Bold Prayers

Bold Prayers

Over the last few months, the Lord has given us as a church the focus of outreach. He is calling us to be an instrument of outreach and ministry. We are working to become Great Commission Christians, a Great Commission Church, who shares the gospel of Jesus Christ and what He’s done in our lives.

We are apart of a “larger than us” kind of movement. It’s a movement that has been happening for over 2,000 years, since the Church began. It’s a movement that Jesus says will never die. And He is giving us the honor and opportunity to be a part of it.

The start and early life of this movement is recorded in the book of Acts, which is like a full action-packed novel, one of those you just can’t put down or feels like it’s half as long as it is. It’s in this book, that we get these eyewitness accounts of how this whole thing got started.

The book records eyewitnesses who went out into the streets of Jerusalem one day while thousands of people were crammed into the city from 12 different regions for a Jewish festival, and filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the Living God, and that He had been raised from the dead.

Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that on day one 3,000 people became believers in Jesus. The movement was born, and there were no buildings, no pews, no hymnals, no liturgy, no traditions. It was just a group of people that saw something supernaturally happen right in front of them. Then, Jesus gave them a clear mission: To go out and spread this good news far and wide, so that people would know that Jesus has risen from the dead. The Church was totally outward focused.

But do you know what happened over time? The church got buildings, and the church got organized, which of course is not a bad thing, but there began to be a hierarchy. Then people realized they could leverage religion to control people and things went kind of crazy. Before long, this outwardly focused movement that was about compassion and love began to turn inward.

I have learned that churches make this transition from outward focused to inward focused very, very quickly. Many times, we don’t even know we are doing it. In fact, some of you could tell stories about churches you’ve been apart of that were so inwardly focused that went downhill fast as greed and ‘wanting it my way’ thinking creeped in and took over.

Then you read the book of Acts and think many churches today don’t look anything like the local church in the first century. In the first century, they loved each other, shared everything they had, and took care of each other.

The unifying point wasn’t how you took communion or if you were a church member. The unifying point was Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and He rose from the dead. That’s it. And when you really look at this first century Church, it was absolutely amazing. In fact, there’s a verse we’ll look at in a couple of weeks that says even though there was some tension around Jesus and all that had happened, the Christians in Jerusalem had favor with the people because there was something unique, remarkable, and attractive about them. And consequently, the Church grew quickly.

Right here in this part of the Church body, we’re not immune from the subtle turn to where it’s all about us. One of the ways you know whether or not a church is still on track, with what God really intended when He launched the Church, is how a church prays. How a church prays indicates whether or not the church has strayed from the mission.

So today, we’re going to look at a prayer the early Church prayed and see if there is anything we are missing. But before we look at their prayer, I want you to think about the prayers that you pray, the things you pray about. I know what you pray about because we all kind of pray the same stuff.

There are exceptions of course because there are some highs and lows in life, but for the most part the average prayer goes something like this, we thank God for what we have, we pray for our family, we pray for ourselves, and we pray for a sick person or two, and that’s it.

But for the most part, the stuff we pray for does not exercise God’s might. A lot of it is stuff that’s already going to work out. For example: We pray, please give us a safe trip. I’m not saying this is a bad prayer. I pray it with my family too, but what I am saying is God doesn’t get all worked up to give a safe trip to vacation. We eat pizza and ask God to magically bless it to our bodies. We ask God to help us have a good day. Well, He does that every day, we just don’t.

Please keep praying all that stuff, but I have to wonder if God isn’t sighing saying, “Ask me something important! I’m God. You keep asking me for stuff that’s going to work out anyway. Try me; test me; give me something BIG.”

But all too often, the thing that all of our prayers have in common is that at the center of our prayers is who? Us. In fact just guessing, if God had answered all of your prayers in the last year, for most the only person that would be better off is you, and every now and then maybe a family member. You would be married, your kids would have gotten into better schools, you would have a better paying job.

I don’t think you should quit praying any of that, but my concern is that self-centered pray-ers, when you get them all together, after a while they start acting like a self-centered church. All of a sudden, a church goes from outward thinking to an inward thinking, and when that happens, this just becomes a church building, and we just become church people, and we just do church things. Then we get on each other’s nerves, and we go find ourselves another church building.

But I believe you are here today because you want to be a part of something bigger than that. Churches focused on God’s big mission pray big prayers. Today, I want to challenge you to start praying a little differently, start praying like the early Christians did.

Now before I tell you about the prayer they prayed, I’ve got to tell you what happened leading up to this prayer. On day one, 3,000 people joined the Church. A big launch! A few days later, Peter and John are going to the temple to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. The temple is the epicenter of ancient Judaism. On the way, they see a guy who hasn’t been able to walk since he was born, for 40 years.

