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The Priority of Prayer

Well, last Sunday we began working through a new book of the Bible – the book of Acts – and we noted that it was written as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of everything Jesus began to do and teach during his time on earth.

This book is traditionally titled “The Acts of the Apostles”. However, as we pointed out last week, it really would be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” – since it is He who continues to be the central character throughout the book!

The book opens with a brief summary of the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension into heaven. During this time, Jesus appeared to his disciples on numerous occasions and he proved to them in many ways that He was actually alive! And of course in those visits, as He had done throughout the previous three years, Jesus talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

And one of the key things that Jesus talked to them about concerning the Kingdom of God, was their role in the Kingdom. Specifically, how they were to be his witnesses – telling people about Him everywhere they went.

Now of course, this would be quite a daunting task for such a ragtag group of fisherman! They weren’t trained professional speakers. They certainly weren’t powerful or influential in society… They were really just a bunch of nobodies… Who were they to boldly tell the world all about the Messiah of Isreal and what He had done?

Besides, had Jesus forgotten that just a few weeks earlier, his disciples had all abandoned him and fled when he had been arrested and put on trial? Why, even their fearless leader, Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus!

And yet now, Jesus expects them to go out into the whole world and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and that He has been raised from the dead? And to boldly do that in the same city where Jesus had just been put to death 40 days earlier!

How could Jesus ever expect the disciples to carry out such a task? In their own limited strength, they would surely fail!

Well, Jesus never intended them to accomplish this in their own limited strength. God was going to strengthen and equip and them in an incredible way – He was going to send His Holy Spirit to dwell within them – empowering them to be His witnesses where ever they went. For the rest of their lives, they would have the power of God enabling them to do anything that God wanted them to do!

Jesus said to them in Acts 1:8…

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

The coming of the Holy Spirit would change everything! Starting in Acts chapter 2, a brand new era for the kingdom of God would begin. God Himself would dwell within each of his followers and the world would be completely changed because of it!

However, as I said, that all begins in Acts chapter 2 – we’re still in Acts chapter 1 today – and so at this point, Jesus had returned to Heaven but the Holy Spirit had not yet come. In this in-between time, Jesus had instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Father would send the gift of the Holy Spirit. All that good stuff was coming, but for now they had to wait.

And so that’s where we’re going to pick things up today. Last week we read how Jesus commanded the disciples:

“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4b-5

Jesus’ instructions for the disciples were clear. The Holy Spirit was coming, but until He did, they were to wait in Jerusalem. And so, after Jesus ascended into heaven, we read now in verse 12…

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. 13 When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.

Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James). Acts 1:12-13

Now if you were counting names as we read, you probably noticed that there are just 11 names here. The Judas mentioned as the final name was not the traitor, Judas Iscariot – since he had gone out and hanged himself after betraying Jesus. But that’s why there are just 11 disciples here – and we’re likely going to address that issue next week.

But for now, the main thing that I want to point out here is that that the disciples were obedient. As Jesus instructed them, they returned to Jerusalem to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t go back to Galilee to go fishing. They didn’t return each to their own homes to get back to their regular lives. They didn’t even go around proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection in the surrounding towns and villages. But in obedience to Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to wait.

I can’t imagine that that was easy. I suspect that waiting in Jerusalem was one of the last things the disciples wanted to do. Why?

Well, first of all, Jerusalem was not a very friendly place for followers of Jesus right now. Remember, how the religious leaders in Jerusalem had sentenced Jesus to death? And how the crowds had been chanting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It was not exactly a welcoming city for the followers of Jesus right now. 

I suspect that the disciples may have preferred to wait for the Holy Spirit in somewhere like Galilee – that might have been a much safer option. But of course, Jesus didn’t tell them to wait in Galilee – He told them to wait in Jerusalem. He had a specific purpose for their being in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit would come – and we’ll see that in the next chapter. So for now, the disciples just had to be obedient. And to their credit, they were!

Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, the 11 disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited in the house where they were all staying. 

And according to the next chapter, they waited there for about 10 days.

However, as they waited, they weren’t just killing time. They didn’t just twiddle their thumbs or play cards or whatever else they may have done to pass the time. 

Actually, they were quite busy doing something else while they waited. Take a look at verse 14.

14 They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. Acts 1:14

Now before we get to the main point of this verse, it is interesting here that this is the first time we see Jesus’ brothers identifying with the disciples. Throughout the Gospels, His four brothers (named in Mark as James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon – again not to be confused with the disciples who had some of the same names) – but all of Jesus’ brothers clearly did not believe in him. John 7:5 gives us an example… 

And Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! 4 You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” 5 For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.

John 7:3-5

And honesty, I can understand why someone might doubt that their brother was the Savior of the World! I have three brothers myself and so I know how those brotherly relationship work!

But after His resurrection, it seems they can no longer deny the truth! As Jesus appears to them and talks to them after being raised from the dead – they finally come to the conclusion that Jesus really is the Son of God. In fact, it’s Jesus brother James who eventually becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem and his other brother Judas would write the book of Jude.

But of course, that all comes a little bit later. But for now, these men, as well as their mom and several other women, all met together with the 11 disciples as they waited for the Holy Spirit. And what did they do while they waited?

14 They all met together and were constantly united in prayer… Acts 1:14a

Believe it or not, this is actually the first time we read in the Scriptures that the disciples prayed! As you read through the Gospels, we see that Jesus prayed. Then there was that time when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. We even see that Jesus asked his disciples to “watch and pray” with him in garden of Gethsemane – but they kept falling asleep. So this is the first time in the Scriptures that we are told that the disciples actually prayed!

Of course, I would assume that this was not the first time they had prayed – I’m sure they had prayed before – but it is interesting that this is the first time that the Scriptures specifically tell us that the disciples prayed. With Jesus gone back to heaven and as they waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit, they were constantly united in prayer.

Actually, as we continue to read through the book of Acts, we’ll see that prayer becomes a central part of everything they do! This may have been the first mention of disciples praying, but it will certainly not be the last! Prayer becomes one of the main activities of the disciples. In fact, there is more prayer mentioned in the book of Acts than any other book of the Bible – with the exception of Psalms (which of course, is a book of prayer so that one doesn’t really count!)

But it seems that at some point during those 40 days after Christ’s resurrection – that the disciples began to really understand the value and importance of prayer!

Prayer was no longer just for blessing the meal and tucking the kids into bed. Verse 14 tells us that “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.”

Somehow prayer had become one of their highest priorities. Before, they couldn’t even stay awake to pray with Jesus, but now they were constantly united in prayer. Prayer had become a critical part of everything they did!

And I just wonder this morning, is that’s true of us? Have we come to understand the real value and importance of prayer? Is prayer one of our highest priorities? Would people describe our church as constantly being united in prayer? Or even on a personal level, would people describe you as a man of prayer or a woman of prayer?

And my intention in saying this isn’t just so that we all feel guilty about not praying enough, but I think we need to ask ourselves – if prayer had become such a high priority for the disciples, why isn’t it for us? What are we missing?

Are we missing that sense of dependancy on God? I’m sure the disciples had a heightened sense of that – with Jesus gone back to Heaven and the Holy Spirit not yet arrived – prayer was their one and only connection to God! Maybe that’s why prayer suddenly become so important!

Or maybe it had more to do with them seeing the resurrected Jesus over those last 40 days! Maybe they finally understood the power of God that was available to them through prayer! Jesus had talked a lot about the power of prayer during his time on earth. He had even told them that prayer can move mountains! In Matthew 21:21 we read:

21 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. 22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”

Matthew 21:21-22

Jesus had often told them of the enormous power of prayer… And not that the power was in the prayer itself – but when you realize who you are praying to – the Almighty God of the Universe, the One who created all things – the One who raised Christ from the dead. When you really begin to understand that, that changes your prayer life!

