|DEVOTED TO PRAYER
Series: Who We Are - Part Nine
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 7, 2019
If you are able - would you please stand with me as we come before God and His word this morning - and as we read together one more time today’s text - Acts 2:42-47.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This morning is our last Sunday exploring who we are as the church - gathered here - locally - as Creekside. Next Sunday we’re going to be looking at Job and suffering. Which will be lots of fun… and helpful.
As we’ve been going through the first 2 chapters of Acts - we’ve seen that we are members of the church - witnesses of the gospel - empower by the Holy Spirit - who are convicted and converted.
The bottom line of all that - with apologies to Alistair Begg - is that...[read together] we are a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound together by God and empowered by God - to be all of those “we ares” and “devoted tos” - in Christ for God’s purposes and for His glory.
All of which is backfill. Should be familiar. And all of which is online.
This morning we are coming to the last of the “devoted tos” which is prayer.
Specifically - Luke records that the early church devoted themselves to “the prayers.” Notice the definite article. Not just “prayer” but THE prayers.
The word is Greek is “proseuche” - which describes not only the location of the prayer - meaning a place designated for prayer - but also the type of prayer offered. Meaning formal prayer addressed to God.
The early church was devoted to regularly gathering together in specific locations to pray together to God.
How many of us would agree that prayer is important? All of us. Yes?
How many of us would agree that prayer is not only important but that prayer is essential to what it means to be follower of Jesus? All of us. Yes?
How many of us would agree that, at times, prayer is difficult? Yes?
Maybe we don’t know what to pray or we’re just feeling distant from God? But it happens to all of us. Sometimes prayer is difficult.
Last question. How many of us would agree that, at times, prayer is not our first response to what’s going on? Probably more times that not. All of us.
For most of us - even having heard endless sermons on prayer encouraging us to pray and knowing what we know about prayer and God’s promises and all of that - for most of us our knee jerk first reaction to things is not to fall to our knees in prayer. Most of us default to trying to reason things out on our own. And we fail at that, then we start praying.
That’s reality. So, can we all agree that prayer is important and that there are times when we should be praying and we’re not? And that we all have room to grow when it comes to prayer? All of us could be praying more. Yes?
So, now that we have all that out of the way, can we also agree that our purpose this morning is not to inflict guilt about what we all agree is something we’re in process on. We’re good?
What is more helpful and even more challenging - as we’re looking at these “devoted tos’ - is to be reminded that one of the central things that the early church devoted itself to was prayer. And in seeing that to realize that we - all of us together - are to be devoted to prayer... together.
That example of the early church needs to - and should - speak to us as to what we all are to be devoted to together to and the tremendous opportunity that God opens up to us in prayer. What God will do in us and through us if we will be devoted to gathering together for prayer.
Exploring that together this morning - here’s the big idea to hang on to - as we consider what that can be like for us - regularly gathering together for prayer - here’s the big idea: Prayer is an act of faith.
When we pray we focus and direct our faith in specific requests to God seeking to bring the resources of God into the day-to-day circumstances of our lives.
Prayer is a - by faith - request that God do something.
Let’s be careful.
Sometimes we hear people say, “There’s power in prayer.” Or “I felt your prayers.” Like prayer is a spiritual force that we control or that the prayer itself has power.
Let’s be careful - when we act in faith and pray - we need to be reminded that the spiritual authority and power we have faith in - is not us - but God alone.
Even our faith is a gift of God’s grace. Not something we achieve or increase by our own efforts. But God, by His grace, is the source of even our faith.
Sinclair Ferguson writes: “Faith is man in his weakness trusting in God’s promise in His word. Only through such weakness is the strength of God seen.” (1)
So in faith and in prayer - in every part of our lives - we need to stay focused on God - dependent on God. And when we struggle with that - when our faith is weak or misplaced - we need to cry out to God - in prayer - to help us.
So when we come together to pray - we’re coming together and by faith acknowledging our individual and corporate weakness - coming together before God and trusting God to do what God has promised to do. And God uses that act of our God given faith to draw us closer to each other and to Him.
We’re kind of together on that? Maybe same page but different paragraphs?
