Summary: This event in the life of the early church gives us guidance in how to pray with power.
As I’ve probably shared with you once before, I was tremendously challenged by a conversational exchange in a short-lived situation comedy. It was a comedy where the late Danny Thomas played a doctor. There was a scene in “The Practice” where a nurse overhears Thomas’ character praying. When she comments on it, the doctor denies it. “I was not praying,” he argued, “I was talking to God.”
How horrible it is that society thinks of prayer as something where we have to use archaic language and “Insert the right pious-sounding theological term or expression here.” How sad it is to think that prayer has become, at least in the minds of the general public, something that is separate and distinct from conversing with God. Frankly, the very fact that we can converse with God is testimony to the fact that we have a relationship with the living Lord.
As we read our text this morning, the first thing I notice is that Peter and John leave the custody of the Sanhedrin and head right away to meet with the other people in the church. They share the situation with the church and the first thing the church does is to pray. They don’t have a clinic or training session. They don’t schedule a revival meeting. They don’t create a new church program. They don’t suggest books to read on the subject of dealing with the authorities in a “culture war.” They don’t make excuses as to why they’re going to have to miss a few services or why they have to resign their positions. They don’t accuse the church leaders of being lazy or simply consign everything to being in the “last days” as an excuse to do nothing. Instead, they pray. And that’s exactly what we should do in crisis or opportunity. We should gather together and pray with one accord.
Today, we live in an era when society has turned against those of us who believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Today, we live in an era when hostile invective is thrown at Bible-believing Christians because our values and beliefs are a roadblock to their secularizing plans. Today, we live in a country where the political environment has turned hostile and we see more and more laws and interpretations of laws being turned against us. Today, more than at any other time in our lives, we need to learn anew how to pray. And I can’t think of any better tutorial for praying in a “culture war” than this prayer in Acts 4:24-30. (Read it and lead in prayer)
The very first word in this prayer is absolutely amazing. The King James translates it as “Lord” because that noun represented powerful authority in the days of King James. This isn’t the usual New Testament word for “Lord,” though. This is the word, “DEHS-poh-tah”—the Greek noun from which we get the word, “despot.” Now, since that word often means “tyrant,” I don’t think we’d feel very comfortable opening a prayer by appealing to God as “Tyrant.” Yet, the New Testament church wanted to underscore just how powerful God was and how much authority God wielded. Some translations use words to emphasize the sovereignty of God in translating this prayer, but let’s face it, the early church is admitting to God that “He’s the baddest!” They’re saying that if God wanted to be, God COULD be the fiercest tyrant of them all.
And why was God so powerful? Why does God wield this authority? It is because God is Creator. God didn’t merely make the solid ground where we feel comfortable standing, but God created the seas that seemed so threatening and unsettling to the Hebrews and the heavens beyond where they could see. God not only created all, but God populated all. Therefore, it all belongs to God. It’s all God’s intellectual and real property.
And this is precisely why we are in a “culture war,” today. The hostile atheists do not want to admit that God is Creator because such an admission would give God authority over their lives. They would rather serve chance so that all experience is relative and so that there are no absolutes—except perhaps, their certainty that there is no God. Cruising down the cable dial the other day, I saw a portion of a “South Park” episode. I don’t recommend this cartoon and its foul-mouthed, spoiled children but this particular episode caught my attention because a character was literally praying to science. The episode posited a future where the atheists had won. They said, “Praise Science!” “Thank Science!” and “In the name of Almighty Science!” such that Science had taken the place of God in that prayer-like language (and, I’m sorry to say, in the episode’s profanity, as well). The essential thrust of the episode was that people like Richard Dawkins (parodied by name) had taught the world that religion created hate and that no one was supposed to hate UNLESS THEIR SCIENCE DISAGREED WITH OUR SCIENCE. I think it is most interesting that, when it comes to evolution as the mechanism for beginnings, so-called scientists break their own rules of empiricism and insist that there could not be an Intelligent Designer and there could not have been a Creator God. Why? Because if God is Creator, there is implied meaning, direction, and authority in life! If everything is chaos such that it is without meaning, direction, and authority, then no one can tell us what to do. It’s ALL GOOD! At least, that’s what they say. It’s just that it isn’t.