(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
1st December 2007
Many different prayers are recorded in the Bible, and each of them can serve as an example to us, to teach us how to pray. Of course, the most famous is what we call The Lord's Prayer:
But there are many others. Consider, for example, Daniel's prayer of national repentance in Daniel chapter 9, or Solomon's prayer of dedication in 2 Chronicles 6v12-42, or Paul's prayers for the Ephesians in Ephesians 1v15-19 and Ephesians 2v14-21, as well as many of the Psalms. I expect you have your own favourites, too. The interesting thing for me is that these prayers are so very different from each other. They can all be used as templates for us, but they're not the same. We need to pray in different ways in different circumstances.
This week, I'd like to look at a prayer offered by the early church, after Peter and John had been released by the Sanhedrin:
There are a lot of things about this story that I find instructive and helpful, but I'll keep this column to a sensible length by only briefly mentioning a few of them.
Firstly: Peter and John recognised the church as their own people. The church is God's family. If you're a Christian, the church are the most important people in your life, as Jesus Himself made clear:
Secondly: the church prayed together. Of course, it's good to meet together to pray, but I think this is saying more than that; they were together in the sense that they were united - not just geographically but also in heart and mind. In a prayer meeting, one person may be praying out loud, but we should all be praying. The speaker is leading us in prayer, and we should all be praying silently with him.
You get a good idea of your own attitude to your church if you consider how true that is for you. Are you praying with the person speaking the prayer? Or are you thinking about something else, or composing your own prayer for when he's finished, or (worse still) criticising his manner of praying in your heart?
Thirdly: this is a tremendously God-oriented prayer. If you read through it again, you can see how often they used words like "you" and "your" in talking to God. For example, they describe themselves as "your servants", when they could have said "us". They said "your servant David", when they could have said "our ancient king, David". Most tellingly, they describe conspiracy against Jesus (and, indeed against the church) as being "what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen".
I wonder how we would view conspiracies against us? How do we respond when things seem to go wrong? Do we remember - as the early church did - that such conspiracies are all in accordance with what God has decreed would happen?
Fourthly: they prayed in the light of scripture - quoting God's word back to Him. Prayers that align with Biblical teaching are, of course, far more effective that those that don't - because they are appropriate.
Fifthly: they prayed not for their own safety but for God's kingdom. They didn't pray "Lord make life comfortable for us". Instead, in the midst of persecution, they prayed "enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness".
Sixthly: they prayed big prayers. Allow me to ask, when was the last time you prayed "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus"? If we did pray like that, we'd see much more of God's power.
Seventhly: they did see God's power - the very building they were praying in was shaken and, more importantly, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
If we don't want God to perform signs and wonders, then there's something wrong with us. The world and the church desperately need God's help.
If we do want God to perform signs and wonders, then we should start by looking for Him to shake the church up and to fill us - His servants - with the Holy Spirit.