What do our typical prayer requests reveal about our personal faith? Do they reflect a love for the things of God and a heart that trusts in God’s good and gracious plan for the believer? Or do they reflect something more materialistic and a heart that is anxious?
One of the greatest sources of encouragement and conviction when it comes to my own prayer life has been the book of Acts. While prayers are not necessarily found in every chapter of Acts, their occasional appearance always brings with them an encouragement as well as a weighty reminder of my calling as a disciple of Christ.
One of these prayers is found in Acts 4:23-30. This prayer of believers is given in response to the arrest and release of Peter and John. As such, this is a prayer that is given at a key moment in the early history of the Church. With that first arrest, the persecution of the Church is now a greater reality for believers. Regardless of the clarity of Christ when he had previously promised his disciples that persecution was inevitable, the introduction of this persecution would have still come with a certain level of surprise and a definite level of pain. In the midst of that pain, it would be of little surprise to find believers crying out to God in great fear. Even more likely would be the presence of a prayer in which the believer begs God to bring an end to persecution. This, however, is not the subject of their prayer.
Instead, we find a prayer that opens with a right focus on praising God and acknowledging his reign as our Creator. From that initial praise, the believers communicate their understanding of the fact that God’s revealed plan has already demonstrated the necessity and even benefit of suffering in the lives of God’s children (Acts 4:25-28). In both their praise of God as well as in their understanding of suffering there is the underlying acknowledgement that God’s sovereign hand is in control of all things (our suffering included). And it is in light of God’s good and sovereign hand that the believers come to their primary request in verses 29-30:
“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
In these words we find, in my mind, the most surprising and convicting element of the believers’ prayer. Here we find that their greatest concern is not for the suffering to cease but for the Gospel to be continually preached clearly by the disciples of Christ and for the power of God to be further known. These disciples know that their Gospel witness will bring persecution. But that knowledge in no way affects their confidence in God’s sovereign rule or in their understanding of the call that has been given to them by God.
This prayer offers a number of important lessons for all believers when it comes to our own prayer lives and how we must strive to live out our calling. It is a reminder of the fact that God’s sovereignty is to be trusted even in the most difficult of times and that difficult times are, in fact, an inevitable part of this life. Furthermore, it is a reminder of the greatest priority in the life of every believer: the proclamation of the Gospel. Regardless of various difficulties related to our finances, health, relationships, etc, the believer must always remember that our hope lies not in earthly success but in the life-giving message of the Gospel. Finally, this prayer reminds us that God is, indeed, still sovereign and still good.
At no point in Scripture are we given a promise that this life will be easy or that we should feel ashamed when we feel overwhelmed. This prayer in Acts, after all, is given in light of circumstances that clearly shook the believers. What we are given, instead, is the promise that God’s plan is being worked out throughout all of it and that it is, indeed, ultimately for our good (even if we don’t understand it at the moment).
May God grant us all the grace and maturity to cause our prayers to reflect the hearts of these saints in Acts 4.