Simply Devoted to Prayer (Acts 2:41-42) | Jared Betts

Worthy of our Prayer

For the past few weeks, we have been seeking to understand the simple devotion God requires of us in the worship of Himself as a corporate body of believers in His Son, Jesus Christ. He is worthy, because He is God.[1] He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning and the End. He is the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.[2] He is the true and faithful witness. He is not just they Way and the Life, but the Truth.[3] He is the firstborn of the dead. He is our life. All who believe in Him will live even if they die.[4] Because He lives, we too shall live.[5] He is the King of the rulers of the earth, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possess immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.[6] He is worthy of all honor, glory and praise simply for who He is.

 He is also worthy for what He has done for us. He loves us because He loves us.[7] While we were yet helpless, ungodly, unrighteous, unholy sinners, He demonstrated His love toward us by dying for us and releasing us from our sins by His blood.[8] When we were dead in our trespasses and sin, walking according to the course of this world and living in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature, God made us alive together with Christ purely because of His great love with which He loved us.[9] He has brought us near to God by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.[10] He is, therefore, worthy to be worshipped for what He has done, and we glorify Him through sincere devotion to His Word, His people, and the two sacraments He has given to His church, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper.

We come now to the final devotion we find among the church in Acts, and that is prayer. My aim with this is not to present anything necessarily deep or profound on prayer, but purely for us to see the necessity of this devotion being carried out among us as one body. This is more than just asking, “Do you pray?” It is asking, “Do we as a body make it a point to pray together as one? Are we each individually committed to corporate prayer as a church? Do we long to gather and pray in one accord on the Lord’s Day?

Christ our Example and Commander

We must pray because:

  • Our Lord, our Redeemer, our Master, Jesus Christ, lived a life of constant prayer. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus would get up in the early morning, and go to a secluded place to pray to His Father.[11]

Luke 6:12 tells us that before He choose the Twelve:

“He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”

We see this again before He manifests Himself to His disciples as the Son of God by walking on water:

46 After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.”[12]

We see it before His transfiguration:

28 He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.”[13]

We see it at the close of the Last Supper when Jesus, “lifting His eyes to heaven,” prayed to His Father.[14]

We see it, most importantly, in Matthew’s account of the garden before Jesus willingly laid down His life to be pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities as the Lord caused the sin of us all to fall on Him:[15]

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’…42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”[16] 

The author of Hebrews speaks of this night when they say that:

“He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.”[17]

We see it even now, where Jesus, as our resurrected Savior, has as ascended to heaven as our High Priest. The exalted Son of God, the One who is superior over all things and who has completed His redemptive work on behalf of His people, is sitting at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on behalf of those He has redeemed. That is on our behalf. Christ is praying for us. Hebrews 8:1-2 says:

1 We have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.”

Hebrews 9:11-12 says:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”

In the Old Testament, the high priest could only minister in such a way as long as he was alive. This means that death would end his intercessory ministry on behalf of the people. Christ, however, lives never to die again. Hebrews 7:25-28 says:

25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

We should pray together because the One who died for us so that we might no longer live for ourselves but Him, exemplifies a life of prayer for us.[18]

  • The One who exemplifies a life of prayer commands it. We are to be, as Romans 12:12 says, “devoted to prayer.” The Spirit says to us through Paul to the Ephesians:

18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”

According to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we are to:

16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Simply put, we should pray together, because we have been told to.

  • The Church in Acts models a life of prayer out of their devotion to their Lord and Savior, who both exemplifies it and commands it.

