Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Prayer School – On Lesson 05 – Effective Prayer; Date: 30 May 2010

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Boldness Over Protection

 

When the church was young, persecution came which made the first Christians pray in desperation. If there was ever a need for a praying time that was effective (and not just words), this was it and we will learn more about what they faced but – (let me ask you first) – do you likewise have a need for effective prayers? Right now – this morning – are you crying out to God for something to happen in your life? Are you desperate? How can you pull through the tough times when they come?

Can I encourage you? Relax now and listen. Take some time to consider the first Christians and how they prayed in their desperation because they will surprise you and they will teach you. I read from the Bible – Acts 3-4 (read only the underlined verses):

 

Acts 3

A Lame Man Healed

 1 Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; 3 who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. 4 And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Preaching in Solomon’s Portico

   
11 Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. 12 So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. 14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. 16 And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
17 “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before,[a] 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’[b] 24 Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold[c] these days. 25 You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’[d] 26 To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

Acts 4

Peter and John Arrested

 1 Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Addressing the Sanhedrin

   
5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’[e] 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The Name of Jesus Forbidden

   
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”
18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

Prayer for Boldness

   
23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David[f] have said:


      ‘ Why did the nations rage,
      And the people plot vain things?
       26 The kings of the earth took their stand,
      And the rulers were gathered together
      Against the LORD and against His Christ.’[g]

27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Sharing in All Things

   
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
36 And Joses,[h] who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

 

Footnotes:

a.       Acts 3:20 NU-Text and M-Text read Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before.

b.      Acts 3:23 Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19

c.       Acts 3:24 NU-Text and M-Text read proclaimed.

d.      Acts 3:25 Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14

e.       Acts 4:11 Psalm 118:22

f.        Acts 4:25 NU-Text reads who through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father, Your servant David.

g.       Acts 4:26 Psalm 2:1, 2

h.       Acts 4:36 NU-Text reads Joseph.

Peter and John healed a lame man in Jerusalem that everyone knew and therefore everyone was interested in what they had to say about Jesus and – as a result – five thousand more people made a commitment to trust Jesus and expect the resurrection from the dead (as Jesus himself was first raised from the grave). There would be eternal salvation for those who followed Jesus Christ. This was the good news which spread throughout the entire city.

Peter and John should have felt encouraged and they were. When the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the who’s who of the religious leadership of God’s people seized them, threw them into prison and then interrogated them, asking: “By what power or by what name have you done this (the healing of the lame man),” Peter and John were bursting with confidence and – filled with Holy Spirit boldness – declared against all threats: “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people … that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole … Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved

When Peter and John were commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus, they refused and the authorities had to let them go because there was no reasonable charge against him. How could the leaders punish them when everyone else in the city was praising God for the healing of the lame man?

Yet, for all the intense highlights of Peter and John’s experience – the healing, the five thousand converts, the boldness of their faith in the face of persecution – the ongoing threats by those in power managed to rattle them. The night in prison had not been easy. What would happen next, if they chose to continue with their preaching? Peter and John had no natural talent to withstand so much opposition. The Bible informs us that they were uneducated and untrained – simple fishermen from the country – which made them no match for the clever rhetoric of schooled religious lawyers and ordained priests. Discouragement set in – despite setting all of Jerusalem on fire – which is an all too human occurrence. How much has God even done in the life of this church (healings, gold dust, converts, miraculous provision of our own building)? Yet – like Peter and John and the first Christians – we are still not safe from becoming discouraged. One week we are up and rejoice in the presence of God but then we are down again and one too many challenges (another bill, another sickness, another lie) throws us into despair.

Now this is where it gets interesting. How did Peter and John and the first Christians get themselves out of the hole that they were in? What can we learn from them? First of all, they knew that help needed to come from God and therefore they prayed. It was also crystal-clear to them that they did not need more of their own strength but God’s strength. God wasn’t just to reinvigorate their bodies and minds. They were after the supernatural power that enabled them to heal the lame man and would get them out of trouble now.

