Summary: God shakes the world through our prayers.
A man asked his friend, “What color are your pastor’s eyes?” He answered: “I don’t know. When he prays he closes his eyes, and when he preaches, I close mine.” That has little or nothing to do with today’s sermon; I simply liked it.
Dr. D. A. Carson, professor at Trinity Evangelical School, opened his book on Paul’s prayers by asking, “What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today?” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 11). He then noted a few of the answers being suggested.
Some say the pressing need is for sexual purity. One poll of single church members between the ages of 20 and 35 found the majority involved in illicit affairs, even though they are not married. Another study of teenagers from evangelical churches claimed that 40% engaged in premarital sex. Many pastors have ruined their ministry through moral failures. And added to these very physical examples is what Carson calls, the “Technicolor celebration of lust and violence” (12) which invades many Christian homes through various forms of media.
Others have suggested that integrity and generosity in financial matters is our pressing need. Individuals cheat on their taxes while scandals in major corporations are almost daily news. These are simply symptoms of the greed which too often governs our thoughts and grips our hearts. Both political parties pander to citizens convinced of their right to wealth, comfort, and ease. Of course, the church is not free from the love of money, which is a root of all kinds of evil. But is that our greatest need?
Maybe it is evangelism and missions. While the world comes to our door, we must admit that we have not cultivated a cross-cultural witness that brings the gospel to non-Anglo peoples. And neither are we particularly effective in evangelizing our nearer neighbors.
And even when we try, we must be concerned that the fruit of our efforts seems bitter. Less than 5% of people making a profession of faith persevere. And those who do remain committed to the church are more and more likely to think of Christianity as “something to add to their already busy lives, not something that controls, constrains, and shapes their vision and all of their goals” (Carson, 14). So maybe the problem is discipleship.
The list could continue; we have ample failures and weaknesses, each significant in its own place. But consider how Carson summarizes his review of the needs of the Western church: “But there is a sense in which these important needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better. When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted…. In the Biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of the Scriptures, improved private and corporate worship, and much more.”
If Donald Carson is correct, then we should ask how we might obtain a deeper knowledge of God.
This sermon series on the Dynamic Church uses Acts 2 as a starting point. The New Testament church began by devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the Lord’s Supper and to the prayers. Today we how we might obtain a deeper knowledge of God through prayer, and we are looking at Acts 4 for an example of that in the New Testament church, as the believers unite in prayer when faced with persecution for their faith. [Read Acts 4.23-31. Pray.]
The thought I am asking you to consider this morning falls out this way:
* The Christians in the early church were devoted to prayer and influenced their world
* The church today seems weak and flaccid
* Many outward measures suggest that we are more conformed to the world than transforming of it
* If we are not salt and light, maybe it is because we know too little of God and of true, vital, life-giving religion
* Prayer is the primary source of fellowship with God and for experiencing his power and presence in our lives. Prayer is not the whole of a dynamic relationship with God; it is, however, a most vital part.
Because of time constraints (due to membership and baptism today), I am limited to a brief exhortation on prayer. We will come back, Lord willing, to consider the specifics of Acts 4 next week. Today simply note this: Acts 4 describes the beginnings of persecution against Christians. The religious leaders and rulers of the city are “greatly annoyed” (Acts 4.2) by Peter and John and their teaching. So they arrested them and locked them away overnight (Acts 4.3). The next day, Peter and John are tried for their views. (It may seem like a little thing, but there is stupendous pressure to compromise in such situations.) The apostles give their defense, however, and the conclusion (in verses 18 and 21) is 1) an order not to again speak or teach in the name of Jesus, and 2) a threat should they refuse to comply. We are not told there what is threatened, but in the next chapter they are beaten with rods and in chapter six, one of the first deacons, Stephen, is executed by stoning. So we know the threats are real and serious.