We see this in the beginning of Luke’s account when all the believers at the time were gathered in the upper room and “all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer.”[19]

We see this in our text after Christ added to His church through Peter’s proclamation of the gospel when those who had received His word were added to the church, and the entire body of believers were:

42 Were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

We see this in Acts 4:23-31 after Peter and John had been arrested and threatened for preaching Christ, crucified and risen again. After they reported to the church all that had happened to them, “They lifted their voices to God with one accord.”[20]

We see this in Acts 12:1-17 after King Herod killed John’s brother James and arrested Peter when he saw that it pleased the Jews. Acts 12:5 says:

So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”

We should pray together because the church we have been made apart of has devoted itself to corporate prayer throughout its life. Our time of prayer together:

  1. Should consist of adoration for God as we reflect on who He is and what He has done for us in Christ, and what He continues to do for us through Christ.
  2. It should also comprise of honest and humble confession to God for the sins we commit.
  3. It should be filled with thanksgiving for everything that God has bestowed upon us, both the good and the bad, for each is used by God to accomplish His purpose in our lives and church.
  4. It should be filled with intercession, which is when we beseech God to specifically work in meeting the needs of others.
  5. It should contain supplication, which is when we entreat God earnestly for a matter knowing that He is a good Father who wants to provide for His children who depend upon Him.[21]

This is all so that He may display His power, and ability, and desire to care for His people; and they praise Him in return.

A Form of Worship and Means of Grace

Prayer is that form of worship whereby, we acknowledge not just our own individual insufficiency and dependance upon God’s being all-sufficient, but also our insufficiency as a body of believers who are in desperate need of the wisdom, and power, and care of our God. It is that humble act of adoration where we assume His sovereignty over His creation. It recognizes that creation has a King, and the Church has a head, and He reigns from His throne, and no person or thing can ever frustrate His plan and purpose.[22] To pray is to delight yourself in the Lord. If I may bring to mind a statement I have shared before by J.I. Packer. He said:

“This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands…In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the lordship of God.”[23]

Prayer is the mechanism through which God proves Himself strong in our lives and reminds us that He is acutely aware and intimately involved with every area of our lives. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 says:

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

It is no wonder that some have considered prayer to be “the muscles that moves the arm of omnipotence.” Some have rightly acknowledged that “Our God delights in vindicating even the smallest confidence of His children.”

The church is to be characterized by a life of corporate prayer. Jesus said of the Temple, “My house will be called a house of prayer.”[24] We are the household of God that is growing into a Holy temple of the Lord and have become a dwelling of the Spirit.[25] As living stones, we are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[26]

He says to us His bride, His body, “Devote yourselves to prayer.”[27] He says, “I want the men in every place to pray.”[28] He beckons us as His body to tap into that means of grace He uses to conform us to His holy image by drawing near with confidence to His throne of grace:

“That we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”[29]

We can go confidently to His throne because:

“We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”[30]

As Peter says:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

The Pulse of the Body

What we should understand is that just as the opening and closing of the aortic valve generates a pulse in our bodies declaring there to be life within us, corporate prayer is the pulse of the body of Christ signifying that there is life in its members. The piercing question before us is this, is there life among us? Is devotion to prayer a priority for us as a church? Do we possess a pulse?

In his day, Charles Spurgeon witnessed what is referred to as The Down-Grade Controversy. He saw local churches around him abandoning robust theology and turning aside from the doctrines of grace in an attempt to make God more palatable to people. This resulted in the gradual degradation among the pragmatic congregations that consumed and applied such thinking. Spurgeon noticed that the casting aside of sound doctrine and substituting it for something pleasing to people had a serious impact on the prayer life of the church. The pulse of the church slowly died out. Spurgeon said:

“At the back of doctrinal falsehood comes a natural decline of spiritual life, evidenced by a taste for questionable amusements, and a weariness of devotional meetings. At a certain meeting of ministers and church-officers, one after another doubted the value of prayer-meetings; all confessed that they had a very small attendance, and several acknowledged without the slightest compunction that they had quite given them up. What means this? Are churches in a right condition when they have only one meeting for prayer in a week, and that a mere skeleton? Churches which have prayer-meetings several times on the Lord’s-day, and very frequently during the week, yet feel their need of more prayer; but what can be said of those who very seldom practice united supplication? Are there few conversions? Do the congregations dwindle? Who wonders that this is the case when the spirit of prayer has departed?”[31]

            Prayer does not come naturally to us. It is a spiritual discipline that we must train and condition ourselves to do. and is therefore one of the most neglected practices among churches. This is tragic because neglecting it both privately and corporately results in people and churches being spiritual weak and apathetic toward the Living God.

