Prayer is the final item in Luke’s listing of the core commitments of the early church at Jerusalem:
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
And thus it is that prayer will also be the subject of the final article in this series on what I have come to think of, from the verse above, as a blueprint for the church. Life in the first church in Jerusalem was so dynamic, so attractive, so powerful … and yet so very simple. Luke simply tells us of four key – but very ordinary – means of grace to which the disciples devoted themselves. And in the hand of the Holy Spirit, these commitments made for a mighty testimony to the goodness and power of God in the gospel! And I am convinced that something similar will happen today as churches return to these very simple Christian basics – “the apostles’ teaching … fellowship … the breaking of bread and … prayer.”
Now what does it mean that the early disciples were committed to “prayer”? Well, surely this meant that the various members of the church were committed to private prayer. Surely we can picture them following the instructions of Jesus to get alone in a private place, and to cry out to God personally. But it’s also worth noting the corporate nature of the other three bullet points in the early church’s list of core values. Surely, in those days before the printing press and the Bible app, much of the Christians' intake of “the apostles’ teaching” took place when they were gathered together in groups. And, of course, “the breaking of bread” (or the Lord’s Supper) is not a private affair. And “fellowship,” by its very nature, must involve a group. And I say all of that to say that, if the other three core commitments were all group-oriented, then it seems highly likely that the “prayer” that Luke speaks of at the end of v.42 was also often a group activity as well!
The early church (and not just in Jerusalem) was committed to corporate prayer; to praying together! The book of Acts mentions a few occasions of this sort. And, as I said last week, it also natural to assume, given the amount of time the believers at Jerusalem spent in one another’s homes, surely these gatherings, too, sometimes became impromptu prayer meetings. And it’s likely, I think, that many such prayer meetings were not impromptu, but planned!
And surely this must be the spirit of the church in every era! Surely the church’s commitment to corporate prayer – whether in homes, or weekly prayer meetings, or in special seasons of prayer – is one of her highest privileges and greatest sources of our spiritual success! Surely it is a praying church that is a spiritually dynamic church! And conversely, it is certainly also many times true that we, as churches, “do not have because [we] do not ask” (James 4:2). And so I plead with you, brothers and sisters, to give yourself to prayer with other believers! Attend your church's prayer meeting (or seek to get one started, if there is no such thing in your congregation)! Pray together when you gather in your homes! Join with your church family in prayer when urgent needs come across the electronic wires during the week. Continually devote yourself, with your local church, “to prayer.”
Spiritual growth is not a complex thing. There are no secrets or hidden keys. We desperately need, first of all, to be born again and united to Christ by faith. We need the ongoing breeze of the Holy Spirit in our sails, empowering us and keeping us moving forward. And we need, very simply, to follow the blueprint of the church in first century Jerusalem – “continually devoting [our]selves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”