Prayer is an act of faith that God uses to draw us closer to Him and to each other. And that God responds to according to His will and purposes.
To help us think through what that actually looks like - please turn with me to Paul’s letter to the church gathered in Colossae. Colossians 4 - starting at verse 2.
Paul writes: Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Let’s unpack that.
First: Paul begins “Continue steadfastly…” Which is The Priority of Prayer.
While Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped for several days in Caesarea Maritima - on the northern Mediterranean coast of Israel - at the home of Philip the Evangelist. There was a prophet there by the name of Agabus. Through Agabus - the Holy Spirit told Paul that when he went to Jerusalem he would be captured by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles.
The believers in Caesarea begged Paul - pleaded with him - not to go to Jerusalem. “You’re gonna get arrested.”
But Paul tells them - Acts 21:13: “Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene… You’re looking at this backwards. The issue in Jerusalem isn’t what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Lord Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?” (Acts 21:13 - The Message)
Paul went to Jerusalem knowing he was going to be arrested. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the crowds that had gathered. Sure as God’s word, Paul was seized by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles. The whole city was in an uproar because of Paul and the Jews who were preparing to kill him.
We know that Paul appealed his case to Caesar and was sent to Rome. It was in Rome that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians. He writes in Colossians 4:3 - pray for me so that - even in my imprisonment - facing death - God will open a door of opportunity.
That’s Paul’s priority in asking for prayer: Pray that I will take advantage of the opportunities God gives me to to share Jesus with others.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was also written during this same imprisonment in Rome. At the very end of Philippians, Paul makes a statement that we could almost miss - just read right by it. Paul writes: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22) That’s huge.
Paul writing about people in the Emperor’s service - slaves - soldiers - most probably his guards. Guards - employed by Caesar - who’d been chained to Paul every day - his captive audience - that had to listen to his sharing everyday God’s gospel truth over and over and over again. Over time they’d come to trust in Jesus as their Savior. Because Paul stayed focused on Jesus, even the Emperor’s household was responding to the Gospel.
It wasn’t that Paul enjoyed being arrested and thrown in prison - being beaten and all of those miserable circumstances he went through. The ridicule - even by his own people. But, Paul saw prison as an opportunity to share Jesus with others.
Colossians 4:3 is why Paul is in prison. “To declare the mystery of Christ.” Who Jesus is. What it means to have salvation and life in Him.
We need to grab onto that Paul’s prayer request isn’t for release. “Woe is me. Look how I’m suffering. Pray that God will deliver me from this.”
Paul’s prayer request is that he will speak clearly. That he’ll speak how he ought to speak - so the opportunity to witness of the gospel won’t be lost.
Paul could have avoided Jerusalem all together. He could have avoided Rome. But he was praying - and calling on the church gathered in Colossae and in Philippi - to join him in prayer to be open and ready for the gospel sharing opportunities that God would bring him to.
Paul pleads with the Colossians - in verse 2 - “Continue steadfastly in prayer...” “Steadfastly” is the same word translated “devoted” in Acts 2.
Be continually 24/7/365 “all in” together devoted to prayer with me. Give priority to your prayer. Don’t let anything or anyone distract you from being in prayer. For me. For the sharing of the gospel.
Which is why God has us here in Merced. We are witnesses of the gospel. The witness of the church is the purpose of the church on earth - here and now. Which we need to be devoted together in prayer for - by faith pleading with for that God - Who desires that all mankind would come to salvation - that God will give us those opportunities and that He will enable us to witness clearly of Jesus.
Second - Prayer being an act of faith - what should that look like for us?
Paul writes: “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it” Which is about The Urgency of Prayer.
“Being watchful” Literally be alert in prayer. Stay awake in prayer.
Jesus - in the garden of Gethsemane - just before He’s arrested - on what is arguably the most significant night of His ministry - before His betrayal - arrest - trial - torture - crucifixion - and death - Jesus is doing what? Praying.
Jesus tells the disciples, “Watch with me.” “Be alert with Me in prayer.”
Same Greek word for “watch” that Paul uses in Colossians.
