenced how they prayed
o They saw God as the Sovereign Creator of all things
o They saw God as Powerful
o They saw that God was in control
• Despite the presence of danger, they prayed for boldness. They prayed for power under pressure.
• They prayed to be used by God – an active vs. passive perspective
• After being filled by the Holy Spirit, they went out and became God’s answer to their own prayers
Summary and Conclusion
• Begin to speak and direct your prayers vocally up to the Lord not merely alone, but with other Christians
• Know that the God you are praying to is sovereign and powerful – he is in control of all things
• Ask boldly...be of good courage and don’t settle for meager, weak, “just barely getting by” kinds of prayers. Instead, pray with audacity.
• Pray for power under pressure instead of praying that God would simply remove the threats and obstacles
o Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble. If Jesus said that life is going to be difficult, then accept this as divine truth. But regardless of the difficulty of life, prayer for power under pressure. Pray for strength and boldness to speak forth the truth of the gospel, the word of God and the hope that is found in Jesus.
2. BE FILLED WITH HOLY SPIRIT (More next week)
3. PRAY FOR POWER UNDER PRESSURE.
• BECOME GOD’S ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYERS! Don’t ask for God to take away your problems or to find someone else to do the problem for you. Ask God for his power through the Holy Spirit so that you can become the answer to your own prayers.
• If we the people of Oikos Community Church are going to move forward and build something together, we’re going to need to pray and to pray for power despite the barriers standing before us. This kind of prayer is something we can use individually in our own lives, but it’s also something we can pray about as we trust that the Lord will a growing and thriving and great church that glorifies the Lord. Let’s pray.