Summary: God shakes the world through our prayers.
One mark of a church filled with the Holy Spirit is devotion to prayer. We considered this last Sunday; it certainly is worthy of addressing again. I concluded last week’s sermon with this challenge from Leonard Ravenhill, a pastor well known for decades of fruitful evangelistic ministry: “The church has many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray; many resters, but few wrestlers; many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding. The secret of praying is praying in secret. A worldly Christian will stop praying and a praying Christian will stop worldliness. If we are weak in prayer, we are weak everywhere. Tithes may build a church, but tears give it life. That is the difference between the modern church and the early church. In the matter of effective praying, never have so many left so much to so few. Brethren, let us pray.”
Chapter four of Acts describes the first persecution of Christians. The religious leaders and rulers of the city, “greatly annoyed” (Acts 4.2) by the teaching of Peter and John, arrest and try these men. The apostles give a defense; but the conclusion is an order not to again speak or teach in the name of Jesus, along with the threat of physical violence should they refuse to comply (Acts 4.18, 21).
So the apostles and church pray. They do not organize a protest or call a committee meeting or march on Rome or write Caesar. They pray. A Spirit filled church considers prayer, not the last hope of a desperate man, but the first assault against a rebellious world. Today we study their prayer in Acts 4. [Read Acts 4.23-31. Pray.]
The story is told that in a certain cotton factory, the management posted a sign that said, “If You Get Your Threads Tangled, Send For The Boss.” It did not take a new worker long to get her threads tangled; but she was ashamed and tried to untangle them herself. The more she tried, the more worse the problem became. When she finally realized that she could not handle the problem, she sent for the boss. He came in, looked at the threads, and asked why she did not send for him when her threads first got tangled? She said she had done her best to untangle them herself. He responded, “No you didn’t. Because doing your best was sending for me.”
“Doing your best was sending for me.” How often we try to unknot our tangles and found them knottier. God pleads with us: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50.15). “Doing our best” is calling on the Lord for help because such glorifies him. John Piper observes: “Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy” (Desiring God, 161).
It is my guess that prayer is the good work we most struggle to walk in precisely because it most humbles us. “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14.13). God is glorified in the posture of need we exhibit on our knees. Our best is calling on the Lord for help because in answering prayer, he is proven both generous and wealthy. My sin nature resists this, however, because I like to think of myself as wealthy. But when I own my need, God owns my deliverance and is proven mighty to save.
In his novel, Daniel Defoe has Robinson Crusoe converted through Psalm 50.15. In a sermon entitled, “Robinson Crusoe’s Text,” Charles Spurgeon notes, “Robinson Crusoe has been wrecked. He is left in the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him—none even to bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case brought him to think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he lights upon this passage, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.’ That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God, which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”
Spurgeon then applies the text: “Here God and the praying man take shares…. First, here is your share: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble.’ Secondly, here is God’s share: ‘I will deliver thee.’ Again, you take a share — for you shall be delivered. And then again it is the Lord’s turn — ‘Thou shalt glorify me.’ Here is a compact, a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to him, and whom he helps. He says, ‘You shall have the deliverance, but I must have the glory. You shall pray; I will bless, and then you shall honor my holy name.’ Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due unto his name.”