Series: Prayer Rocks the World
May 24, 2009
Acts 1:8 (ESV)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Have you ever experienced the frustration of doing many things and yet nothing seems to happen? You expect the good results of your hard work but they did not come. We may experience the same frustrations in our ministry in the church. We may work so hard but still not get the job done because we depend too much on our own strength and wisdom in doing things. We neglect to devote ourselves to prayer. We pray but we are not praying enough. The first of our core values is: Dependence on God in Passionate Prayer. We believe in its value in the life of our church. But are we practicing this value? That is my burden for the next two or three months as we devote our time on this sermon series entitled Prayer Rocks the World. Much of that sermons will be devoted to the study of The Lord’s Prayer. Today we will look at the role of prayer in the fulfillment of the mission given to us by God: Prayer and Our Mission.
Prayer has a crucial role in our mission. During our Planning and Retreat last April, the leaders of this church approved the initial draft I proposed for our mission statement. We exist to build local and global grace-communities of committed followers of Christ for the glory of God. It is largely based on the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). We believe that “making disciples” is building grace-communities of committed followers of Christ. The scope of our mission is “all nations.” Our mission field is both local and global, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
What, then, is a grace-community? I came up with these characteristics that I believe will help us be focused and goal-oriented in doing our mission. A grace-community is a community of committed followers of Christ who are:
- Saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 15:11)
- Sharing with one another lives being transformed by God’s grace (Eph. 4:32; 5:2)
- Savoring the wonders of God’s grace in a life of worship (Rom. 12:1-2)
- Serving one another as good stewards of God’s grace (1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rom. 12:6)
- Spreading the good story of God’s grace to all peoples (Isa. 48:20; Rom. 15:8-9)
The church’s mission statement is a statement of what we are supposed to do as a church. But we must not get the notion that the fulfillment of our mission depends so much on what we do. Rather, we must think and believe that our mission can be accomplished only if God will do the work through us. That is why prayer is important. Prayer recognizes our dependence on God that unless we ask him to do the things we cannot do, the church cannot accomplish the mission the Lord Jesus gave her to do.
Without prayer, the church’s mission will fail. With much prayer, even when many people think that our mission is impossible for us, the impossible becomes possible. The early church believed in this because they devoted themselves to prayer. After the ascension of Christ, all the disciples “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). The disciples and the thousands added to their number after the day of Pentecost “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). The leaders of the church exemplified devotion to prayer as their primary ministry. The apostles were firm in their commitment to prayer that when an issue arose in the distribution of food to the widows, they appointed other men to take care of that. They said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
What can we learn from the life of the early church in the book of Acts about the importance of prayer in accomplishing its mission? How crucial is prayer in the life and mission of the church? When we devote ourselves to prayer like the early church did, what can possibly happen?
Prayer releases the Holy Spirit’s power
Through prayer, God releases His power through the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it clear to the disciples that before they became effective witnesses of his resurrection, they must first be endowed with power from on high. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). The Holy Spirit was promised by the Lord. They need the Holy Spirit to enable them to spread the message of God’s grace to all nations.
But the disciples did not just wait for it to come, they prayed for it. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). Before the Holy Spirit came, what do we find the disciples doing? “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (2:1). When they gather, they pray. How did God answered? “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). They pray, the Holy Spirit fills them. The same thing happened when the disciples prayed after Peter and John were released, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31).
The gift of the Holy Spirit was not confined in Jerusalem; it begins moving out to Samaria. “When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-15, 17). They prayed to receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave them as he has promised.
The church will minister in weakness when it is not connected to its power source: the Holy Spirit. Let us devote ourselves to prayer and ask God to let us experience the power of the Holy Spirit. What we need in this church is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles can rightly be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit as we see him moving through the pages of the history of the early church. Do we want to see him moving in this church? Are we willing to devote most of our time in our ministry in prayer? Shall we ask the Holy Spirit to release his power in our church?
