There is one thing that makes a strong church stronger; one thing that revitalizes fledgling churches and communities. The same thing that transforms hearts and mind, heals the physically and spiritually sick and has been the VERY basis of EVERY SINGLE major spiritual revival that has happened both individually and collectively throughout history; yet is something that we so often overlook. That we so often shy away from, that we are even embarrassed to do in public or out loud.
It is prayer.
We are at an interesting and troubling time in our faith. An interesting and troubling time in our world. A time that, when we look around, is very scary for a lot of people. For Christians and the world alike. A time that is both the most technologically advanced ever in history; yet at the same time, we seem to be in a time when people almost seem to be reverting back towards earlier, or some would say “primal” times. There are many contrasts. We have more information, support, and materials to aid relationships than ever before- yet relationships are falling apart faster than ever. We have the best and most advanced equipment in history, yet we have increases in violence and the acceptance of cage fighting and other aggressive and violent things. We have more ways to connect to each other and as a community than ever before- yet the idea of community and even knowing our neighbors is becoming harder and harder to find. We have churches of Christians aching to grow, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to transform hearts and minds, yet we have large percentages of Christians that either don’t know how to pray, or are even afraid to for fear of “seeming weird” or “social pressure’ or even low-level persecution.
Crazy right? We are afraid to pray. We don’t know how to pray in many cases. One of the most important, influential and transformative features of Christianity- and we simply aren’t doing it. A recent research study from the Pew Research Center showed that 55% of Christians are praying regularly, and let’s face it- probably 10% might be fibbing just a little bit. Not lying- cause we don’t do that as Christians- but praying on Sunday, at a bible study during the week and another day might classify as “every day”, you know. Close enough. But nonetheless only HALF of Christians are doing it.
Now, before anyone starts feeling dreary about that point, that’s not what I am here for. I don’t believe in that. I don’t want to guilt you, shame you, condemn you- I am merely pointing out that we, as a faith, have become a little lax on the essentials- Instead what I want to do in encourage you.
Encourage you to understand that we as Christians have a legacy of powerful and transformative prayer. The kind that heals; that mends broken hearts, that ushers in incredible acts of the Holy Spirit and has changed and shaped the entire world, even against terrible odds. Even against the threat and reality of persecution and death. And to show you by the grace and direction of the Holy Spirit that it can happen again at any time, if we will only embrace it. To know to the bottom of your heart that if you will hold onto this and walk confidently and boldly in prayer that God will continuously use you and us in ways that we could never imagine.
This morning we look at the account in Acts, Chapter 4, verses 23-31 when the believers prayed together for courage in the midst of threats of jail, beatings, and death for speaking the name of Jesus. You see, leading up to this event, when the believers gathered in prayer, Peter and John had gone to the temple to pray; and this is when they come across a crippled beggar, who was carried to the temple every day to beg. The man was healed in the name of Jesus, which draw a lot of attention in the temple. People had known the man for many many years, and suddenly this man who had a clear deformity or condition could stand, walk, and even leaped. This disturbance to the regular flow at the temple and people praising God caught the attention of the High Priest and guard, who confronted Peter and John. The two apostles declared this victory in Jesus Christ, and were subsequently arrested and were held overnight in Jail, to be tried by the council in the morning.
It’s important to remember that just 6 weeks prior to this event, where these men faced an entire council of priests and religious officials, Jesus faced the exact same people. Who had him beat and crucified. Something that these arrested apostles had witnessed first-hand. Something that they knew could be in store for them. That was still very fresh in their minds. Made for a very long night in jail I imagine.
In fact, I bet those men spent most or all of the night praying; which on a side note was very common in our faith until recent years. And they faced their accusers, and spoke the truth that the miracle came through Jesus with courage and integrity. Peter even spoke boldly to educated religious officials. A fisherman with absolutely no formal religious training, gave a bold sermon to a room full of vengeful, educated religious leaders- who had the propensity to kill, and confidently proclaimed the Good News. The same man who just weeks earlier had denied Jesus to a young girl.
And they are shocked. They cannot deny that something miraculous and powerful happened; so they choose to give them a very stern and strict warning- mostly due to the fact that they don’t want to start a riot among the people who witnessed the miracle.
Soon after, they are released, and join up with the other believers in what becomes an incredible moment of prayer, and the scripture from this morning. One that shakes the meeting place, and further validates the faith and fire of the early saints and causes them to carry on in boldness.
They were intimidated. Yes. They were scared. They were praying for courage, after all. The council didn't play around. They would kill for the sake of maintaining the status quo. But together the early believers prayed. In all things they prayed. And so the early church grew and grew until in stretched into the Christian faith we see today, into every corner of this world. Because Christians did what Christians do- prayed, were anointed by God, and put faith into action.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to that same faith. The one that stands boldly to the accusers. That challenges the status quo of today. That looks into the faces of killers and stands boldly. That prays in all things. That passes the blessing of anointing and healing through prayer to others.
So LET US PRAY, as we say. Let us say it with conviction. Stand ready to pray. Pray ceaselessly and endlessly. Pray with all our hearts and souls. In fact, when we even say LET US PRAY, let us say it like we’ve been waiting all day for the chance to pray together. We should all sigh of relief- like “Finally” we get to bring our problems to the only one who can fully and truly do something about them.
Let us pray, with passion and conviction. Boldly. With proclamation, that we are not in defeat. Instead, in the certainty that the very gates of hell will burst apart and not be able to stand against it. Because that is the faith that was through Jesus Christ for Peter and John, and it IS the faith that we have today.
(Delivered 7/31/2016 at the Varna United Methodist Church)