A Church In Crisis
Acts 4:23 - “And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.”
Just to refresh your memory, Peter and John had been “severely threatened” that from now on they were not to speak at all or teach at all in the name of Jesus. How did their companions react to this troubling report? They prayed.
V24 - So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said:
Let’s just stop there and examine what was taking place here regarding this prayer. This is important stuff. We are given the rare privilege of eavesdropping on a prayer of the early church in the midst of some very challenging circumstances. This is a church in crisis, and anyone who has been around “church” long enough, knows that crisis’ come. Crisis’ happen.
Many times we bring the crisis’ on ourselves through failure to follow God’s plan for the church. Many times it’s our own disobedience that brings trouble. Sometimes individual pride rears it’s ugly head in church proceedings and terrible divisions follow putting the church in crisis’.
The disciples are facing what I would call a legitimate crisis. It’s a crisis brought on by being obedient to the word of God. If we are to have crisis as a church, let it be for being obedient to the Word of God, rather than for our disobedience or pride, or a lack of interest in carrying out the mission of the local congregation. .
We are facing a crisis here at Living Word. It’s first and foremost a crisis of disinterest and apathy in being a church. We are not functioning as a body. Oh there may be some isolated incidents of ministry by individuals, but as a Body we aren’t doing a thing.
Everyone is seemingly content with being a “lone ranger” Christian, but God did not design His church to be the lone ranger. We are the Body of Christ with Him as the head and we as the individual gifted parts were designed to make it fly and come against the very gates of hell.
SO what do we do about it? Well what did the early church do about it? They prayed! They prayed in one accord. They were unified in their recognition of the problem. The challenge for us is this: Can we be unified in the recognition of our problem? Can we agree that we are not functioning as a Body?
We certainly can be in agreement that we have a problem, but can we be in agreement that our basic problem is we are not functioning as the Holy Spirit filled entity called the New Testament congregation?
Once we find this common ground, we are then able to pray. How did the disciples pray? The first thing we notice is they “raised their voice,” that is, they prayed audibly. Why is that important? Surely God can hear our prayers without having to speak them audibly. He knows our hearts, why do the disciples speak audibly?
When we pray audibly, it’s not for God’s benefit, rather, it is for the benefit of all within earshot. That would include, angels, demons, the devil, those gathered in the flesh, and even ourselves.
Now we need to be careful here. It’s not that we use our time of prayer to preach at an individual or individuals in our midst. Perhaps you’ve heard those kind of prayers before, “Oh Lord open the blind eyes of my brothers and sisters here today that they may see things the way I do. Amen.”
No, that’s not why we pray audibly. We pray audibly to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to speak through our yielded hearts and lips. So first and foremost be ready to pray with one accord, and secondly, come with a yielded heart and tongue.
The benefit of praying audibly in a corporate setting, comes as we wait for the perfect voice of the Spirit to rise in our midst, to intercede perfectly on our behalf to our heavenly Father. To say perfectly, what needs to be heard by all present. In prayer, it is the Spirit who speaks to us from God, and it’s the Spirit who speaks from us to God. and others. He is an intercessor, a mediator.
Why does the Bible say voice here, rather than voices? Who’s voice is it? Who’s doing the actual speaking? The answer is the Holy Spirit is doing the speaking corporately through one or more of the disciples. That’s why we call it “corporate prayer.”
Romans 8:26,27 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses, (our times of inadequacies) for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints, according to the will of God.”
Ah, the strength and power of Holy Spirit led prayer. Intercession according to the will of God! That’s the secret to powerful prayer, praying according to the will of God!.
The hard part is the waiting isn’t it? The hard part is waiting for the voice of the Spirit to rise from those assembled. We are always in such a hurry when we pray. We can’t stand extended periods of silence in our prayer life, we want to get going, and so we race off in our flesh, often cutting the Holy Spirit off before He has a chance to speak to our need.
