Tuesday, March 25, 2014

God strengthens and grows His church through prayer

Acts 3:1 "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hourthe hour of prayer. "


Edmund P. Clowney writes the following in his book: "Living in Christ's Church": "The Jesus who went to heaven also comes to dwell with His disciples. He went to prepare His Father's house, the place where God dwells with men (John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:3). But before He comes with the Holy Angels He comes in the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18). That coming took place at Pentecost. With the rushing wind of the Spirit the promise of the Father was kept and the New Testament church became the dwelling place of the Living God."1  In reflecting on Clowney's thoughts, it strikes me how the church as God's temple ought to be not only characterized by the presence of the Living God.  In being so, it ought to be known for how it prays together.

The Book of Acts is the Holy Spirit's Divine record of the first 30 years of the early church from Jesus' final commands at His ascension and the church's birth at Pentecost to its worldwide missionary efforts led by the Apostle Paul.  Acts 1-2 details the beginning stages and Acts 3-8 details for us the transitions and growing pains of the early church.  In today's post we aim to focus on some passages in Acts 3-8, along with other scriptures, in order to answer the following question: "How did God strengthen and grow the church?"  Below we will suggest that one of chief methods God utilizes in growing and strengthening His church is that of prayer

Some observations from Acts on prayer in the life of the church. 
As soon as the Lord Jesus Christ had ascended into heaven in the sight of the apostles in Acts 1:11, the very first thing they did was to tarry in the upper room in Jerusalem to wait and pray.  As we quoted above, the apostles right after the day of Pentecost were going up to the temple to pray. (Acts 3:1) Truly it is interesting how much the early church prayed in those early days, and yet how little emphasis is placed on prayer in so many churches today.  Again we come to Acts 4 and find the early church praying in Acts 4:32-31.  As that incredible prayer meeting drew to a close we read in Acts 4:31 - "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness." 

Then of course we arrive at Acts 6 where the church was at a crossroads as to what do do in the care of widows.  Upon the suggestion of the Apostles the church did the following as recorded in Acts 6:4-5 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them." Now in each of those instances where the church came together and prayed, the outcome was a strengthening of ministry, of the people and of the proclamation of the Word.  

Jesus set the pattern for His Father's House to be a "house of prayer"
Jesus in the course of His earthly ministry expressed the following pattern of prayer for His people in Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46 as them coming together at the "house of prayer". God has so ordained that prayer and intercession be one of the chief ways in which He will come alongside us and in us to strengthen and grow the church.  As a beginning pattern that had been ordained from the days of the tabernacle and temple, Jesus demonstrated that such a pattern was to also mark the New Covenant church. It would also be suggested by this author that the set pattern of Jesus greatly informed the practice of the New Testament church. As those apostles and early statesmen led the church under the Holy Spirit's leading, they taught the church the primacy of prayer in both the church's life and individual Christian life. 

How prayer operates in church life in the epistles
A quick scan of all 21 new Testament epistles will yield the vital role prayer played in the strengthening and growth of the early church. In understanding what qualifies as a standard method used by God in strengthening His church, we must see it prescribed by Jesus, practiced in the book of Acts and expounded upon in the Epistles. Just by listing a sample of references, one can see that this clearly is one of the chief methods employed by God to be used in the church today: Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:18; Col 1:9; 1 Thess 5:17; 2 Thess 1:1; 1 Tim 2:1-2; 4:5; 2 Tim 4:16; James 5:16; 1 John 5:13 and Jude 20.  I am certain there are many more, but the reader can take note that scarcely is there any instruction written and composed by the Holy Ghost to Christ's church that does not emphasize the need for prayer.  

We have looked today at how God strengthens and grows His church by way of prayer.  We noted through the book of Acts that every time the church prayed in Acts 3-8, some area of ministry was strengthened.  In the Gospels we saw how Jesus had ordained the pattern to continue from what was set for the temple, tabernacle and synogogue of His day.  Prayer was to be priority! Then finally we looked at the New Testament epistles to see how much prayer continued on into the later part of the Apostolic era and saw the without question - corporate times of prayer and prayerfulness among God's people in the church was one of the ways used by God to strengthen and grow His church. 

1. Edmund P. Clowney. Living in Christ's Church. Great Commission Publications. 1986. Page 27

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