Prayer expands the church
Through prayer, God can make the church grow tremendously. Much time in prayer is not wasted time. Some may think that we must go out more and share the gospel more and have more programs and events and become more busy in order to accomplish our mission. Yes, we need to do that. But I will say that more than all those things, we need to pray more. Like the early church who devoted themselves to prayer:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and 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 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 the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-43, 46-47).
We are not the one who will make the church grow. It is the Lord’s work. God honors our prayer by bringing lost people to his kingdom through our church. Much of our frustrations come when we take it upon our shoulders to produce results. Prayer frees us from that burden. Pastor Kent Hughes experienced the same:
God imparts his power when and how he wants to. Years ago when I was a youth pastor I noticed that a lot of young people would show up on Sunday morning, but when it came to Wednesday night Bible study I could hardly get a baker’s dozen. I would have eight, then fifteen, then eight… I almost quit. I was so discouraged that I had to depend on the Lord. I remember finally just giving it all to the Lord, and one night when there were only eight a young man came to know Christ. He brought another young man to the group, and he came to know Christ. In two months my group went from fifteen to ninety, and then to 120! I only remember four Wednesday nights out of a year and a half that someone did not trust Christ! (Acts: The Church Afire, p. 19).
It is the Lord’s work to expand his church. Jesus himself promised that he will build his church. Do we believe that if we ask God to save the lost among our relatives, friends, neighbors, and even those whom we still have not known, he will hear us? In your prayers, mention their names to God and ask God to save them. In our prayer sheets, write those names and we will help you pray for that. Join our Prayer Meetings and our Kaagapay Groups so that we can pray together. Private prayers are important but we see the early church emphasizing corporate prayers. God wants to hear not just four or five people praying but all of us joining our hands together in asking him to do miracles in this church.
Prayer works miracles
Through prayer, God works miracles to make the gospel known to more people. In doing our mission as a church, some of us may be limited by what you think you can do and by the size of your influence. But we must believe in a God who can accomplish miracles, who will do beyond what we can think or imagine and expand our area of influence to unimaginable proportions. Prayer can do that.
Peter prayed, then God raised Tabitha back to life (9:40). What happened after this miracle? “It became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (9:42). Peter was put in prison, “but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (12:5). Peter was released and went to the other disciples and found them praying together (12:12). The church prayed. The Lord delivered Peter out of prison miraculously. The Lord put Herod to death (12:23). “But the word of God increased and multiplied” (12:24). Miracles result in multiplication.
When Paul and Silas were put in prison, the Lord miraculously delivered them while they “were praying and singing hymns” (16:25). It became an occasion for witness to the Philippian jailer and he was saved together with his household. When Paul got stuck in the island of Malta, the father of the chief of the island got sick. Paul prayed for him and he was healed (28:8). What happened after that? “And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured” (28:9). Miracles draw multitudes of people to God.
We live in a world where many people no longer believe in miracles. We must believe in the power of God to accomplish miracles, not necessarily the sensational, for the expansion of his kingdom. My dad’s sister is dying of lung cancer. She is now in ICU. I went to the hospital and prayed for her. It became an occasion for many of her relatives to rethink life and death. I prayed with them and heard most of them sobbing while I am praying. Do I believe that she can still be healed although the doctor said that only 2% of those cases, with good treatment, last for five years? I struggled with my prayer, but I must believe that God can do that. He is God, isn’t he?
We must pray for miracles to happen in this church. I don’t just mean the sensational cases like the raising of the dead and the opening of the eyes of the blind. We must believe in God who can change people’s lives and attract people because of those changed lives. God can heal broken marriages. God can restore broken relationships. God can turn the heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Only God can raise the spiritually dead to experience new life in Christ. Only God can open the eyes of the blind so that he may see the glory of Christ preached in the gospel. We must pray for miracles to happen in this church. Accomplishing our mission is humanly impossible. We need God’s miracles to bear witness to the reality of the gospel.
Prayer empowers leadership
Yes, God works miracles. But God works also through his servant leaders to accomplish the mission of the church. The church will not accomplish its mission without effective leadership. And through prayer, God empowers church leaders for effective spiritual leadership. Leaders are naturally weak men. We became leaders not because we have superhero qualities. It is purely by the grace of God that we are here. And only the grace of God, in answer to your prayers, will sustain us in the ministry (2 Tim. 2:1).
