Becoming Known for Prayer (Acts 4:23-37) | 01.26.13
Next week, we’ll launch a series called “Jesus is Everything” from the book of Colossians. This week, as we move into the New Year, I want to talk about vision. Where are we currently as a congregation? Where do I see the Lord leading us in the coming year? My prayer is that we’ll be known for something maybe we’ve not been known for before.
What would you say Karis Church is known for? Some might say we’re about the gospel. That we’re always talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us, and what it means in our every day lives. Others might say we’re about community. We love each other well. We’re a big family. We’re truly there for each other. Still others might describe us as being about mission. We’ve tried to be out in our city, seeking her good. We’ve tried to love people and share Jesus.
But here’s what I want us to think about today: would anyone call us a praying church? I fear they wouldn’t. The American church doesn’t pray much at all, and I’m afraid we’re not much different most of the time. Today, I want to talk about why this might be the case, give some reasons why it simply can’t, and close with some ideas about how to repent and grow as a church. Let’s pray and begin.
A Problem of Arrogance
Why wouldn’t we be known as a praying church? I have an idea - from looking in the mirror. Here’s a confession: I think I know everything, and I think I can do everything. I’m a know-it-all. I’m a do-it-all. Therefore, I’m not as motivated to pray as I should. I’m arrogant. When there is something to be done, I grab the white board and go at it. I figure it out. When there is some sort of problem, I send an email and try to fix it. I take care of business.
But this is all so foolish. I try to play God. We do that as a church, as well. We completely forget who we are. We’re arrogant. We convince ourselves we know what to do. We fool ourselves into thinking we can achieve results.
The truth is that we’re in great need of wisdom. And our good Lord promises to give it. Look at James 1 with me:
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In the trials of life, in the pressures of doing ministry, the Lord will give us wisdom. We just need to call out and ask Him. And we have to pray in a way that truly believes He will provide it. We pray in faith, believing He’ll guide us, teach us, care for us. We need His wisdom. He wants us to ask Him for it. And we can’t hear verse 5 as referring to just “those people” that lack wisdom. It’s all of us. If we’d admit that, we’ll be praying people.
But it’s not just that we don’t know much on our own. We also can’t do anything on our own. Turn with me to John chapter 15.
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Did you hear that? Apart from me, you can do nothing. APART FROM ME, YOU CAN DO NOTHING. We’re not only clueless. We’re powerless. If we understood that, we’d pray. Look with me now to 1 Corinthians 3.
1 Cor. 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
You hear that? God gives the growth. GOD GIVES THE GROWTH. Paul says, the people doing the ministry really aren’t anything. God’s the one with the real power to grow people, to grow His church. Not us. Paul Miller writes, in A Praying Life, “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life." Our lives reveal how we truly view our Lord. Scripture says God gives the increase. If we got that into our thick heads, we’d pray.
But if we acknowledge that, I don’t think we fully grasp it. Here’s what I mean. We often view prayer together like a football team does. What do I mean? You throw a few words up in the sky. Maybe you say the Lord’s prayer. You run out of the tunnel and get to work. You pray. You play. But here’s the problem with that, friends: prayer is the game. More than that, it’s the work. If we can’t do anything without Him, if He brings the growth, then prayer is essential. Hear Eric Alexander on this:
In the Christian church over the years, we have turned the truth upside down, and commonly speak of ‘praying for the work’ - the implication being that prayer is an additional ingredient to our Christian service. The truth is that prayer is the real work, and apart from it, all other work is in vain. The reason for that is quite simple. It is that essentially this work in which we are engaged is God’s work, not man’s. There are endless lists of things that men and women can do: we can intellectually convince people, we can emotionally move them and we can materially improve them. But only God can spiritually resurrect them out of spiritual death into life in Christ; only God can convict their conscience and convince them of their need for a Savior; only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind and give them sight; and only God can transform their character and recreate them into the image of Christ. And, my dear friends…that is the essence of the work in which we are engaged… Now if the conversion of sinners is God’s work, the simple question we must ask and answer is, “To whom do we apply to have this work done?” The only answer logically as well as theologically is ‘to God’. That is why prayer is fundamental rather than supplemental in our service. That is why the primary evangelistic method is prayer. (Eric Alexander)
Do we grasp this? I don’t think so. Prayer feels inefficient. But it’s how kingdom things happen. We need to repent of our know-it-all, do-it-all, “we are God” attitude, and pray. Karis, we are a pretty intelligent bunch. We’re a pretty driven bunch. But we’re just fooling ourselves. He is the all-wise one. He is the one who does the work. We must be people who pray.