Then Jesus leaves the disciples and goes deeper into the garden to pray. When He comes back He finds the disciples... sleeping.
Jesus rebukes them. Tells them: “So, couldn’t you watch with me one hour. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:36-46)
Jesus is praying in the Garden - alert - with the disciples who are sleeping when they should have been praying. Sleeping meaning overcome by their circumstances and wants and perspective of all of what was going on - including a great meal - a late night - and a quiet garden - and we still don’t understand all of what Jesus was going on about.
Which is very tempting for us as well. To be distracted by whatever - rather than being in prayer.
That distraction can be getting caught up in politics and culture and man’s great wisdom and understanding and philosophy. It could be what we do for recreation of how we spend time as a family. It could be our pursuit of a career or and education. We can get distracted by how we feel about our selves or what we think other people think about us.
We can get distracted by what’s trending and endlessly following links on YouTube or posting or liking the latest meme on Facebook.
We can even be distracted by what we do at church - hanging out together - serving together - but not actually praying together. And even when we gather for prayer sometimes we spend more time talking about what we should pray about than actually praying together.
Not that all of that is bad. But - the reality is that most of us are way too easily distracted from praying. And that is hugely dangerous.
Because life is a spiritual “mind” field. Spiritually dangerous. A Satan tweaked spiritual war zone that gets lived out in the day to day drama of our lives. And individually and as congregations we can get locked up in all that drama. Drama that’s often self-focused, self-inflicted, self-driven, and self-destructive. Amen?
Point being that if we allow ourselves to be distracted by our abilities and our resources and our circumstances and all the activities of our lives that we involve ourselves with and whatever might be pressing down on us or to be focused anywhere rather than being focused on God and alert to what God is doing then we’re already in serious trouble.
Looking through the New Testament. Consistently - in the midst of significant drama connected with significant ministry opportunities - Jesus consistently gets alone with God and... prays. Like here in the Garden. And the church - consistently - in the midst of crisis and yet great opportunity - the church is in prayer.
That should encourage us with the urgency of our own being continually steadfastly watchful in prayer.
The church that prays together… stays together - focused together - alert together - to God’s will and working in us and through us.
The church that doesn’t pray together is going to get creamed together. Ultimately, not staying together. Ultimately once again destroying our witness of the gospel.
The promise of God is that when we choose to remain alert together in prayer - feeling the urgency of that and coming together and praying - God will draw us closer to Him and each other - even in the midst of great drama - He will lead us together into the huge and significant and eternity impacting opportunities that God desires to bring into our lives for His glory.
Third - Paul writes that we are to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with... thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving because of The Promise of Prayer.
Three weeks ago was...? Kids Camp. 36 kids. 36 gospel seeds planted. 5 decisions to trust Jesus. 1 camper made a solid decision to “all in” take her faith seriously. That’s what we know. God alone knows what else He was doing.
And a team of 20 plus workers hanging on - covering the bases and covering each other’s backs. A team of workers that had all kinds of obstacles put in front of it. Jury duty being one that 5 workers needed to be released from and they were.
A team that God brought together and brought closer together and empowered and worked through. A team that was being prayed for and that was praying together before and during Kids Camp.
We didn’t do that. God did. Thank God!
Back To School Bash is coming on August 10th. We need to be praying. And thanking God for what He will do and when He does it.
Operation Christmas Child is coming in the Fall - thousands of shoe boxes filling up this place. Thousands of gospel opportunities. We need to be praying. And thanking God for what He will do and when He does it.
Phase II - the combo Gym, family room, kitchen, classrooms, offices - $1 million building out back that needs to be built. Someone said, “How can a small congregation like us build something like that?”
Look around us. Phase I with Sanctuary - entrance area - youth room - bathrooms - quiet room - sound system - landscaping - repaved parking lot - infrastructure for Phase II - completed in 2006. A wonderful tool of ministry - for reaching people with the gospel. $1 million plus in cost. Currently we owe about $18,000.
How could a small congregation like us build something like this. We can’t. God accomplished that. Thank God!
How will Phase II be built? God. We need to be praying. And thanking God for what He will do and when He does it.