What did they do? Surprise 1: If we had been in Peter and John’s shoes and wanted our prayers to be effective, we (most of us – I think) would have prayed for protection in persecution: “God, please keep us out of prison and don’t let us get hurtBut this was not their priority. They prayed – Acts 4:29-30: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus“ … grant . your servants … all boldness … ” They prayed first and foremost for boldness which is nothing else but praying for faith: “God, I am discouraged now but please give me once again the confidence – the faith – the trust – to step out and serve you

Surprise 2: If we had been in Peter and John’s shoes and wanted our prayers to be effective, we (most of us – I think) would have pleaded with God to save us from our enemies: “God, we are on the back foot here. Please, make the threat go away. Please, let us hang in there and surviveThis is way too defensive and is not how the first Christians prayed. They prayed with higher expectations because they believed in a God that was not just meeting their most basic needs but was a God of victory and abundance. They prayed: “God, help us. We want to be on the front foot. Look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant JesusWhat Peter and John and the first Christians were expecting was that they would take charge of the situation and rise up with bold preaching, healings by the hand of God and signs and wonders in the name of Jesus Christ.

Maybe we can already learn this lesson from them. Aim higher in your prayer. Aim as high as the nature of God who promised in the Bible – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “ … No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him … ” Ephesians 3:20-21: “ . to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory … ” Jesus said – John 10:10: “ … I came that they may have life, and have it abundantlyAim higher in your prayer. Do not be afraid to shift your weight from the back foot to the front foot.

This morning – we are going after this. Jesus said – Matthew 6:33: “ … seek first his kingdom … ” Luke 12:31: “ … seek his kingdom, and [then] these things [such as food and clothing] will be given to you as wellThus, we are not being defensive just worrying about our immediate needs but we pray: “God, your kingdom come – as it is in heaven, so on earth

Maybe – at this point – we expand on this and note the radical outcome of what the disciples were doing. They did not pray for personal protection but faith boldness so that the kingdom of God would expand which meant – in a most radical way – that the first Christians did not in fact pray for themselves at all. All they wanted was to share the good news of Jesus Christ with power. What God would do for them was of secondary importance because God himself was the priority. Our lives are about him – his honour, his glory, his kingdom.

The first Christians prayed: “ … grant . your servants … all boldness … ” The first Christians knew that they were servants of God and the Bible translation is not even accurate here because the word in Greek does not mean “servant” but “slave”. We are slaves of God in the sense that our lives are all about God’s agenda – not our own – and therefore our prayers are praying his will – not ours – and as we are praying his will – seeking God according to his plans – then we experience the boldness of faith rising up within us.

This is not so easy. Much needs to happen in our prayer times. Not only do we have to overcome discouragement in the face of opposition but there is now also the struggle to shift our focus from personal safety to God’s glory and his bigger picture.

[There is also the point that the first Christians did not just pray and then sit back waiting for God to do the work without them. The first Christians prayed and then became part of the answers to prayer. They needed faith to be active again in Jesus’ name.]

How do we get there? When Peter and John were upset, they immediately came together with other Christians – Acts 4:23-24: “… And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So … they raised their voice to God with one accord … ” None of us can manage on their own. We are not meant to manage on our own. When the opposition increases, Christians come together and help each other to process what is happening and then we come into agreement – unity – about which Jesus promised – Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, I tell you if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them In times of trouble we are meant to lean on each other and pray through the issues together.

Then, the first Christians worked on their perspective, praying: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, … ” Politicians and religious leaders may think that they are in charge and they may choose to make threats but it is God that made the heaven and the earth and the sea – the vast expanses of the cosmos. He is in charge. Nothing on earth is a match for him.