I want this posture of prayer to work its way into those of us who lead things here in Karis. I’m going to use some battle imagery here. There are at least two key responsibilities military leaders have to be aware of. The first is strategy. What is our plan? Specifically, what’s the pathway to victory? Strategy. These are decisions before the conflict. Here’s the second important category: tactics. These are decisions made in the moment. The enemy does this, now we do that. Things change. How do we respond? Anybody seen Blackhawk Down? The military leaders had a strategy for going in and taking out the Somalian warlord who was wreaking havoc in that country. But things didn’t go so well. For one thing, a helicopter went down. The armies there were significantly more prepared than they thought. What would then be their tactics for getting out of there alive?
Strategy and tactics. Throughout Karis Church, I want both to be characterized by prayer. As we plan, we ask, “What should we do? How are we going to do it? Lord, help us.” As things change, as things don’t go as we plan, we ask, “What now, Lord? Will you work, Lord? Come to our aid.” May this be true in our lives as individuals. May it be true as we live and serve as family together - in our missional communities, in our church as a whole.
Two Truths, Two Questions
Today I want to give you four important truths. I want to give you four questions in response to those truths. The truths, if grasped, would motivate us to pray. The questions, if understood, would guide us in how to pray. Here’s truth number one: We are lacking in wisdom, but He’s all-knowing. Here is the corresponding question: “What would the Lord have us to do?”
Here is the second truth: We are powerless, but He is strong. Here is the question that goes along with that: “What would happen if the Lord were in this?” It’s my prayer that these truths and corresponding questions would saturate everything we do together here. To get there, though, we need a big dose of humility and dependence. That’s the first thing we probably need to pray for, right? That we’d be slapped out of our arrogance and see how desperate we are for Him.
Trials and Prayer
But how might the Lord answer that prayer? How do we most often learn that lesson? Through trials, right? Hard circumstances - and we’re either in them or they’re around the bend. They tell us we don’t know what we should, that we can’t do everything. They’re meant to leave us with no hope but God. We typically turn to Him in prayer when things are hard. We’re more aware of our need then. But are we any more needy than other times? Of course not! The reality is that we’re in that situation every day. We need Him. Struggles wake us up. They remind us we’re in the middle of a battlefield.
A Problem of Faithlessness
That speaks to another reason why we’re not much of a praying church. Here’s another confession: I’m clueless and forgetful so much of the time. I think things are great. I lose sight that I’m in the middle of a war. I don’t realize it, but I’m walking around getting owned by the enemy. I also live unaware much of the time that God has given me a mission. I’m supposed to spread His kingdom. I neglect that responsibility too much. That’s why I don’t pray.
This is all so ridiculous. I lose track of reality. We do that as a church, as well. We completely forget where we are. We’re faithless. We’re faithless in that we don’t fight back against our enemy. We’re faithless in that we don’t engage ourselves in His mission.
We’re like a soldier driving around Mogadishu, singing and dancing to the radio, when there’s a guy with a RPG launcher pointed right at our humvee. Or it’s like we’re another G.I. who’s looking for seashells on the Somalian seashore while Private Sally is a mile away taking all the bullets.
The truth is that we’re in the middle of a battle. Look with me at Ephesians chapter 6.
Eph. 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Satan is trying to take us out. He’s trying to get us to give up our faith. He’s trying to lead us toward unbelief and sin. We’ve got to put on the armor of the gospel. We have to believe in Him and believe that we are IN Him. Otherwise, we’re sunk. Now most of this paragraph deals with armor, but look again at verses 17 and 18. We have the “sword,” the “word of God.” But we’re also commanded to pray. “At all times.” “In the Spirit.” With all kinds of prayer. With supplication. That’s asking for specific things. One of the main things is that we would stand and not fall. We ask that for our brothers and sisters, as well. That’s how we fight back. Those are our weapons. I know a guy who was with his wife and dog in their home in Boston, hiding in the bathtub while the police were trying to apprehend the marathon bombers. Bullets were coming through their walls. All they knew to do was pray. They got caught in the middle of a battle. Friends, we are in a battle. We have an enemy who is more powerful than any terrorist or warlord. If we grasped that, we’d sure pray a lot more, right? Without the Lord, we’re sunk!