Luke records that Jesus saw what was coming - the destruction of the city - God’s judgment - and the spiritual emptiness of the people who had no clue about what God was offering them in Jesus. (Luke 19:41-44)
Jesus - speaking to His disciples about the people in Jerusalem - Jesus said that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled.
Isaiah wrote: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:10-17)
Meaning that God’s people had become blind, deaf, and cold hearted towards God. They were missing out on God’s healing that they so desperately needed.
Jesus weeping is the heart of God on display.
Jesus over and over again challenged His disciples - to see and hear and feel with their hearts what Jesus was seeing and hearing and feeling as He looked at the people around Him. To respond with God driven compassion for the deep spiritual need of the people. The need that moved Jesus to tears - weeping - even to the cross. Thank God!
To be devoted together in prayer and watchful together - that we would be focused together on what God would have us be focused on - seeing and hearing and feeling as Jesus would see, hear, and feel - and to respond as He would have us respond. To - by faith pray and to thank God - with anticipation for the privilege of serving Him and what He will yet do in us and through us for His glory. And to thank Him when He does.
Prayer is an act of faith. In whatever the drama - whatever the circumstances - as uphill as that may seem and as improbable the outcome - being devoted together in prayer is a by faith request that God do something - prayer that God uses to draw us closer to Him and to each other.
Processing all that...
What would that be like for us as a congregation? If we were devoted together 24/7/365 100% “all in” to gathering for prayer together? By faith - praying for God to do something?
Look again with me at verses 42-47. At the results of the church being devoted together to being the church. What would this look like if Luke were writing this about us?
And Creekside devoted themselves to the teaching and authority of God’s word over their lives, and the fellowship of being devoted to each other, to the breaking of bread in worship and communion, and the prayers.
The result was that awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done by God. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, worshiping together and breaking bread in their homes, Creeksiders received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to Creekside’s number day by day those who were being saved.
What would that be like? Admittedly it’s a tad overwhelming until we cycle back to all that is what we need to be praying for by faith and praising God for He does it.
Wouldn’t you love to be a part of something like that? To be at the center of God at work in the world?
Meaning we are. Because we are the church. We are Creekside.
2 1/2 years ago we began studying in Genesis - with Adam and Eve and the Fall and our own depravity and sin and future condemnation and eternal punishment.
We saw what God is doing about that - our brokenness and sin and separation from God. God - Who loves us - how God is dealing with what separates us from Him.
Moving through the Old Testament - we saw God at work - relentlessly - purposefully - intentionally - working through history. Working through promises and covenants and law and sacrifices and kingdoms and nations. Working through real people in real situations in real places in real time - prophets and kings and queens and shepherds and ordinary people like us.
All of what points to Jesus. What we saw as we studied Mark. Jesus’ message and ministry. Christ’s all sufficient completed work of redemption on the cross. The good news of the gospel.
That salvation is by grace alone though faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the gospel, who by faith receive Jesus as their savior, really do become forgiven and redeemed children of God forever. (John 1:12)
We’ve been studying Acts to see where and how we - Creekside - fit into all of that. God Who uses us - as members of the church - as witnesses of the gospel - devoted to each other and to Him - God uses us to bring others to Him.
To quote Allistair Begg - yet one more time: The very heart of it all: The local church is one of the few places where you sit and sing, where you listen and learn, where you grow and serve with people who are different from us, with rich people and poorer people, young people, old people, black people, white people, yellow people, educated people, uneducated people, and the unifying factor in it all is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A church is not a homogeneous club of people like us with whom we would naturally like to go on vacation. Rather, it is a supernatural fellowship of people very unlike us in whom we are bound in Christ. (2)
Bottom line: We are a supernatural fellowship of generally unlike people bound in Christ - called Creekside - who are called to be devoted together to God first and to each other - in all of those we ares and devoted tos - and to hang on because of what He may yet do even in here through us. To God alone be the glory.
1. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016). page 145
2. Allistair Begg, Sermon: Membership Matters - Romans 12:1-10, September 6, 2015, truthforlife.org
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, Il, Crossway Books, 2008)
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2007)
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 5: Insights on Acts (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.