Since he was crippled, the only thing for him to do was to be a beggar. Every day, friends would carry him to the temple gate where he would sit for hours and hours begging for money. That’s how he survived. When Peter and John walked by him, he asks them for money. Peter says, we don’t have any money, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk. Peter takes his hand and all of a sudden, this man can stand, he can walk, jump and skip, and he does so praising God. He is miraculously healed!

So excited and so grateful, he doesn’t want to let go of Peter and John, so he follows them into the temple. The temple is full of people who recognize him, who minds are absolutely blown. Their thinking I’ve known this guy since he was a kid. Every day, I see him sitting in the same spot begging for money, and now he’s seriously walking! Suddenly, there’s a stir in the temple.

Now, it was one thing when the disciples were creating havoc out in the streets, but now they are drawing attention in the temple. So as everyone gathers around to look at this guy walking, Peter can’t help himself and decides to preach a sermon right there in the temple. He didn’t have authority to that, but he did anyways and shared who Jesus is and how He was raised from the grave. He explained how every prophet from the Old Testament spoke about what was happening in their very day and time.

Luke tells us that by the end of the message, many of the people who heard it believed it and now the number of believers totaled about 5,000 men, not counting the women and children. All these people are now turning their attention toward this new religion, this belief about Jesus rising from the dead.

Needless to say, the people in charge of the temple, were not happy. They arrested Peter and John, threw them in jail as it was late in the evening. Word spreads throughout the city—the people that were close to Peter and John had to be a little nervous because it was just two months earlier that these same group of people had Jesus crucified. The next morning, the religious leaders question Peter and John about how they healed this man. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, launches into another sermon and says…

Acts 4:10-12
10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

When I read this, I think Peter gear down just a bit. You still smell like jail. You just got out of jail for saying this very kind of stuff. But he can’t stop. And as you can imagine, this really bugged the leaders of the temple.

But the problem was, the guy that had been healed came to the meeting, and he’s standing right in front of the leaders. They knew him too and saw him every day. And like everyone else, they knew this was a miracle, and they can’t exactly punish the miracle workers.

Acts 4:13-14
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say.

You know, this is just this guy’s second day of standing. It was just the day before that he could not stand or walk. In fact, I bet he didn’t even go to bed that night. He probably just kept walking and walking. I mean come on, how would you feel if you had never been able to walk in your entire life and all of a sudden, when you were not expecting it, you’re miraculously healed?

So the leading priests say to Peter and John, “We’re going to let you go, but don’t you ever again speak or teach of this ridiculous nonsense. Don’t talk about Jesus. Don’t talk about the resurrection, and quit blaming us for crucifying him! Just keep your mouth shut and all will be fine.”

Peter looks at them, right fresh out of jail and says, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” The council threatens them a bit more then, Peter and John take off to find the group—Mary, James, Andrew, and all the other disciples. When the group sees Peter and John, everyone breathes a sigh of relief because they didn’t know if we would ever see them again.

Peter and John tell them what the priests said, and everyone gets on their knees in prayer. I’m going to show you the prayer in just a moment, but first imagine how would you respond at this point? You almost lost two very important people in your group. They spent the night in jail, barely escaped with their lives. So, what are you going to pray for?

I know how we would pray today. We would pray the kind of prayers we always pray. We would pray for protection. “God, protect us, and bless us, and keep this from us, and cover us with a hedge of protection.”

In fact, I think with that we would say, “Now look guys, here’s what we’ve got to do. First of all, Peter and John, you are not allowed to travel together anymore. We can’t lose both of you. So when Peter goes, John, you stay here. Number two: We need to get you security. You guys are way too important to this movement.

Lastly, we have to tone down the rhetoric. Peter, no more R word. Let’s just lay low and knock off the resurrection talk for a while. John, talk about love. People love love. Peter, do a thing on prayer. You’ve heard all that stuff Jesus taught. And when this thing blows over, then we can ramp back up with the Jesus and the resurrection thing. So don’t travel together, and we’re going to tone down the rhetoric, okay? That’s how we think, isn’t it? Be extra cautious.

But are you ready for this? Here’s how they prayed.
Acts 4:24
24 When they heard the report (the report of Peter and John), all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—

In other words, God before we ask for anything, we know who we’re talking to – the Sovereign Lord and nothing is out of your control and nothing happens without you knowing about it. You made everything and planned how all of this would happen.

