This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we continued to explore the spiritual practice of prayer as a tool to fight self-reliance. We focused on the communal aspect of prayer and the power of praying together.
When looking at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, it’s easy to miss that the prayer is filled with communal language. We are family, which means when we pray to our Father, we pray for all of our needs, we ask for forgiveness for our sins as a community and culture, and we pray for help against temptation for one another.
Part of why Jesus teaches us to pray communally is because He knows we will never become the beautiful, supernatural, life-giving community He intends...until we learn to pray together. And the first four chapters of Acts give us a beautiful picture of how right Jesus was:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
As the early church is devoted to prayer, incredible things start to happen: the church taking care of everyone’s needs, people interweaving their lives together, and God adding new believers into their community. We see a second and equally beautiful picture in Acts 4:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
We again see an example of a Jesus-centered family on mission. This type of church may seem a bit out of reach for us, but what happens in between these two beautiful pictures gives us the clue to how this kind of community can come to be.
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.
We see from this passage that Peter and John and the early church community are consistently praying together day by day. In that context of prayer, God shows them an incredible opportunity for God’s might to be displayed. God opens their eyes to a kingdom opportunity right in front of them, through prayer.
However, after this amazing moment, Peter and John get arrested and thrown in jail for healing in Jesus’ name. After a long, unjust trial with no basis, the two are let go and immediately go to their friends’ house where they start to ... pray:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
They start their prayer by acknowledging who God is. They bring all their problems to God, interpreting them through the lens of Scripture and through the lens of God’s sovereignty. Then, they ask God to help them keep speaking God’s Word with boldness. Peter and John just got thrown in jail, and they pray for boldness, not safety.
The early church prayed for strength to keep doing what God had called them to. And they asked God to keep doing what only He can do: healing people, performing signs and wonders...all in the name of Jesus.
In the end, we have to recognize that the church is supposed to be supernatural! God didn’t institute the church to be a big, happy get together of nice, polite moral people. Instead, God calls the church to show off to the world what life with God is like. We cannot be a part of God’s miraculous kingdom work here on earth without prayer.
The church is supposed to be a place where things are happening daily and the only explanation is “Yeah, I don’t know. God did it.” Unexplainable things are supposed to be happening in our midst - things that require gospel explanation and point to the mighty handiwork of our God.
In LifeGroup this week, we will practically apply this call to communal prayer, and lift our voices together to God, like the early church did in Acts 4:23. There are normal hesitations to participating in group prayer, but we hope this will be a good, gospel encouragement to join our voices together to our Father:
“Grace means we aren't saved by our prayers. Jesus’ perfect prayer life has been substituted for ours. We stand before God now counted as perfect pray-ers of perfect prayers. And grace means we accept each other freely. We give room for weaknesses and struggles. We help each other grow and learn out of kindness and acceptance. We don't need to impress God or each other.
You are already loved. You are already righteous in God’s sight. You will not be judged by God or by us as to the quality of your prayers. There is nothing to fear."