by Peter Bond
Acts 4:31 ‘And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.’
As I turned my thoughts to this subject, I began to think of some of the notable prayers recorded in the Bible.
The first that came to mind was Solomon’s prayer after the completion of the temple, second Chronicles chapter six—essentially a prayer of dedication: and how, at the close of that prayer, ‘the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifice; and the glory of the Lord filled the house’ (II Chronicles 7:1).
Immediately, then, I thought of Elijah’s brief prayer in first Kings, chapter 18, as he openly challenges the religious supremacy of the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah’s prayer is for the vindication of God’s holy name; of himself as God’s servant and of the efficacy of the eternal Lord God (I Kings 18:36-39). Again we read in verse 38, ‘Then the fire of the LORD fell’, but perhaps the more enduring miracle—and the one we would very much look for today—is found in verse 39 where it says, ‘And when all the people saw it they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.’
And then I thought of Jonah’s prayer in Jonah chapter two, when he ‘prayed…out of the fish’s belly’ (verse 1), ‘out of (as it seems to Jonah) the belly of hell’ (verse 2). This prayer, in its conclusion, proves to be a prayer of consecration, and affirmation that God alone is sovereign in the affairs of men: indeed, the cry that finally brings Jonah’s deliverances is simply, ‘Salvation is of the LORD’ (Jonah 2:9).
The prayer recorded in Acts 4:24-31 is distinct from these three mentioned, being a prayer for boldness; and is, perhaps, unique in the scriptures as it is a prayer not given out by one person, but by an assembled BODY. Verse 24, says that, ‘they lifted up THEIR voice to God with one accord.’ One person may have led that prayer, but the surrounding disciples fed the flames with their cries of assent! And the Lord’s own assent was demonstrated in the shaking of the building, ‘where they were assembled together’ (verse 31). The reader may be familiar with a comparable manifestation during the Lewis revival in the middle of the last century, when a house shook as Duncan Campbell and a band of prayer warriors interceded in the village of Arnol.
I want to encourage us to the thought that prayer is more than words, petitions, and our genuine expression of love towards God. Prayer, at times, may be hard labour, even toil and struggle, but prayer is a covenant engagement with the Lord Himself, and when that prayer prevails, God breaks in with startling and miraculous power: fire falls, people fall, places shake and tremble—as must the powers and principalities of this dark world—and situations are completely transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost!
The context of the disciples’ prayer in Acts chapter four is the beginning of a savage wave of persecution that breaks in full force with the death of Stephen in Acts chapter seven. The apostles, Peter and John, return from interrogation by the Jewish Council, headed by the perpetrators of Jesus’ murder, ‘Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas’. ‘And being let go’, we are told in Acts 4:23, this time with only a severe warning, ‘they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.’
As we noted earlier, this prayer in Acts chapter four was very much a corporate prayer; a prayer of the assembled body. Each child of God is called in some measure to be in intercessor, but the prayer of the assembled body has a peculiar power. Thus we find a particular significance in the phrase ‘their own company’. The apostles Peter and John knew where they belonged! They knew where the Lord had united them with a people of like mind and vision, a people who would stand with them for the truth of the gospel in terms of liberty and even of life itself. This was a determined people who would not bend under the severest pressure and I believe it is imperative for every standard-bearer in our day to find and to unite themselves with a people whom God has called, and whom we may regard in a very deep and abiding way as our ‘own company’. Thomas Gray in his famous ‘Elegy’ wrote:
‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.’
Such is not the case with the Christian: who is born-again to take a vital part in local church life, not least in the offering up of the sweet incense of prayer in the vibrant context of the assembled body, and in times of increasing pressure from all sides.
Acts 4:24 reminds us of another important characteristic of this people: they were instant in prayer. Prayer to them was not a considered response, but an immediate one. ‘And when they heard that’—in other words, as soon as they heard that, ‘they lifted up their voice to God with one accord’. Here were a people in, ‘unity of the Spirit’, and instant in prayer.
