"When the Church Prays"
As we continue to examine our collective worship, we will center on churches that pray together. We will consider several examples of congregational prayer and small group prayer. In this sermon, we will examine why prayer is central to a church unity.
When the Church Prays
A. It must have been amazing to see and to participate in. Solomon had finished building this glorious temple for YHWH. Fire from heaven came down and consumed the burn offering and the sacrifices and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. Solomon offered 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. It was incredible.
B. The Bible tells us that when Solomon had finished the LORD appeared to him. How, we don’t know. Did others know? The Bible does not say. Listen to 2 Chron. 7:12-14.
C. We hear God tell Solomon that He desires His people to seek him. Revival in the church is not done by seeking a revival. It not done by hosting a revival or seminar. Revival happens when God’s people collectively, humbly seek God. Seeking God is what changes us.
D. This morning I would like us to examine from the Bible times in which people prayed as a group – whether that is small groups or congregational – but praying with people and not alone.
I. Jerusalem Church
A. When Christians talk with me and share burdens, stress, fear, anxiety, or any what might be thought of as negative emotions, I ask them what they are doing about it. The first thing they tell me is they are praying. Turning to God when times are difficult is good. It helps us to understand that we are not in control. The hardships we face can drive us to a deeper spiritual awakening.
B. In Acts 12 we read of the execution of the apostle James, the brother of John. This Herod – Herod Agrippa I, was the grandson of Herod the Great when Jesus was born and father to Herod Agrippa that Paul would one day stand before. This Herod was an evil man and used any power he had to stay in power. Seeing the favor that killing James gave him with the Jewish people, he had Peter arrested and planned to kill him also.
C. The story of Peter’s arrest, time in prison and miraculous escape is often told in sermons. But what I want us to consider is what was happening behind the scenes.
D. What we see is that when this persecution broke out, the church, that was maybe 10 to 15 years old, had gone from being in favor with all the people to falling out of favor. There can be only one explanation for this fall from favor. Evangelism.
E. The church was filled with unity, joy, peace, and love. As a result, people of the Jewish faith examined the teachings of disciples of Christ and became Christians; in effect, leaving the Jewish faith. That caused a great amount stir among the leaders of the Jewish faith and would lead them to persecute Christians for about 30-40 years. With that persecution happening, James death, Peter’s imprisonment, we read Acts 12:5.
F. The church came together in prayer for Peter. They had lost one leader and were about to lose another. Times were tough. I would guess some had left the faith because of the persecution. But what I do know is that the church was in “earnest prayer.”
G. The phrase “earnest prayer” is the turning point in the story. Never underestimate the power of a praying church! “The angel fetched Peter out of prison,” said the Puritan preacher Thomas Watson, “but it was prayer that fetched the angel.” Remember the opening story from the days of Solomon when God said, “IF MY PEOPLE humble themselves and seek my face in prayer…” That is what was happening.
H. If this congregation will ever experience a true spiritual revival of us as Christians it will be when, “The church seeks God’s face.” Prayer is often the turning point in stories in the Bible. The reason is simple – it is the moment when we as individuals and we as a congregation admit our need and dependence upon God.
II. Paul and Prayer
A. Congregations were encouraged to pray together for a purpose. Sometimes it was because of persecution, as we saw in Jerusalem. Sometimes they prayed as a church to discern the will of God for their work as a church. One example is the church in Antioch. Listen to Acts 13:1-3.
B. The idea of fasting, like that of prayer, is a dependency upon God for sustenance during a time of seeking God. But what I wanted you to see is how the church and especially the leaders saw collective prayer as necessary for discerning God’s will.
C. Church leaders ought to be the leaders of collective prayer time. Remember when the church in Jerusalem was upset over food distribution to widows? Do you remember what the Apostles said? (Acts 6:2-4) When Paul wrote to congregations, he often asked the church to pray for him and his ministry. Churches in the NT seemed to take prayer very seriously.
D. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, who was to teach these things to the churches in which he ministered, he told Timothy these words (1 Tim. 2:1-2, 8 ). Paul’s desire was for the entire congregation to be in prayer, for the men of those congregations to live a holy life so that they could lift up “holy” hands.
E. James understood that there were times when small groups of prayer warriors were needed. Often these times were to take place when a Christian was struggling in a sin, but that sin was not needed to be known to the whole congregation. In such situations, James recommended that a person call for the elders to come and pray over him, then James simply talks about the prayer of righteous people. Listen to his words: (James 5:16)
A. The tendency among many believers is to think of prayer, even prayer gatherings, as the extra-curricular activity, a secondary activity in the life of the church. It is easy to believe that prayer is good to have, but not important enough to join; something you briefly tack on to a meeting before you get down to the real business. Unfortunately a growing number of believers view prayer meetings as optional, secondary to the “real” work of the church, doing tangible ministry activities.
B. The first Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. This morning, the invitation that we extend to you is an opportunity to let us surround you in prayer. People like Timothy, Paul, Barnabas and others had a church or church leaders surround them in prayer. If there is something that you want us to face with you, pray for you, to pray over you, then we invited you to come forward as we stand and sing.