Summary: Praying Receptively means praying with the awareness that God gets the deciding vote.
Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Acts 13. We are going to wrap up our series on prayer this morning. Just as a reminder of where we’ve been, here’s a quick review:
Week One: Pray Expectantly: Believe something will happen.
Week Two: Pray Persistently: Pray until something happens.
Week Three: Pray Persuasively: Believe prayer affects what happens.
And if we stopped here, then you might be left with the idea that the point of prayer is to communicate our requests to God. We’ve talked about how some of those are selfish requests that God is not going to answer. We’ve also talked about how those might be things that will bring glory and honor to God, and how we can have faith that God not only hears those prayers, but that He acts on them. Still, everything we’ve talked about so far has been about making our requests known to God.
So today, I want to look at prayer from God’s perspective. We need to understand that prayer isn’t just us talking to God. It’s God talking to us as well. And prayer is so much more than us letting God know what we desire. It is God letting us know what He desires. So more important than praying expectantly, or praying persistently or praying persuasively, there is Pray Receptively: God gets the deciding vote in what happens.
We are going to look at a lot of Scripture this morning, but I want us to start off with just two verses from the book of Acts. If you are new to Bible study, then let me give you a little orientation here. Acts tells the story of what happened in the decades immediately following the resurrection of Jesus. It was written by Luke, the same guy that wrote the gospel of Luke. Acts 13 records what happened as a result of a prayer meeting at the church in the city of Antioch. Let’s stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word:
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.
Here we see Paul and Barnabas being commissioned for Paul’s first missionary journey. The church at Antioch, which is in Modern day South Central Turkey, was the third largest city of the Roman empire. Acts 11:26 tells us that Paul and Barnabas spent a year there. This was the city where believers were first called Christians.
So now, in Acts 13, we are at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ time in Antioch. Let me ask you a question: can you tell from verses 1-2 what, specifically, the church was praying for? You can’t. The text says who was there: It lists the prophets and teachers who were gathered. Paul (still called Saul here) and Barnabas; a black man named Simeon, a man from Cyrene named Lucius, who may have been a non-Jewish convert. A guy named Manean who had some pretty powerful political connections. So it was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, socio-economically diverse gathering.
The text also says what they were doing: They were worshiping and fasting. Which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. We don’t often see a lot of ethnic and cultural diversity in our worship gatherings. We mostly have one skin color, one language, and one nationality represented in our churches. And I have to wonder if we don’t experience the moving of the Holy Spirit as much in the modern American church because we don’t look much like the church in the book of Acts. When you have a group get together and the only thing they have in common is Jesus, maybe its more likely that Jesus is what is emphasized.
Scripture also says they were fasting. In fact, it says it twice. They were worshiping and fasting when the Holy Spirit gave them instructions, and then they fasted and prayed some more. This is also really different. Here in the south, when Baptists get together, we eat. Apparently in Antioch, the believers got together to not eat!
So we know who was there, and we know what they were doing. But we still don’t know what they prayed for. And I think that may be the point. Literally all we know about this gathering is that they were worshiping and fasting. And it was in the midst of this that the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.