Mentors in Prayer

Praying When Your World is Rocked

Acts 4:24-30

Teaching t10556


This series is entitled “Mentors in Prayer.”  We are trying to learn how to pray more effectively by studying actual prayers in the New Testament.  Because they are inspired, we can be sure these prayers are according to God’s will. 

Two weeks ago, we studied the Lord’s Prayer as a model for how to start each day with God.  Last week, we studied Paul’s prayer in Eph.3 as a model for how to pray for others.  This morning, I want to look at a prayer that teaches us how to pray when our world gets rocked.  It’s found in Acts4:24-30.  Before we look at this prayer, let me explain the situation.

The place is Jerusalem, the home of the early Christian movement.  The time is just several weeks after Jesus was executed in this same city.  The setting is that Peter and John (two of the leaders) have just been arrested for healing a paralyzed man and then telling people that it was Jesus the Messiah who did this through them.  After spending the night in jail, they were brought before the Supreme Court of Israel (the same people who arranged Jesus’ execution), who forbade them to share their faith and threatened them with physical harm if they did.  When they were released, they gathered the other Christians together to tell them what happened.  You can imagine what was going through their minds as they heard this news.  Many of these people had only met Christ a few weeks or days earlier.  The memory of Jesus’ grisly torture and crucifixion was still painfully fresh.  Now they were being threatened with the same fate if they shared their faith in Jesus with others.  In this setting, they turned together to pray to God.

How would you have prayed if you were one of them?  It is difficult to put ourselves in their position, since we do not face violent religious persecution in the U.S.  How do you pray when your world is rocked—when the illusion that life is under your control is shattered by an unexpected crisis that breaks upon you like a tsunami?  When your teenage child rebels, or you find out your spouse has been unfaithful, or you or a loved one contracts a serious illness, or someone close to you attacks/rejects/betrays you, etc.—or some “perfect storm” combination of these painful blows?  You need to know how to pray when your world is rocked—because your world will be rocked—not once, but many, many times.  Jesus said “In the world you will have tribulation.”  But he also said “Take courage, for I have overcome the world.”  Paul said Rom.8:36,37 (quote).  These people knew how to lay hold of this victory through prayer.  Let’s see how they did this—their prayer has two main parts...

Affirm God’s sovereignty

Read 4:24a.  Notice how they begin.  They do not begin by asking God to do something, but by reminding themselves in God’s presence of a particular aspect of his character.  They call God “Sovereign Lord.”  This is the Greek word despotes, from which we get the word “despot.”  Despot has a negative connotation for us—a tyrant who uses his power to oppress and exploit and crush.  But the word itself is neutral—it refers to a ruler with superior/overwhelming power.  The key variable in a despot is his character.  To be under an evil or unloving despot is a horrible nightmare, but to be under a good and wise and loving despot is ultimate safety.  When these Christians realized that they were under evil human despots, they reminded themselves that they and their human rulers were both under the ultimate rulership of a God who is perfectly good and wise and loving.  And they affirmed God’s loving sovereignty in several ways.

They affirm God’s sovereignty over creation (read 4:24b).  If God is powerful enough to create and maintain the whole physical universe, he is certainly powerful enough to handle this situation.

They affirm God’s declaration of sovereignty over human history (read 4:25,26).  This is an excerpt from Ps.2, when David was threatened by powerful human rulers.  God laughs at their plans, and declares that no one can thwart his promise to preserve David’s line and to bring his Messiah from that line.  So instead of being panicked by their threats, David urges them (for their own good) to bow to God’s sovereignty.

They reflect on their own experience of God’s sovereignty (read 4:27,28).  Ps.2 was not only God’s answer to David’s crisis—it was also a prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  On one level, it looked like wicked despots were all-powerful.  Herod and Pilate and Caiaphas wrongly arrested and condemned and scourged and crucified Jesus—and it seemed like God was impotent to stop them.  But it turned out that they did exactly what God “had decided beforehand would happen.”  God was sovereign over the whole situation—so sovereign that he worked through his enemies’ choices to oppose his will to fulfill his will!  Many of these people had witnessed these events, they had seen how when God seemed most impotent, he was in fact most sovereign.  And because they were following the Risen Jesus, they knew that nothing could thwart his plan, that they were safe for as long as God had a part for them to play in his plan, and that they were ultimately safe forever in God’s hands.  Before they ever asked God for a single thing, they reminded themselves in God’s presence of his loving sovereignty—and this stabilized them.