One of the tragedies of our electronic age, is we have lost the art of being quiet before the Lord. It seems we always have to have some background noise going. A TV, a radio, a CD. We can’t seem to last 5 minutes without them. Parents, find a way to teach your children the value of quiet time.
It seems we are raising an entire generation of children who’s only connection to quiet time, is a time of punishment. What do we call those? Time outs? I’m not trashing the time out method of disciplining, I’m just saying that if that’s their only understanding of quiet time, we have a problem.
All right, where were we? Ah yes, cutting off the Holy Spirit. One of the dangers of audible group prayer is speaking in our flesh rather than waiting for the Spirit. That is a risk well worth taking when you consider the alternative.......not praying at all. Trust the Spirit to rise above our flesh in corporate prayer.
Just giving the Spirit the opportunity to express Himself is worth the risk. In prayer, we all need to learn to wait on the Lord. Wait for His voice to rise from our midst. We won’t learn that unless we give Him opportunity, unless we gather for prayer.
How do you know when prayer is of the flesh or of the Spirit? First of all, God knows, and that’s the most important thing, but some things to listen for in corporate prayer are an “amen” in your heart. Someone prays in the group, and expresses what you were being led to express yourself. That’s an “Amen,” That’s praying in one accord, a sign of a Spirit led prayer. (Established by two or three witnesses.)
However, that is not the only sign. Even though we may be in one accord, the voice that rises from our midst must also be scriptural. It must fall in line with the Word of God.
I don’t want to get involved in a long discussion here about the Holy Spirit praying with groanings and utterings or tongues. Suffice to say, that if the prayer is audibilized amomg companions. (In the congregation) it must be in a language that is understood by all, or there is no benefit, no edification for those present.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:16 regarding praying in tongues, “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, (pray in tongues) how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say, “Amen,” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?”
In order for a prayer to be in one accord, to be unanimous, to be of the voice of the Spirit, to be able to be ended with a Holy Spirit led, group “amen” yea, yea, Lord so shall it be. It must be understood, and it must be biblical.
Now, let’s listen to the disciples Holy Spirit led prayer:
“Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, “
A church in crisis, and the first words out of the Spirit’s mouth is an acknowledgment of the Creator God. Yes! He spoke His beautiful creation into existence out of nothing. Such a powerful God should be able to handle anything else we bring His way.
Further evidence of this being a Spirit led prayer is the attention has been directed to God. Remember, that’s one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, to direct attention, to shine the spotlight, to bring glory to the Father and the Son.
V25,26 - “who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.”
Here we have a direct quote from Scripture, another sign that this is Spirit led prayer. And a strong encouragement for us to memorize Scripture for use in corporate prayer!
Acknowledging that God spoke this word through David, but more is needed. There must be an application of this Scripture to their present situation, and the application must be in context.
And so as we pray for our crisis, we would do well to allow the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance passages that deal with the function of the Body of Christ.
V27, 28 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
Isn’t that interesting. They do not directly mention their present situation with the rulers. They point to another situation involving rulers and God’s Anointed....Jesus Christ. That keeps the Scripture in it’s proper context, while at the same time providing encouragement for all who are present.
So in our situation, we need to look for similar situations in Scripture to recall the Lord’s past faithfulness in setting a fire under His church.
Because the “Pilate” thing was the mother of all plots by the “raging nations,” it was the plot to gather against Jesus. But with His resurrection, the plot failed, and in fact was revealed as part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
Though not spoken of directly in this prayer, the Scripture quoted by the Holy Spirit would trigger thoughts of the rest of that Psalm of David which said , “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”
The plans of men against God are worthy of the laughter of such a great and mighty God. A God who created all things.
Another benefit of this indirect mention of the crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection would be a reminder to those present of God’s faithfulness. In what appeared to be the darkest hour of history, and the darkest hour of the church, God came through, we need to remember that in our darkest hours as well. God turned what seemed a certain defeat into ultimate victory!