The New Testament church was aware of this. The apostles laid their hands and prayed for the seven men appointed to be in charge of the distribution of food (6:6). Two of these men, Stephen and Philip, became courageous witnesses for the gospel (chaps. 7 and 8). Before sending off Paul and Barnabas to start their missionary journeys, the church fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them (13:3). Paul and Barnabas prayed for the elders they appointed in several churches. “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23). After Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders, “he knelt down and prayed with them all” (20:36). Paul knew that these elders or pastors have tough times ahead of them. They need prayers.
We, your leaders, need prayers too. I am undergoing seminary training. But don’t ever think that I can have all that I need, through that seminary, to lead this church to accomplish our mission. There are many times that I don’t know what to do, and even if I know what to do, I don’t have the strength to do it. This pastoral ministry is beyond my skills or ability. I can only stand here and preach the Word because of prayers. When there are times that I was tempted to do the things I should not do, I found the strength to withstand temptation because I know you are praying for me.
We need your prayers more than unjust criticisms. Please pray for your leaders at least once a week in your daily prayer time. When you see us not leading effectively, what is the first thing you should do? Pray, isn’t it? Not all of us can be in the positions we have as leaders, but all of us can serve the mission of the church by praying for your leaders.
Prayer clarifies God’s vision
One of the keys for effective leadership in the church is a clear vision from God. Vision is a clear picture of where the ministry is heading. And through prayer, God clarifies his vision and directions for the church.
Peter received God’s vision for him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles while he was praying. “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me” (11:5; cf. 10:9). Paul also heard God’s voice speaking and giving him clear directions while he was praying. “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me…” (22:17-18). The Holy Spirit spoke to the church regarding Paul and Barnabas’ mission while the church were praying. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (13:2).
Don’t expect God to speak to us in the midst of our busyness. We need to slow down, focus our attention on him, be silent, and pray earnestly for his clear voice. Don’t you want to hear God speaking to you? Don’t you want his Word to be more clear when you read it that you can discern what God is telling you to do? Then, pray!
What we need in this church is not my vision. What we need is God’s vision. Don’t follow me if I am just leading you to my vision. Get on board and help us fulfill our mission because of God’s vision. I need God’s vision for the ministry. We are on the process of making that clear. We need your help to pray for us and pray with us in asking the Lord to reveal to our church what he wants to see happen in the years to come. Pray also to God to reveal to you what he wants you to do to become a part of his great vision for the church.
What can we expect to happen when we, as a church, devote ourselves to prayer? We will experience the power of the Holy Spirit. We will see multitudes of people being added to the church. We will witness miracles happening. We will have empowered leadership. We will see God’s vision for our church clearer. Prayer will help us accomplish the mission God has given us to do.
Before we had our Strategic Planning and Retreat last month, we devoted one Saturday morning for prayer and fasting. We asked you to pray for it and we believe that you did. We committed our Planning sessions in prayer. We also know that some of you are praying while we are meeting. What happened because of that? We accomplished the goal of that Planning – to unite the leaders of this church toward one common mission and vision. We sensed the unity among the leaders. I did not see any divisive spirit there. God is at work. Because of that, our hearts were united to move forward as one church.
We also saw that in our DVBS the last three days. Most of us are on board. Some served as teachers, assistants, cleaners, givers, and encouragers. We ministered to 60 children, most of them from our neighbors. We met their parents. We started establishing relationships with them. How did it happen? Is it because those who planned for this event are wise and skilled? No! The teachers devoted time for prayer. Many of us helped them in prayers also. God answered our prayers. Isn’t it exciting everytime we see God’s answers to our prayers.
Indeed, prayer will help us accomplish the mission God has given us to do. In fact, prayer is at the heart of our mission. As an old adage says, “When we work, we work. When we pray, God works.” It is exciting to see how God works in and through this church.