But we’re not just on defense. We’re on offense. We’re to storm the enemy. We’re to gain the victory. We have been given a mission. Read some more with me of chapter 6 of Ephesians:
To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Paul understood He had a mission. He was called to “proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” He was to “declare it boldly.” He knew it was only going to be effective if it was covered in prayer. Guess what? It’s not just Paul who was given the mission. Not just Apostles. Not just preachers. This Great Commission is given to each of us. It’s given to all of us - His Church. We are to spread His kingdom. And it’s only gonna come about through God’s power.
If we really understood that, we’d pray. Often times we don’t pray because we’re not doing anything that requires God. We’re either getting destroyed by Satan - we’re not fighting against sin. Or we’re being completely disobedient to our calling. We’re not being missionaries. We’re not doing jack, so we don’t feel a need for Him.
Remember, the expectation isn’t just that we survive. It’s that we attack our enemy, spread God’s kingdom, and win this mission. Look at Matthew 16 with me.
Matt. 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Here’s what’s exciting about this passage. Jesus says, about His church, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ isn’t saying that Satan isn’t gonna get inside the gates of heaven. This isn’t defense we’re talking about. He’s saying that the Enemy won’t stop us from ransacking hell. This is offense. This isn’t Richard Sherman knocking down Peyton Manning’s pass and talking smack. This is Marshawn Lynch running over Champ Bailey for a touchdown and howling in victory. That’s the picture here. We’re going to win this mission. And the only way we will is if God is at work. Where do I get that? Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Hear that? “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” HE will do it. And if it’s He who will do it, He wants us to ask Him to do it. We need to pray.
I fear most of the time that we see prayer as optional, as something not too necessary. But it’s for survival. If we don’t do it, we’ll get owned. And it’s integral. If we ignore it, we won’t have success. If you think about war, it used to be fought in lines. People would march out in revolutionary days, upright just waiting to get killed. Later, in the World Wars, people would at least fight in a bit more of a guerrilla fashion, creeping up or crawling up, hiding out in foxholes, not exposing themselves to get shot. Regardless, you could still find people who were truly fighting on the “front lines.” Here’s what we have to understand: prayer is the front line of our warfare. If we don’t pray, the enemy infiltrates us and we get killed. More importantly, if we don’t pray, we don’t take over his territory. We’re not playing not to lose. We’re playing to win. Rather, we’re praying to win.
Do we grasp this? Most of the time I don’t think we do. We need to repent of our cluelessness, our living like we’re on a vacation. We need to repent of our forgetfulness, for neglecting the mission he’s given us. Karis, we’re not diligent enough in fighting sin. We easily give into temptation too much of the time. And, we’re not winning people to Jesus enough. We’re not using that baptistry enough. We need Him to stay on mission. We need Him to fulfill our calling.
Let me take the military imagery a bit further. Before I talked about leadership. We need to think of prayer strategically and tactically. Let’s zoom in to your lives and mine. Here are two more angles I want you to think about.
First, what’s your weapon? How are you fighting as Satan and the world come at you? With God’s word. But it also has to be done through prayer. That’s your gun. We must use it! Second, what’s your reflex? If someone jumps over your foxhole, you’d better be ready. You better be ready to fire. When you are tempted with sin, what is your instinct? When someone asks you a question about your faith, what do you do? You should pray. It should come naturally.
Our weapon. Our reflex. Throughout our church family, I want us to help each other grow until more and more, when we feel attacked, when we undergo suffering, we respond with, “Lead us not into temptation, Lord! Deliver us from evil!” As we go out into our city, seeking to share His message, I want us to help each other become people who say, “Lord, will you open doors? Will you give us boldness? Will you help us speak clearly?”
Two More Truths, Questions
Let me give you two more truths and two more questions. The truths motivate us to pray, again. The questions, give us direction as to how best do it. Truth number three: We’re in a spiritual war, but He can preserve us. Here is the corresponding question: “How might He strengthen us in battle?” Here is the fourth truth: We’ve been sent on a mission, and He can use us. Here is the question that goes along with that: “How could God spread His kingdom through us?”
If we had these four truths and questions in our hearts, and they seeped into our lives and ministries, some amazing things would happen. That’s what God wants for us. But we need a dose of reality and a whole lot of dependence first. We need to ask for that.
The Praying Early Church
If we really understood all of this, we’d be known as a praying church. But think about that for a second. Isn’t it almost absurd to think of a church that doesn’t pray? First of all, prayer is such a basic part of being a Christian. It’s like breathing. Humans breathe. Christians pray. In Acts 9:11, just after Saul the villain is converted and becomes Paul the Christian, the Lord appears to a man named Ananias and tells him to go talk to him. Listen to what God says to him: “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying.” Hear that? He is praying. He’s now a Christian. He’s calling out to God through Jesus in prayer. Jim Cymbala says, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” It’s basic, friends.
