Summary: When threatened, the church responded with a prayer of personal commitment rather than praying against those who were persecuting them.
Praying in the Face of Opposition
TEXT: Acts 4:23-31
After the glorious healing of the crippled man at the gate of the temple, Peter (with John alongside him) preaches a powerful message to those who are amazed. This upsets the elders and the teachers of the law who seize Peter and John and hold them in jail overnight. The next day they met and interrogated the two apostles. Peter preached yet another Holy Spirit filled message. The religious leaders decide in private conversation that they would need to stop this “Jesus movement” before it spread further. So they called the two disciples in and commanded them to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John declared to them that they had no intention of abandoning their mission which left the religious leaders with little to do but offer further threats of future punishment.
BEFORE THE PRAYER
Peter and John return to the church and reported all that had been said to them. I think it is important to note that they fully informed the church. They did not think it best to conceal how bad the situation was. They did not think it best to minimize the threats or the opposition. They were open and honest about the whole situation.
Often, churches cannot properly pray about a situation because their leadership seeks to minimize problems by not sharing all of the related circumstances. I believe that this is a mistake. If the church is in trouble than the people of God need to be made fully aware of it. This is part of “walking in the light” and pastoral leadership will be honest in their communication with the church.
Also, it should be noted that Peter and John did not just report these matters to some church board or even elders. They shared it with all the people. There was no exclusion of people in hearing the truth about the opposition that the entire church was facing. They needed to prepare the family of God for the persecution that the church was about to undergo.
1) The Prayer began with Praise
The prayer began with an acknowledgement of God’s power and sovereignty. In other words, it began with praise. This is very important.
Praise is not about manipulating God by somehow offering him flattery that tickles his fancy and causes Him to adjust his sovereign will to that of the believer. Praise is about reconciling our perception of circumstances with the omnipotence of God. Praise is about helping us to recognize that God is still on His throne, that He is still all-powerful, and that He is still concerned with the circumstances surrounding the believer. We don’t praise God to offer Him some sort of cookie that makes Him feel better and manipulates Him—we praise God so that in the midst of tough circumstances we can recognize that He is in charge of all things and able to take care of us.
2) The Prayer recognized Biblical Truth
One of the smartest ways that we as believers can reconcile our circumstances with God’s Will is to consider the Scriptural truths and to recite them back to God. In essence, the believer’s prayer recognized that prophecy stated clearly that the powers of the Earth would oppose Christ and that what they were seeing was a fulfillment of that prophecy.
Why is this so important? The religious leaders had indicated that they were doing something sinful in preaching, teaching, and healing in the name of Christ. The believers went back to the Scriptures for guidance. Were their acts sinful? No, rather the actions of the religious leaders were clearly out of line with the will of God. They were joining the powers of evil in standing against an act of good (healing a crippled beggar) done in the name of Jesus Christ. They were standing against the Messiah, the chosen one of God. By reminding themselves of the Scriptural basis of their circumstances, they were able to focus on aligning themselves with God’s Will rather than being dissuaded with what the religious leaders declared to be right or wrong!
One of the reasons that the Catholic church fought so strongly against the Scriptures being printed in the common languages was that the church had strayed so far from the teachings in God’s Word. Praying to and through saints, infant baptism, and other practices were so far from God’s Word that a backlash grew amongst those who read the Word that grew into the movement we now call the Reformation. God’s people need to be Biblical. We need to live in a manner consistent with Biblical teaching and that means praying in a Biblical manner.
3) The Prayer was a time of Personal Commitment
Although the prayer included calling God’s attention to the opposition and the threats, the prayer was more about personal commitment. They did not pray against the opposition. They did not ask God to smite down those who were persecuting them. (John had probably learned his lesson when he earned the nickname “son of thunder” after asking Jesus is he and his brother should call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan villages that rejected the ministry of Christ) Rather their first petition as for God to grant them boldness in the face of opposition. In other words, their request was for the Lord to help them to do what was right in the face of opposition.