The first Christians worked even more on their perspective and immersed themselves in the Bible and the story of Jesus Christ. They were feeding themselves on the truth – Acts 4:25-28: “ … [You] have [already] said [in the Old Testament]: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done … ” Jesus himself had faced opposition in Jerusalem but as God had announced beforehand: The nations would rage against him in vain. The kings of the earth – Pontius Pilate and Herod – would not dictate their terms to Jesus. Everything would happen – precisely – according to the purpose which God had determined beforehand. Yes – Jesus would die at the hands of his enemies but this served the deep wisdom of God who would accept his death as the sacrifice for all of our sins and who would raise him again to new life and everlasting victory after three days. Jesus may have looked lost on the cross and defeated but God worked his greatest triumph on the weekend that he died and rose again to life – for you.

The first Christians were immersing themselves in this truth. They were reading the Bible – again and again. They were telling each other the truth of God to defeat the lies of discouragement. (E.g.: The cause of the church is lost. Everyone will die in jail. You will never make it.) The Bible became the core prayer tool for the first Christians until the breakthrough of faith came.

Likewise – Suzette Hattingh (the co-writer of the prayer school which we are studying at the moment) shared how reading the Bible and praying the Bible changed her life. You grow in confidence praying what God declared in his Word is his will and you grow in confidence meditating on his character and past faithfulness. Then – as you are reading and praying the Bible – you give God the opportunity to highlight certain parts of the Bible for you.

Over the past week my daughter Franscisca and I have been reading the Bible book of 2 Kings and I have to admit there has not been much that was grabbing our attention. Let me give you the flavour of the reading on most nights – 2 Kings 14:17-25: “Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah lived for fifteen years after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel. As for the other events of Amaziah’s reign, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? … Then all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah. He was the one who rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah after Amaziah rested with his fathers. In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years … ” However, you keep persevering and then – all of a sudden – some Bible words pierce your heart. God moves on you with his truth and you know that he has spoken to you. Just recently I have been encouraged by Romans 10:11: “ … Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shameI am not in control but when I trust in Jesus, then I will finish well. He will see me through anything. “ … Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shameTherefore, this is how I can pray with boldness: “God, I will not worry about myself. I will just trust in you and be bold. You look after meAnd then I step out serving my God.

Now this is a process and what this process requires is time. When we begin our prayer time, we may still worry too much about ourselves and do not pray as the “slaves” of God who are serving his purposes. When we begin our prayer time, we may still be overwhelmed by the current crisis and challenges so that the Bible truth of God – his control over everything – is not what we know – what we rely on – with conviction in our hearts. (It may be in our heads but not in our hearts.) To get there takes time.

A pastor from Korea writes (abbreviate and retell in your own words):

“Westerners are often wrapped up in the problem of trying to live according to schedules. Everything is rush, rush, rush. Soon they start losing the time to have fellowship with family and friends, and even the time to wait upon the Lord. Everything seems instant: instant breakfast, T.V. dinners, fast food counters – all is ready in five minutes. So when going to church they seem to pray, ‘Oh, God answer me. I have no time – five minutes – and if you don’t answer me quickly, forget it.’ They are not waiting upon the Lord …

When we needed five million dollars to build the church already contracted, I had a clear-cut vision, a clear-cut goal, and a burning desire to build this church which would seat 10,000 people. But my heart was full of fear. I was shaky, fearful, and I had no assurance. I was like a frightened rabbit, and that five million dollars looked like Mount Everest. To rich foreigners a million dollars may mean relatively little; but to Koreans a million dollars means a great deal of money. So I began to pray like a person dying. I said, ‘Lord, now they’ve started working. But still I have no assurance. I don’t know where we can get all this money.’ I began travailing. A month passed, and still I had no peace and no assurance. A second month passed and I was praying into the middle of the nights. I would roll out of the bed and go to the corner and cry, sobbing my heart out. My wife thought that I was losing my mind, but I was mentally blinded. I would just stand, without thinking, worrying about the five million dollars.

After I prayed incessantly like that for three months, one morning my wife called, ‘Honey, breakfast is ready.’ As I was walking out of my study, just about to sit in the chair, suddenly the heavens opened up and the tremendous blessings of the Lord poured into my heart! And this great title deed, the substance and the assurance, were imparted into my soul. Suddenly I jumped out of my chair like a shot and I began to shout, ‘I’ve got it. I’ve got it. Oh, I’ve got it.’