This is so important when your world is rocked.  The first order of business is to get stabilized—and the only thing that truly stabilizes us is not our/other people’s ability to control the situation, but affirming to God his loving sovereignty. 

This is one reason why praying the Psalms is so helpful—because the authors help us to focus on God’s loving sovereignty.  Here is a psalm that I recite in prayer when my world has been rocked (cf. Ps.46:1,2,7,10).

This is why it’s so important to pray with other Christians when your world is rocked.  They can help you remember who God is when your crisis  feels overwhelming—not just by telling you what the Bible says, but by addressing God as your loving sovereign Ruler in your presence (EXAMPLES).  This is a powerful ministry to those whose world has been rocked...

This is why it is so important to recall in God’s presence how he has come through in past crises.  Even though past situations may be different from this present crisis, they are your personal history of God’s sovereign faithfulness.  And you can do the math—if he has demonstrated his sovereign faithfulness in history, if he has demonstrated this in your own life before, then he is in also control of this present situation—and you can “cease striving and know that I am God.”

What if you have no personal experience of God’s loving sovereignty?  Then it’s time for you to start by giving yourself to the God of the Bible!  Agree with him that you are not sovereign—incapable of ruling your own life.  Tell him that you want Jesus to be your sovereign Ruler—the One who forgives your sins through his death and resurrection, and the One who leads your life from here on (read Rom.10:9).  He will adopt you as his child, he will give you his Spirit to assure you of his love—and you will begin your own personal history of his sovereign faithfulness!

Ask God for the resources to represent Jesus well

After first affirming God’s loving sovereignty in three ways, they make three requests of God (read 4:29,30).  Did you notice what they did not ask God for?  They did not ask God for what we would be most likely to ask him for—to stop the persecution, or to wipe out the people who were threatening them, or even just to “get them through this.”  Instead, they ask God for the resources to represent Jesus well.  This is the second key to overcoming world-rockers.

First, they ask God to “consider their threats.”  Because they have remembered how big God is, their persecutors are no longer terrifying.  They know that they are ultimately safe in God’s hands, that their enemies can only do what God permits them to do, and that God can work even through their opposition to advance his purposes.  So it is enough to simply say, “God, you know best how to advance your purpose—have your way with them.”  And God answered this prayer.  Some of their enemies became followers of Jesus (6:7; Paul), and their persecution—far from crushing the Christian movement—spread it to Judea and Samaria and Antioch (8:1,2; 11:19-21).  We should pray the same way...

Then they ask God to “enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”  This is really their main prayer.  Rather than obsess over what their enemies might do to them, they focus on what they know God wants them to do for others—to share confidently about Jesus and about he has changed their lives for good.  God had promised them the power to do this (Acts 1:8), Peter spoke boldly about Jesus before the Sanhedrin because he was filled the Spirit (Acts4:8,13 – same word)—and so they ask for the same Spirit-empowered boldness.  And God answered (read Acts 4:31).

This is a secret to overcoming world-rockers!  Don’t just try to survive the crisis; ask the sovereign God to enable you to tell others about Jesus with confidence!  In the midst of your crisis, ask him for opportunities to share Jesus, for the eyes to see those opportunities, and for the courage to open your mouth even though you may feel afraid.  Then you will experience his power to rise above circumstances (EXAMPLE).

 Finally, they ask God to “stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  They ask God to continue to display his supernatural power—not to protect them from harm or to smite their enemies, but to do good to others through them so that people knew that what they said about Jesus’ love was true.  And God answered this prayer (cf. Acts 5:12-14).

And we should ask God for the same thing—including and especially when our world is being rocked.  Personally, I don’t care whether it is overt miracles or less dramatic demonstrations of God’s love.  What matters is that the people who hear us talk about Jesus’ love also experience Jesus’ love through us in personal, Spirit-led ways that reaches their hearts.  Whether it is praying for and with them for physical healing or material provision, or crying with them over what has broken their hearts, or giving your money and/or material means to help them out, or forgiving and blessing someone who has treated you badly, or expressing genuine interest in them even though they never express this interest in you—people need to see God’s love for them through us, and we need God’s supernatural power for one just as much as for the other.  Do you ask God for his power to show lost people his love—even when your world is being rocked?  You might be amazed to see how God upholds you when you do!

For discussion

How have you experienced that this kind of prayer is effective when your world has been rocked?