But it was also the strategy, the tactics, the weapon, the reflex of the early church. Look at the passage we read at the beginning today, from Acts chapter 4. There is a prayer in verses 23-30. They ask the Lord, in verses 29-30:
Acts 4:29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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 call out in prayer, asking for boldness to preach and wonders to accompany those sermons. God powerfully answers their prayer. Great things happen. Verse 33 says, “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 is a clear pattern in Acts that should be our pattern, as well. They prayed. They received the Spirit and much boldness. They preached. God worked and changed lives. They then got persecuted. And the cycle started all over. Friends, if we are going to be the church - that is, in the true, New Testament sense - we have to be people who pray.
The Current Need in Karis
And friends, I don’t think this is ever needed more than now, in my life, as well as in the life of Karis. First of all, I’ll share more details at the Members’ Meeting today, but our days here in Calvary Baptist are limited. That doesn’t worry us. Don’t you worry, either. I actually think we’ve gotten way to complacent here, and we need a shakeup. But this is a trial. And it’s going to remind us that we need wisdom, that we need Him to work. I think back to my days at the coffee house, trying to make a latte but plant a church. I’ve felt just like those days. But God is faithful.
In addition, I’m convinced we have neglected our mission. This place hasn’t resulted in much in the way of growth for us. We’ve let Satan overtake us a bit. We haven’t spread His kingdom enough. I’m also excited to share some developments in that meeting that will lead, Lord willing, to us rebooting, and returning to faithfulness, particularly in central Columbia. I remember those early days. Every conversation was purposeful. My prayers were constant. I saw my need for Him. I got comfortable. I’m seeing the truth again. Karis, let’s come together and become known as a praying church.
Rather, let’s not be concerned about being known for anything. Let’s concern ourselves with HIM being known. Let’s think about His reputation, about His glory. And if we get into the business of praying faithfully in these ways, He will be known. In addition, our experience of the gospel would even be more real. Our life as community would be even richer. And our mission would sure extend a lot further.
Some Suggestions for You and Us
Let me give you some practical ways I want to see us grow. This 40 Hours of Prayer we had last week was a great start. It was awesome to think that we filled every slot. But let me tell you, the Lord worked. We asked for open doors and clarity about our site. He answered. But let’s keep that going.
First of all, as individuals, let’s ask the Lord to work in us a disciplined time of prayer each day while also asking Him to give us a Spirit of continual prayer. Let’s encourage each other in this way. Let’s hold each other accountable to that. Related, as we hang and share with one another, let’s make it our instinct to pray immediately, on the spot, for one another. Let’s make that our main reflex. Let’s fight to see it as our main weapon.
Second, as a church family, let’s ask the Lord to increasingly shape us into people who get our strategy and our tactics through prayer. I want to see our MCs praying for their neighborhoods, praying for each other. I want our teams of leaders to make prayer something that we really believe in, something that we really practice.
More specifically, here’s a challenge. I am asking God to work so that corporate prayer will be a part of Karis Church each and every day. I envision early morning Karis prayer meetings taking place in downtown Columbia daily. I’ve already got Dan Glosson committed to lead it up Thursdays at 6 a.m. He’s going to recruit his peeps to join him. Now I just need six more people for the other mornings. Would you step up and serve in that way?
Praying Hands Required
Here in Karis, we have six identities we talk about. We are learners. We are worshippers. We are family. We are servants. We are storytellers. We are peacemakers. Some time ago, I had this idea for graphics that could be hung up here on Sundays that picture those identities through hands. Nobody bit on it. I think people thought it was a bit lame, and maybe it was, but I liked it. For learners, you have hands holding an open Bible. For worshippers, you have raised hands. For servants, you have hands washing feet. For family, you might have hands embracing with a hug. For storytellers, you might have a hand holding a Bible up in the air. For peacemakers, you might have hands serving food.
I realized I had forgotten something. Something really important. Praying hands. Seen pictures of hands clasped in prayer? That was missing. I recognized it then. But I don’t know that it really sunk in. When I look in the mirror, I see an arrogant person, a faithless person. I think as a church we’ve looked the same. Will you repent with me? Will you believe that the Lord wants to hear us, answer us, bless us, and use us? May He make us a praying church, Karis.