The Holy Spirit has spent the first half of this prayer speaking comfort and confidence to those gathered. The first half of this prayer is in reality, God speaking to them through the Holy Spirit. That changes in v29 as the Holy Spirit now intercedes for them, making a specific request.
“Now, Lord, look on their threats.”
Who’s threats? The threats of the rulers who had gathered against them prohibiting them from preaching or teaching in Jesus Name.
“They’re at it again God, look at our situation Lord, we need Your help. We are going to need boldness to continue preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. We have a crisis of boldness. Our flesh is weak, we need Your help.
“And grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.”
In our own crisis of spiritual apathy, we will need to be still before the Lord and allow the Holy spirit to ask for what we need!
Note the phrase, “your servant” Have you noticed that it appears four times in this prayer? “Your servant David, Your holy Servant Jesus, (twice) and now, “your servants...the disciples.
The Word means, “slaves,” Your slave David, Your holy Slave Jesus, and Your slaves....us.
Here we have a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit, who or what we are to be....slaves. Slaves do the will of their Master without question. Slaves of God are also bold. They are bold because they know their Master, they know His power. Bold David taking on Goliath, bold Jesus taking on the Sanhedrein, bold disciples, now doing the same.
Bold Living Word, taking on our apathetic flesh.
But in v30 they seemingly get a little pushy with God. They not only ask for boldness, but now they tell God how they want it. What cheek! And it would be if they were praying in the flesh., but they’re not! Remember, this is the Holy Spirit speaking, not the disciples. It is the Holy Spirit who asks the Father to boost their boldness
V30, “by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. “
This was the way the Holy Spirit knew would increase their boldness. He knew their hearts, He knew what they needed, and so He asked the Father for it. Let us trust Him to ask the Lord for what we need for our present hour of crisis.
Why would the Holy Spirit make such a request of God on behalf of the disciples. Why not just stop at boldness no matter what form it came from?
Because it gives the disciples some direction, a path to follow if you will. As God heals those whom the disciples come in contact with, as He performs signs and wonders through the name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit knows that it will increase their boldness.
Think about it. What was it that prevented the ruling authorities from punishing Peter and John? Was it not the 40 year old beggar who stood healed in their midst, they couldn’t argue with such results and so the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the disciples asked God for more such signs.
The prayer is ended abruptly. As the Spirit says the words, “through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” The place rocks!
V31, “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
It’s like God was saying, “Did someone mention My Son Jesus in whom I am well pleased?” It was like God saying a supernatural “Amen,” to their prayer. He said, I heard your request, and I grant it!”
In shaking the place where these disciples had gathered, God put His sanction and seal upon the principle uttered in this prayer and He did it for all the time to come. The principle is simply this: We are to listen to God rather than men.
We are to be slaves to Him, not to men. Slavery to Him gives us access to allow Him to meet our need in crisis. Oh what things God could accomplish through us if we would become His slaves. Oh how He and His Son would be glorified if we purposed to do His will. Oh that we would be filled with His Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit spoke with one voice through the disciples at this early church prayer meeting. The result was a fresh infilling of His power and might for all of those present. It resulted in renewed boldness after they left the meeting. But none of this happens, if they don’t gather for prayer.
It’s why we are asking you to stay for prayer after the service today. We want to provide an opportunity to hear from the Lord. To hear Him speak to our need in such a way that He will be glorified. We want to be refreshed, and emboldened, and redirected.
In case you aren’t aware of it, Living Word Lutheran is a church in crisis. Will you stay and pray? It’s up to you. No one will think less of you if you leave because you have something else planned or if you’d just as soon keep the status quo. But if you believe we have a problem and would like to be used to be part of the solution, I encourage you to stay.
Let us come before the throne in one accord. Let us come before the One who created heaven and earth, waiting for the voice of the Holy Spirit to rise from our midst and speak to our need. Confident that God will have an answer for our crisis.
Do what you have to do. The prayer meeting will start in 10 minutes.