Acts 4:25-26
25 You spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? 26 The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

Then, they bring it into their context and say that’s exactly what has happened right here in our lifetime.

Acts 4:27-28
27 “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28 But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will.”

They believed that none of these events were spiraling out of control, that somehow the sovereign, powerful God oversaw even the crucifixion of their friend. And then they get to their prayer request.

Acts 4:29
29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Okay, time out. Boldness? Isn’t boldness what landed them in jail? Didn’t boldness create all the chaos in the temple and between them and the religious leaders? Isn’t boldness the problem? Aren’t these guys pretty bold already?

I mean, they stepped right out in the streets and preached about the resurrection. In today’s towns, we don’t even pay attention to street preachers. Yet you actually were a street preacher and 3,000 people responded. I think you’ve got boldness covered. You’re good.

Have you ever prayed for boldness? We tend to just pray for God to help people become Christian. I’m not going to say anything. I just want God to make them a Christian.

We’re going to talk about this more next week. But for now, do you know how the message of Jesus got to the twenty-first century? It’s because the first century Christians had and prayed for boldness and for God to use them. Stretch out your hand and use us to heal and perform miracles. Have you ever asked for that? No, no because we’re not one of those kinds of churches.

Do you know why this verse has gotten such a bad rap? I’ll tell you why. This is weird to us simply because we don’t do this. They were asking to be able to go out into the community among people who didn’t believe and who were skeptical and be used by God, so the people would see something and go, “Oh wow, that was an act of God.”

What if you and I began to pray: God, would you stretch out your hand and do something through me among my unbelieving friends, and among my friends that have been burned by religion. I can’t convince them with my power. So God, would you be willing to stretch out your hand and do something unusual? Not for my benefit, but for the benefit of those who don’t believe.

Something important to realize is that the miracles in the Bible weren’t just for the sake of the people that the miracles were performed on. All these people that were healed, eventually died. The whole point of healings in the New Testament wasn’t just for the sake of the people who were healed, although that was certainly a good day for them; don’t get me wrong. But the point of the miracles were so people would lean in and go, “Tell me more!”

They’re asking to be able to go out into the community and demonstrate the power of God, not for their sake, but for the sake of what God was doing through the Church. To show who God is.

Can you imagine what would happen in our church if we began to add to our prayers, not subtract? Pray everything you’ve been praying, but begin to add to your prayers. God, thank you for this day—and you can say, help me have safe trip, get married, get a better job—and would you give me boldness with my friends, and would you stretch out your hand and would you do something through me that would possibly get my friends, who have just written you off and written the church off, that would get them to possibly give you another look, a second chance? Can you imagine what would happen if we began to pray like the first century believers?

I’ll tell you what will happen. I know this without a doubt. If you pray like this you will see more opportunities to take advantage of because God made you for this. You were made to share the Good News in this day and time. So if you ask for it, of course He’s going to answer it! When you and I begin to pray God make me bolder, give me opportunities, and God stretch out your hand, you’re going to see things you haven’t seen before. Perhaps God is going to do something God would not have done otherwise through you.

Here’s how the story wraps up.
Acts 4:31
31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Then Luke, who is writing this down, says and oh, I’ve got to tell you this part too.
Acts 4:32
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Suddenly, along with this boldness, there was an outbreak of extreme generosity—not because of a sermon, not because someone said if you give one, God will give ten. It was just as they became outwardly focused, as they became concerned about their community and as they talked about the resurrection, there was an outbreak of generosity.

Here’s the deal. The way we pray is an indication of where our hearts are. The way we pray is an indication of if we are still on track to pursue God’s mission and plan for our community and world. I want us to be a church that prays big prayers.

I want us to add to our prayers, “God make me bolder, and if you want do something in my life that would cause the people around me to want to know more, then God, I’m open because I want to be on mission. I want to be part of this movement. I want to be the Church in my community and world.”

In a just moment I’m going to ask you to stand and pray for this together. If you’re not a Christian just yet or you’re not buying all of this, you don’t have to read it. But if you’re a Christian, a Jesus follower, then you have to play. You do, and here’s why.

You are a Christian because the first century Church prayed bold prayers. I’m telling you, your prayers and my prayers would have never gotten the story of Jesus out of the first century because our prayers are all about “protect me, and help me, and don’t let me skin my knee; in Jesus’ name, amen.” We’re too worried about ourselves and what we don’t know, instead of trusting God and letting Him in control. But that can change.

You and I are responsible in this generation to hand the church off in good shape to the next generation, in better shape than what was handed to us. So would you stand to say this prayer together.

Enable us to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to use us that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Jesus.