Another challenge to true discipleship from Chris Green’s book on the church – this time the challenge to pray at every opportunity with expectant faith as Paul asks the Ephesian Christians to do in Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
“The fourth commitment was to spend their time praying, and again Luke repeats this. They met ‘constantly’ (1:14), but also when a special need arose (1:24-25). They took part in the temple prayers (3:.1), but also informally at home (4:24-31). They prayed spontaneously (3:1), but also define it as one of the two principal responsibilities of the apostles (6:4-6).
The rest of Acts fills out this pattern, and shows how inescapable prayer was in the early church. They prayed in prison (16:25), and for those in prison (12:5, 12). They prayed on their own (11:5) and together (12:5). They prayed indoors (12:12), outdoors (10:9), at midday (10:9) and midnight (16:25), in the Jerusalem temple (22:17) and in a Roman palace (26:29), at sea (27:29) and on a beach (20:36). They prayed for non-Christians to be converted (26:29), and confused Christians to be filled with the Spirit (8:15). They prayed when they ate (2:46-47) and when they fasted (14:23). They prayed for the sick to be healed (28:8) and the dead to be raised (9:40). They prayed when their leaders were initially commissioned (14:23) and when they were given final responsibility (20:36). They prayed when they had just become Christians (9:11) and when they were seconds from death (7:60). The early church devoted themselves to prayer.
The relevance for us is almost too obvious to be made, but we must face it. It is not just the range of things prayed for which is striking, but the frequency of their praying. They planned for it in their meetings every day (47), and they were disciplined about it, so when Peter is on his own, away from Jerusalem, he still prays (10:9).
More than that, they expected God to answer their prayers: ‘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 so he did: ‘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.’” Acts 4:29-31
He continues: “Although the book is frequently called the ‘The Acts of the Apostles’, it really is ‘The Acts of God’, and although he is sovereign and generates his own acts, he responds to the prayers of his people, and his people know that.”
So an example in prayer from the early Christians, and an encouragement to pray: God responds to our prayers. So the only response is … to pray (perhaps instead of the television in my case, or the newspaper, or a book, or the internet, or facebook, or the phone, or a magazine, or whatever similar thing it is for you?).