Healthy Churches Pray
This month our sermon focus has been on striving to be a “healthy church.” We live in a health-conscious world. We are bombarded with various diet and exercise tips to improve our physical and mental health. Yet, what should we be doing to help the Lord’s church, His body, to become more healthy? Since we are “members of the body” we truly play a part in whether or not Christ’s church is healthy (1 Corinthians 12:27).
There may be no greater example of a healthy church in Scripture than the first-century Jerusalem church. They start with 3,000 (Acts 2:41). Souls are “added to the church daily” over time (Acts 2:47). By the time we read Acts 4:4, “the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” A chapter later we read, “…believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). Various factors are involved in their growth. None of these factors ought to be ignored. Yet, as we read carefully through the text of Acts we cannot miss the repetition of constant prayer being offered by the church.
Prayer is powerful. After the first 3,000 converts obey the gospel we read “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Peter and John still “went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer” and made time to make petitions to their powerful God (Acts 3:1). Is it too far-fetched to conclude the early church was constantly growing because it was constantly praying?
If we want to be a healthy church, let’s notice the example of this healthy first-century church. Notice a few moments where the early church came together to pray.
They prayed when there was great reason to rejoice. In Acts 4, the report spreads of the miracle performed upon the lame man at the temple. This notable proof of apostolic power silenced the apostles’ enemies—the chief priests and elders of Israel (4:21-23). How did the church respond to this miracle and the release of Peter and John? They prayed with thanks and continued petitions to God (4:24-30). Prayer is often only offered as a response to pain. Yet, it ought to be a response to joy as well. A healthy baby is born. Pray. We recover from an illness. Pray. We witness a new child of God baptized into Jesus. Pray. We see evidence of personal growth from a brother or sister. Give thanks.
They prayed before they appointed God’s people to do God’s work. In Acts 6, the church has some special tasks which need filled. It may seem like a petty issue, but petty issues divide if allowed to boil over. The issue was the care of both the Hebrew and Hellenist widows. There was a job to be done and neglect would have discouraged at least one group of the widows if it had continued. If one group was favored over another it would have led to charges of partiality in the church. So, men were appointed. Feeding a few widows may not seem like a big deal but there is no small task in God’s kingdom. Those who do God’s work either do it well and build up the body or do it poorly and tear it apart. It was important to select the right men and for the men to do the right work in the right way. As simple as it might have been, the apostles prayed before they appointed men to this task and sent them on their way (Acts 6:5-7). It must have worked because the result which follows is “the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…” (6:7). When new elders are appointed, pray for them. When new deacons are appointed to a task, pray for them. When a new evangelist comes to work in an area, pray. Before our teachers embark upon a new quarter or a special series of teachings, let’s make sure we pray for God’s approval of the work. We could jump ahead to Acts 14:23 as well and note that when elders were “appointed in every church” the appointment was, again, accompanied with prayer. God’s people should pray for God’s workers.
They prayed when there was sin. In Acts 8, Simon the sorcerer converts to Jesus Christ. Yet, it is not long before he falls into sin which quickly poisons his heart and finds him being sharply rebuked by Peter. Peter tells him to “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). Simon responds, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me” (Acts 8:24). When a culture of prayer is developed, it is not difficult to ask for prayer from others. Peter was a praying man in a praying church and Simon was quick to ask for prayer. We should be able to ask our brothers and sisters for prayer when we are weak and sinful and are in need of forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Any confession of sin, whether private or public, should be followed with prayer.
They prayed because it was a regular custom. Peter, in Acts 10, “went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour” (10:9). Spontaneous prayer in the moment of need is certainly seen in the preceding examples we have noted. Yet, there is nothing wrong with customary prayer either. We may pray in the morning, at lunch, in the evening or at a set time of day. We pray at a certain time during our worship services as we gather together as a group. That’s okay. Peter had a custom to pray and God was evidently listening to His prayers as He prayed in Acts 10. Daniel offered customary prayer (Daniel 6:10). Jesus offered customary prayer at set times (Luke 22:39). Paul used the customary time of prayer as an opportunity in Philippi (Acts 16:13). It is good to set aside a regular time to pray. A regular habit of prayer is a marked sign of regular devotion to God.
They prayed as a response to trials and persecution. In Acts 12, James has already been killed by Herod (12:1-2). Peter may be next (12:3-4). How does the church respond? Acts 12:5 says, “…constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” Later, when Paul and Silas have been thrown into a Philippian prison, they are also found “praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). Desperate times call for desperate prayer. God heard those prayers too. Peter is released and, in a change of fortune, Herod is eventually struck with a premature death (12:16, 21-23). In Paul and Silas’ case, the “keeper of the prison” eventually asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In each case, prayer has nearly an immediate effect. Trials come from a variety of places. Satan’s crafty in how he attacks us. The arrows of Satan might be thrown off course more if our prayers were offered on behalf of one another more diligently. When a brother is facing financial hardship, pray. When a sister is facing family pressure due to her faith, pray. When a younger brother is struggling with standing alone as a Christian, pray. When an elderly sister is facing a health crisis, pray. When the government wants to enact laws which may be a hindrance to preaching the truth, pray. When evangelists in foreign lands find their work difficult due to threats of famine, disease, persecution and threats, pray!
They prayed before they embarked upon a new work of evangelism. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are sent out of Antioch onto a new journey to preach the gospel. Expectedly now, the “prophets and teachers” in the Antioch church send them away with prayer. Why pray? There would be travel and journeys involved. So, a prayer for safety would be in order. There would be false teachers who attempted to hinder the work, so a prayer for boldness would strengthen. There would be lost souls to save, so a prayer for opportunities would open doors. The lessons for us? As we attempt to open our Bibles to study with loved ones, pray. As we go knock on doors to invite people to study, pray. As we bring our friends and neighbors to hear the gospel, pray. As we start a new series of lessons intended to reach the lost, pray. Maybe we do not have the opportunities to teach we would like, because we do not pray for them as we should.
They prayed as they ended a successful work of evangelism. In Acts 20, Paul is leaving the Ephesian elders to head for Jerusalem. He spent over two years there, his longest stay in any one location (Acts 19:10). After some parting words of wisdom and warnings “he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him” (20:36-37). Sometimes we pray to start a new work. Sometimes we pray when we end a successful one and it is just time to move on somewhere else. There are all sorts of reasons people may need to move. Jobs get transferred. Family members need more attention back home. Preachers are offered new opportunities they feel may give them a greater opportunity to serve in God’s kingdom. Pray with thanks for the time we had together. Pray with hope the move is in accordance with God’s will. What a beautiful picture as Paul leaves Tyre and, after only seven days he departs and “they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed” (Acts 21:5). When moves must be made, we ought to make sure they are never made with a cold carelessness, but with a love true brothers and sisters share with their spiritual family.
What do you think brothers and sisters? Do we pray as we ought? Are we a first-century church when it comes to prayer or a product of a traditionalism which has turned prayer into a packaged product offered only by the clergy in the confines of worship or quickly muttered by a hungry kid before a family dinner? Let’s put prayer back into its proper place so we can be the healthy people and healthy churches God calls us to be. In the meantime, take a listen to some of our sermons focused on "Healthy Churches" to learn more...