Many of us undoubtedly see our own failure and negligence in the area of prayer not only privately, corporately when we are gathered together on the Lord’s day. As Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”[32] We are all a people prone to wander and waver. We perpetually fall short of the glory of God, and frequently falter in our walk with Him. When we consider this about ourselves, we are drawn to ask God the same question the Psalmist asked:

“What is man that You take thought of him? And the son of man that You care for him?”[33]

May we find comfort in what else the Psalmist says, that:

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”[34]

May we remember that the message of the gospel is that God’s love for us is not dependent upon our love and faithfulness towards Him, but solely on His love and faithfulness towards us in His Son, Jesus Christ.[35] He loves us because He loves us. He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.[36] He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light; to the kingdom of His beloved Son.[37] Through His Son, He called us to Himself, and has granted us the privilege of being able to commune with Him through prayer. May we see where we have fallen short in this, confess to Him who is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse from all unrighteousness, and press on in His grace by simply and sincerely devoting ourselves to Him in prayer. Not only privately, but corporately on the Lord’s Day, as a body of believers whom He has purchased for Himself with His blood for His own honor and glory. May are view of prayer be like that of this individual who prayed this many years ago:

      “O Lord,

In prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality.

Time, with its gay amusements and cruel disappointments, never appears so inconsiderate as then.

In prayer, I see myself as nothing; I find my heart going after Thee with intensity, and long with vehement thirst to live to Thee.

Blessed by the strong gales of the Spirit that speeds me on my way to the New Jerusalem.

In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.

In prayer all my worldly cares, fears, anxieties disappear, and are of as little significance as a puff of wind.

In prayer my soul inwardly exults with lively thoughts as that Thou art doing for Thy church, and I long that Thou shouldest get Thyself a great name from sinners returning to Zion.

In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life and taste heavenly joys; entering into the eternal world I can give myself to Thee with all my heart, to be Thine forever.

In prayer I can place all my concerns in Thy hands, to be entirely at Thy disposal, having no will or interest of my own.

In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, thy kingdom to come, with greatest freedom, ardent hopes, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved.

Help me to be all prayer and never to cease praying.”[38]

[1] John 10:30

[2] Revelation 1:8

[3] John 14:6

[4] John 11:25-26

[5] John 14:19

[6] 1 Timothy 6:15-16

[7] Deuteronomy 7:7-8

[8] Romans 5:6; Revelation 1:5

[9] Ephesians 2:1-5

[10] Ephesians 2:13; Revelations 1:6

[11] Mark 1:35

[12] Mark 6:46

[13] Luke 9:28-29

[14] John 17

[15] Isaiah 53:5-6

[16] Matthew 26:26-39,42

[17] Hebrews 5:7

[18] 2 Corinthians 5:15

[19] Acts 1:14

[20] Acts 4:24

[21] Luke 11:5-13

[22] Job 42:2; Psalm 33:11; 115:3; Isaiah 14:27; 45:6-7; 46:10; Daniel 4:35

[23] Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer; Page 15-16

[24] Matthew 21:14

[25] Ephesians 2:19-22

[26] 1 Peter 2:5

[27] Colossians 4:2

[28] 1 Timothy 2:8

[29] Hebrews 4:16

[30] Hebrews 4:15

[31] Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade, Charles Spurgeon; Sword and Trowel August 1887

[32] Matthew 26:41

[33] Psalm 8:4

[34] Psalm 103:14

[35] 1 John 4:10

[36] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[37] 1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 1:13

[38] The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, Edited by Arthur Bennett; Page 146

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