So maybe now, after seeing the resurrected Jesus, that’s what caused the disciples to begin praying in earnest.

But really, we’re not really told why prayer suddenly became so important to the disciples – but it obviously was! And as we’re going to see through the rest of our study of the book of Acts, their commitment to prayer would be a central part of everything they did from here on out – and as a result, God would do some amazing things through them!

I just wonder what God might do through us if we saw the true value and importance of prayer like those disciples did. What might God accomplish if we were constantly united in prayer as they were?

I don’t know about you, but I’d kinda like to find out. What WOULD God do through us if we were constantly united in prayer? I say, let’s find out! Let’s try it and see.

Jesus has invited us – in fact, he has commanded us – to bring all of our concerns to Him in prayer. The New Testament is full of commands like:

“Pray continually.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” Ephesians 6:18

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

So let’s obey the commands of Scripture! Let’s follow the pattern of the disciples and be constantly united in prayer.

And there’s lots of ways that we can do that. I know there are already several groups among us who meet regularly for prayer! There are also just individuals who get together on a regular basis to pray for one another and for our church and our community! And of course, that’s all awesome stuff! If you’re involved with a group like that, I sure encourage you to continue meeting and praying together.

But if you’re not already doing something like that, maybe you want to start up your own group! Maybe find someone here who has a similar life-schedule as you and find a time to get together to pray! Or maybe you want to join with me and perhaps a few others to pray on some kind of a regular basis over the next little while. If you’d be interested in that, just come and talk with me after the service today or send me text message and let me know – and we’ll see what we can arrange. 

I think we’d be amazed at what God does through that!

And actually, as I was writing this message, preparing to tell you all to go home and find someone to pray with this week, I had the thought – “Why wait until then?” Here we all are at church today – seems like a pretty logical place to pray together! Why don’t we pray together today – right here and now?

As we’ve already seen, Bible teaches that there is great power in praying together! 

Take a look at James 5:13…

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

James 5:13-18

Prayer is powerful stuff – again, not because of anything we do – but because of the God to whom we are praying!

So I know this is a bit of a deviation from our regular service, but I think  I’d like us wrap up the sermon right here and just take some time to pray together.

There’s a millions things we can pray for – some of which we just read about in James.

  • We can pray for the many different hardships that each of us are going through. 
  • We can pray for those among us who are sick or have other health concerns.
  • We can pray about our relationships with God – and the joys and the trials that come with that!
  • We can pray for wisdom as we all make significant decisions
  • We can pray for our marriages, our parents, our children.
  • We can pray about work relationships, friends, relatives or other loved ones.
  • We can pray for our boss, our teachers, our coaches, our pastor!
  • We can pray for our town council, for our Premier, for our Prime Minister.

In other words, if there is anyone or anything you are concerned about – we can pray about that!

So here’s what I’d like us to do. In a couple of moments, I’m going to ask you to just gather your chairs together in groups of 5 to 10 people, take a few moments to briefly share some of the things you might want to have the group to pray for, and then we’ll take 5-10 minutes just to pray together.

Now if you happen to be new to our church and you’re starting to feel a little awkward with all this praying together business – don’t panic! You’re sure not obligated to say or do anything – I think there’s enough extroverted people among us to carry the conversation. However, everyone is certainly welcome to join in if you want. We’d love to pray for you or give you an opportunity to pray if you’d like.

But If you don’t want to share anything or pray – that’s totally fine! You’re welcome just to sit back and take it all in.

But for those who have been part of this church for some time, I know this is a little weird and unusual – but it shouldn’t be! Talking to our Lord and Saviour together should be one of the most important and one of the most delightful things we can do on a Sunday morning together! What better way to worship our God than to share with him all of our concerns, all of our praises, and anything else that we might have on our hearts. God loves to hear from us – and I know He wants to do some amazing things through our prayer even today.

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