Faced with mounting opposition, no one becomes despondent, or starts talking about modifying the gospel of Christ, or trying to come to agreeable terms with the Sanhedrin. The Church has tried many times to strike a bargain with the devil, and is still trying. These attempts can only produce a lamentable compromise of God’s eternal truth, and a misrepresentation of the person and character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have to ask myself the question: Is my first and instinctive response in every situation, especially difficult situations, to pray? I am bound to say that my honest answer is, ‘Not always.’ May God help us to be both instant and urgent in prayer.
So how did this company of disciples pray? Well, they began by Saying, ‘Lord, thou art God, which has made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is’ (Acts 4:24). When King Hezekiah received a threatening letter from the hand of Rab-shakeh the Assyrian, he prayed, ‘O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.’ (II Kings 19:15)
In both cases, they were doing as the apostle exhorts; they were committing the ‘keeping of their souls in well doing, as unto a faithful creator’ (I Peter 4:19).
Of course, the Lord did not need to be reminded by these disciples that He was the Creator: but here, as in many places in Scripture, these disciples needed to remind themselves that the One who had recently suffered for them, and the One in whose cause they were now preparing to suffer, was, nonetheless the Creator and, therefore, the Governor of all concerned. He would be sovereign in the affairs of the Sanhedrin as in all things, and nothing could happen to them as they pursued the path of righteousness and truth, except it happen in accordance with His predetermined will. In this they would find a great inward strength and comfort, as we should, beloved, in pursuing the same path.
In verses 25-28, the consolation of this very truth is confirmed as they rehearse the evidence of Jesus’ own obedience to the Father’s will, taking account of the fact that, in this unique instance, all was in keeping with prophecy—the reference in verse 25 to Psalm 2, is abundantly clear.
But another important principle of prayer is also established here. Had not Christ forewarned them in Mark 13:9, ‘But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.’ There would be no point in praying that all this would simply blow over, and that somehow peace and harmony could be negotiated between themselves and the Jewish rulers. God had spoken; and only a departure from the way of the Master could produce a more comfortable outcome at the expense of truth. Needless to say, many preachers and churches have made such compromises, ‘not in any honour’ (to the Lord, but ‘to the satisfying of the flesh’ (Colossians 2:23). Would that the Church of our time would rest in God’s great dictum in I Samuel 2:30, ‘for them that honour me I will honour’, regardless of the sometimes painful consequences in this physical and material world!
Let it be said that, praying for world peace, or (as many Christians are caught up in) praying ‘for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6), can only find a true foundation in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ: when He shall ‘rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 12:5); and when, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ’ (Revelation 11:15). The New Testament prayer that exactly accords with Psalm 122:6 is found in Revelation 22:20—the last recorded prayer in the Bible—‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’ To ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ in this present dispensation is little more than a waste of time, since prophecy clearly indicates that Jerusalem will remain a centre for strife and conflict until the Prince of Peace comes. There may be a short period of apparent peace if Daniel 8:25 is taken to refer to Antichrist, ‘and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many’. Should Antichrist prove to be a Jew, then the thousands praying ‘for the peace of Jerusalem’ could be among the ‘many’ that ‘the son of perdition’ will deceive, and ultimately destroy, for they might reasonably believe that their prayers have been answered.
The Disciples’ prayer in Acts chapter four takes full account of Bible prophecy, and affirms that there is no future or value in trying to alter God’s revealed mind in the matter. Faced with the inevitable wave of coming persecution—for ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’ (II Tim 3:1)—their prayer is rather for ‘boldness’ in context of it: that indeed, ‘the Shepherd and Bishop’ of their souls (I Peter 2:25) would prepare ‘a table before’ them, not in some quiet corner of Jerusalem, but ‘in the presence of [their] enemies’; and duly anoint their heads with oil (see Psalm 23:5), ‘confirming the word with signs following’ (Mark 16:20)—see Acts 4:29-30: ‘And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.’
If any in their company were doubtful, or fearful of such boldness in prayer; their doubts and fears were soon dispelled by the answer of heaven in verse 31! This manifestation was the Lord’s ‘Amen’ to the prayer He had generated within them. And the Lord will say, ‘Amen’ to all Spirit-led praying. May that be our portion in days when there is increasing opposition to the substance and context of the gospel of Christ, and the preaching of it. AMEN