October 29, 2013

"And to prayer"

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Acts 2.42

Acts 2.42 has been for me, through the years, one of the most formative verses in all the Bible. And I still believe it is one of the most important! It describes, in seed form, both what a local church ought to look like; and how individual Christian health ought to be pursued. Indeed, without overstating the matter, I think it is fair to say that, if a believer in Jesus understands the four commitments referenced in Acts 2.42 – and actually gives him or herself to them – the result will inevitably be spiritual growth and health. And the same is true of any local church. If a local church will follow the Acts 2.42 blueprint – truly "devoting" itself “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” – then spiritual health and growth and flourishing will happen in that church, whatever else may be going on around them!

Yes, I know that there are other things for a Christian and a church to do and say, besides just the four-fold commitment of Acts 2.42. So I’m not saying that Acts 2.42 completely exhausts all of the New Testament's instructions for believers! Just that, if a church is giving itself, truly, to these four disciplines … most all of the others will come with them.

But today let me focus, specifically, on prayer.  If Luke were to write the spiritual history of your church ... would he be able to write what he wrote of the believers at Jerusalem - that you all are “continually devoting [your]selves … to prayer”?  And could it be said, in the singular, of you with them?

Almost assuredly, the sort of prayer that is being referenced in Acts 2.42 is corporate prayer – gathered prayer; believers praying together. The other commitments on the list took (and take) place in groups. So it is logical to assume that the prayer to which Luke refers took place in the same setting – together. But can that be said you? Does your church have a weekly prayer meeting?  Or maybe small group gatherings in which gathered prayer plays a vital part?  And are you actively attending, listening, praying, and adding your own 'amen' to the petitions and praises that rise to heaven during that hour?

It may be that your church doesn't have corporate times for prayer.  If not, perhaps you could politely request such of the leaders.  Or maybe there is a prayer gathering, but your schedule makes it difficult for you to be a part.  But for many of us, it may not be that complicated. It may simply be that we don’t come together for corporate prayer for the same reason that my son doesn’t eat mushrooms – not for lack of availability, but simply because he hasn’t the appetite for them. Ask yourself if that is true of you and corporate prayer. Do you have an appetite for it? And if not, why not? Is there some other activity – sleeping in, TV, the Sunday paper – that is filling you up instead? What is keeping you from devoting yourself “to prayer”? And how might your spiritual growth, and health, and flourishing be different if you gave yourself to praying with your church family? How might your spouse or children benefit from such a commitment? How might your church flourish if more of its members were active at the prayer meeting?

Would you pray with them? Jesus died so that you might come to God in this way!  So go and make use of this gift that He has purchased with His very life's blood!  

Maybe you’re uncomfortable praying out loud at this point. No problem. Go along to the prayer meeting anyway, and listen to others, and add your own silent agreement and 'amen' to their requests. That’s just as vital as what is said aloud. Go and learn, from others, how to pray. Go and sit in the kind of gathering in which Jesus promises to be. Be a part of making your church an Acts 2.42 church! Do your part so that it may be said of your local congregation: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

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