My wife rushed out of the kitchen and when I looked at her I saw that her face was absolutely pale. She was frightened, and taking me, said, ‘Honey, what’s happened to you? Are you all right? Sit down.’

‘I’ve got it!’ I replied. ‘What do you have?’ ‘I have five million dollars,’ I strongly asserted. Then she said, ‘You are really crazy now. Really crazy.’ ‘But Honey, I’ve got all these five million dollars inside of me. They’re growing now! Oh, inside me it’s growing!’ Suddenly those five million dollars had turned into a small pebble on my palm. I prayed with assurance. My faith reached out, and I grabbed hold that five million dollars; it was mine. I got the substance, and once you have the substance – the title deed, the legal paper – whether you see those things or not, legally those things are bound to come to you because legally those things belong to you. So pray through until you have this assurance” (David Yonggi Cho: The Fourth Dimension, Florida: Bridge-Logos 1979, 15-17).

Praying until discouragement turns into faith boldness takes time. We come together. We get perspective by immersing ourselves in the Bible truth and the story of Jesus Christ. We let God highlight certain Bible verses to us. We wait on him until the boldness comes – until faith rises within us – until we know that we know that what we have prayed for is ours.

[If I can share this with you. This is what is happening for me every Sunday morning in our prayer time before the service. I am praying with the sole purpose of receiving the boldness and assurance of faith that God is confirming his Word that I am preaching. I am usually not confused about the message. I usually know that he has spoken to me but I am still fearful because I am not in control and cannot make anything of God happen myself. Will God do it in the service? Will anyone receive anything from God? Will the Holy Spirit rest on us? Will the Holy Spirit make the words flow out of my mouth? I am not sure and therefore I come to the prayer meeting and I am thankful that we are doing this together because I receive encouragement from the faith of others. I pray for faith.]

A perfect demonstration of what we want is how Peter and John healed the lame man in Jerusalem. They had so much faith that they did not even pray for healing. They simply said – with boldness: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And Peter took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately the lame man’s feet and ankle bones received strength. You need to have faith to be that bold. Take the time with God to get there.

At some stage in your prayer time – as you have immersed yourself in the Bible truth and God’s nature – as you have waited on God – the same will happen to you as happened to the first Christians – Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” The Holy Spirit will fall on us with boldness.

I come to a close. Are you discouraged this morning? Where in your life are you lacking the conviction of faith? Is there a sin that seems impossible to overcome? Is there a challenge that seems insurmountable? As a church we are still having a debt of $500,000. Do we have the money by faith so that we are not held back by financial constraints? Do our musicians have faith that in our time of worship and singing the presence of God draws near to us? Where do you need faith?

I summarize what we have learned: 1) [Power point slide: We are not being defensive but aim higher.] In our prayers we are not being defensive worrying about our immediate needs but we aim higher. We pray: “God, your kingdom come2) As God’s servants we shift our focus from personal needs to God’s glory. As we seek his kingdom first, our other needs will be met as well. 3) We come together for prayer. We lean on each other and come into agreement. 4) We immerse ourselves in the truth of the Bible and Jesus Christ. This makes us gain perspective and allows God to highlight certain parts of the Bible for us. 5) We take the time to pray until the boldness of faith comes.

These five points give us some practical instructions on how we can position ourselves before God but we know that everything depends on him. This is why we pray to him and and then wait on him in prayer. This is why we are immersing ourselves in his perspective according to the Bible. God needs to move and he will. Are you ready for it this morning? He makes your prayers effective when he fills you with the Holy Spirit and the boldness of faith. Is God stirring your heart right now? What do you need to overcome? God wants to give you the faith that is necessary.

As a church – we want to keep praying as the first disciples prayed: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant JesusLet it rise up within you: Bold preaching – bold sharing of the good news with your neighbours – with healings, signs and wonders in Jesus’ name. Amen.