The precedence of praying together – Acts 6:1-5
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 25, 2011 AM
The church today is a mere spiritual shadow of its former self. The reason I believe is because it has forgotten the importance of praying together. This issue is extremely important for three reasons: 1) Praying together as a church is crucial for a spiritually healthy church. 2) Praying together is a vital for God’s presence to work among his people. In addition, 3) the tendency among believers is to think of prayer gatherings as the extra-curricular activity in the life of the church, something that can be ignored. It’s good for other people to do, but not important enough for me to join. There are a growing number of believers, who view cooperative prayer as optional, secondary, and unimportant. We do not find this to be true in Scripture nor in the history of the church.
God has sovereignly ordained his church to pray together so that his presence is manifested and his purposes are hastened when we pray together. This is not to minimize personal prayer in any way. Instead, it is to teach us that personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation. Let’s discover these truths as we rediscover the precedence of praying together…
Very early on in church history, we discover the early church placing a priority on praying together. In fact, we discover that…
I. Praying together was a priority for the apostles!
1. How a church sets it prayer priorities says a lot about what it practices!
1) In Acts 6, the Church at Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. We find that “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1 NIV) Interestingly, the word “distribution” is “diakonia” in the Greek, which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry, so the emphasis is on what? Serving people! Notice what the early church did to solve the problem: “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.’” (Acts 6:2 NIV) Again, the words translated “wait on” is “diakonein”, from the same root as in v. 2, focusing on serving others! They tell the church, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4 NIV) Literally, v. 4 reads, “But we to the prayer and the ministry [diakonia] of the word will steadfastly continue.” The entire problem dealt with church ministry! Some folks think this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer. However, the apostles are not referring to their need for personal private prayer. Instead, they are mobilizing the church to pray together! The literal translation has the definite article before prayer in v. 4: “But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue.” That little word “the” indicates that this doesn’t mean prayer in general for them but prayer in particular for the church! In fact, every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one refers to their private prayer time, because praying together was a priority for the apostles!
EXAMPLE: The apostles learned their leadership pattern from Jesus. Scour the Gospels for Jesus’ teaching and practice of prayer, and you will find 37. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus’ instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private. For example, in Matthew 7:7 we find him telling his disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 NIV) When we read the word “you” in that verse we immediately think that it’s singular, referring to an individual. In fact, it is a plural “you,” meaning “all of you together.” Later Jesus tells his listeners, “Again, I tell you that 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.” (Matthew 18:19-20 NIV) Jesus’ teaching on praying together indicates there is a deep spiritual design by God in such gatherings, through which He uniquely and powerfully works. This is why praying together was a priority for the apostles!
The apostles made it a practice and a priority to teach about praying with fellow believers because they had heard and seen Jesus emphasize the same thing. We have discovered the high premium on the church praying together. Let’s look at the second truth in the precedence of praying together…
II. God empowered his church when it prayed together!
1. An empowered church is a church that prays together!
1) The Book of Acts records the mighty works of God in his church through unified cooperative prayer. Let’s take a tour of some the examples we find: In Acts 2 that the 120 were gathered in an upper room praying in one accord when Pentecost comes. The disciples prayed for wisdom in knowing who Judas’ replacement should be (Acts 1:24). When Peter and John reported the Sanhedrin’s threats, those gathered cried out to God in one accord for boldness, and the place was shaken where they prayed (Acts 4:24, 31). The church prayed over the seven men appointed to serve the widows (Acts 6:6). After James was martyred and Peter imprisoned by Herod, the church was fervently praying, and God miraculously delivered Peter from his cell (Acts 12:1-11). While the prophets and teachers were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-2). Paul and Silas were praying when God sent an earthquake that resulted in the conversion of the jailer and their release (Acts 16:25). I am not disparaging personal, private prayer. Ananias was praying alone when God instructed him to go to Saul (Acts 9:10ff.). Peter was alone on the rooftop when he had his famous vision leading him to share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff.). Nevertheless, God empowered his church when it prayed together!
EXAMPLE: Over and over, we find Paul asking for prayer from the churches or writing that they are praying for them! In 1857, America was riding the wave of a strong economy. As a result, it displayed a radical decrease in the things of God. Jeremiah Lamphier was a layman whose concern led him to a call for prayer. He tacked up notices all around New York calling for a weekly prayer meeting on Wednesdays at a rented space on Fulton Street. The first prayer meeting was on September 23, 1857. Only six people came. The next week, the attendance jumped to 20. The numbers continued to climb week-by-week. On October 10th, the Stock Market crashed and financial panic ensued. Trouble had its humbling affect and the hearts of many turned to spiritual matters. It wasn’t long until somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 businessmen were meeting every day to pray at noon! By week 15, the meetings moved from weekly to daily. In 1858, this prayer movement leaped to every major city in America. The Second Great Awakening swept our land. Estimates are that a million Americans out of a population of 30 million were converted in less than two years. It all started with cooperative prayer. Why? Because God empowered his church when it prayed together!
We have discovered that praying together was a priority for the apostles! And we learned that God empowered his church when it prayed together! However, let me share with you how God’s works today through cooperative prayer.
Right now, the Gospel is sweeping the globe at a rate that is unimaginable. Avery Willis, the VP of our IMB, has reported that statistically, most of the people who have ever been saved in history were saved during the 20th Century. Willis suggested as high as 70% of the total number of people who have been saved throughout world history have come to Christ in the last hundred years and 70% of that number has been saved since 1945! Let me boggle your mind because 70% of those saved since 1945 were saved since 1990! At the turn of the 21st Century, possibly one-third of all Christians who have ever lived have been converted since 1990!
In Nepal, just 2000 Christians were known in 1990; ten years later that number had grown to half a million. Cambodia claimed only 600 believers in 1990; there is a reported 60,000 today. In Korea during the 20th Century, the country advanced from being 2% Christian to about 40% Christian today. East Africa is experiencing one of the greatest movements of God in history. In Uganda alone, HIV/AIDS once claimed the lives of one-third of the population. The World Health Organization predicted the complete collapse of the Ugandan economy by the year 2000. But revival has come to that country. With the salvation of many has come a transformation in morals, so that AIDS is down to 5%. So great is this revival that one church alone went from 7 in attendance to an average of 2000 in just two weeks! Currently, that same church as a membership of 22,000 and has planted 150 other churches!
In almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing…except for four primary areas: North America, Japan, Australia, and Western Europe. What do you think the one common denominator is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time praying together!
I know what you are thinking, “Our prayer meetings don’t seem to convey that sort of power.” You are correct, but the answer is that it begins with us as a church! When we decide we will join our fellow believers in vibrant cooperative prayer, then we will discover the precedence of praying together!
This sermon was drawn from John Franklin’s, “And the Place Was Shaken” and from notes by Lloyd Stilly, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gulf Shores. Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.