PART 5 PRAYER - Does God hear and answer our prayers?
PART 5 PRAYER
When, How Long, and What Did the Leadership in the Early Church Pray for?
Now that we’ve just learned about when, how often, and what Jesus prayed for, let’s take a look at when, how often, and what did the leadership of the early church pray for. Hopefully, these truths will give us a clearer picture as to when, how often, and what we should pray for.
Initially, in the early church, both Christian Jews and unbelieving Jews prayed together. As of yet, there wasn’t any contention between them. With that said, let’s begin by finding out some information about the prayer life of the leadership of the early church by going to the book of Acts.
Suggested Reading: Acts 6:1-6
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
There were those in the early church to whom God had given an office leadership gift (e.g., of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher). Due to unforeseen circumstances, there was a need to appoint some in the church, i.e., deacons to provide food and money to the Grecian widows (Jewish immigrants to Palestine-those who spoke Greek), who were being overlooked in the daily administration unlike their Hebrew widows’ counterparts (the native Jews) that were already being cared for.
2-3 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
So, the apostles recommended that the brethren choose out from among them seven men of honest report (of a good reputation; of integrity), who were full of the Holy Spirit (spiritually minded; partakers of the Holy Spirit by which the soul was sanctified; controlled by the Holy Spirit) and wisdom (discretion), whom they may appoint over this matter.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Acts 10:7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
This was done not only to provide for these Christian widows that needed assistance, but also so that this distribution wasn’t another responsibility for the apostles to implement as not to interfere with their responsibilities of prayer and to the ministry of the word. The words we will give ourselves continually (proskartereésomen from proskartereo) are similar in meaning to the words of them that waited on continually (proskarterountoon from proskartereo) found in Acts 10 where it talked about a soldier, who waited on a gentile named Cornelius continually. It seems to be that the idea being expressed here was that prayer was something that the apostles frequently engaged in.
It’s also possible that they were still going to the courtyard in the temple three times a day to engage in this spiritual endeavor. However, as time went on this ongoing activity for many unconverted to see was becoming more and more dangerous. One example of this is found in Acts chapters 3 and 4.
When Peter and John decided to go into the temple courtyard at the ninth hour (noon) for prayer, there was a man who was begging for financial assistance at one of the gates, as he had been born crippled from birth. By the intermediary of the Apostle Peter and the agency of the Holy Spirit a miraculous healing took place where he was able to stand up and walk into the temple with the two apostles by his side for all to see. This not only stirred up wonder among the people, but it also caused an angry response from the Jewish hierarchy. Consequently, both apostles were apprehended and put into prison.
What we can deduce from these verses is that the daily meetings of the saints for teaching, fellowship, communion, common meals, and prayer were still going on. Along with this, those in leadership paid continual careful attention to the ministry of the Word of God and prayer.
What we’ll take a look at next is another aspect of prayer that should be exemplified not only by those in leadership but also by every believer. The following questions will unveil to us what this is all about.
Can prayer be continuous? How could this be humanly possible?
Please turn your Bible to the book of 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray without ceasing.
The Apostle Paul was unveiling to the Thessalonians believers what their Christian walk should be evidencing and what it should not. One of the things they were to be engaging in was to pray without ceasing. What does this mean? Does it mean that a Christian should be on their knees praying all day long in some location? No.
It’s meaning can be expressed in a few different ways: to live in a devotional frame of mind maintaining continuous fellowship with God as much as possible in the midst of daily living in which concentration is frequently broken.28 It can also refer to prayer that may be without ceasing in the heart which is full of the presence of God, and evermore communing with him.29
What this tells us about prayer is that it’s a mental attitude of a reverential frame of mind. As we continually reflect upon God’s Word, we’ll be operating in His presence thus maintaining continuous fellowship with Him.
What we’ll take a look at next is a person whom the Apostle Paul was praying for day and night. Any idea who this could be? Please turn to the book of 2 Timothy.
Suggested Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
2-3 To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
Paul was writing this letter while being chained in a Roman prison to a fellow leader of the early church named Timothy. He told him that during the day and night he prayed for him by giving thanks for his salvation and ministry. What could we glean from these verses on prayer? We can surmise that prayer could consist of recalling to our mind some information about someone else on more than one occasion throughout the day and night.
For some of us, we might think that prayer should only occur at a certain time or at different set times throughout the day. Is there any scriptural support for the assumption that prayer could occur at any time or at any place? We’ll find out by turning our Bible to the book of Acts.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.
The Apostle Paul, while on his journey to Jerusalem, had arrived at a place called Tyre, where he met up with several disciples and their families. Not surprisingly, he decided to stay with them for seven days. However, upon hearing that a ship residing on the coastline was ready to depart after unloading its cargo, he went to the shoreline with the brethren, who with him before sending him off.
In the Scriptures that follow, the Apostle Paul prayed for the Philippian church that something would abound in their life. Please turn to the book of Philippians and we will find out what this is.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
The Apostle Paul prayed for the Philippians that the love of God, which is produced in the heart of the yielded believer by means of the Holy Spirit, would abound (overflow more and more), and be within the guiding limitations of knowledge (a better understanding of God's Word as translated into their experience30) and judgment (spiritual perceptiveness; depth of insight into God’s ways; sensitive moral perception (discernment).
What we’ll take a look at next is another prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed albeit for the believers of a different church, i.e., of the church at Ephesus. So, let’s turn to the book of Ephesians.
Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
The Apostle Paul prayed that God the Father would provide in their human spirit, by means of a moving of the Holy Spirit, wisdom (a general understanding of spiritual realities, God's truth;31 likewise of revealed truths) and revelation (the meaning of what God makes known32) in the knowledge (so that we may know him better;33 to know Him personally and intimately) of him (Christ).
18a The eyes of your understanding being enlightened;
And along with this, he also prayed that the eyes of their understanding (heart - the emotions, reason, and intelligence) would be enlightened (that they would have discernment; spiritual insight) so that they might know three things.
18b that ye may know what is the hope of his calling,
That they would have the assurance of a future, of an assured expectation by accepting the destiny that God has planned which included salvation, reconciliation with Him, sonship;34 and of what to expect in the world to come, the world of glory.
18c and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
That they might understand what are the riches of the glorious abundance of the spiritual things to which they are entitled)35 along with knowing how precious they are in God's eyes as His inheritance.36
19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
And finally, that they might know God’s power (a spiritually dynamic and living force37) available to them in respect to their sanctification (spiritual growth; a source of spiritual vitality, power, and strength for living the Christian life!).38
Believe it or not, there’s another prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed for yet another church, i.e., for the believers at the church of Colossae.
9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
The Apostle Paul was praying for the Colossian believers his desire for them that they might be filled (fully equipped or controlled) with the knowledge (a knowledge which grasps and penetrates into an object; not merely intellectual perception, but a living relationship39) of his will (of God the Father’s design, purpose, plan, intention)40 by means of general wisdom (intellectual perception) and spiritual understanding (those things taught by the Holy Spirit; spiritual insight; of clear analysis and decision-making in applying this knowledge to various problems;41 the special faculty of intelligence or insight which discriminates between the false and the true and grasps the relations in which things stand to each other42).
10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
So that they would be able to walk worthy (Christlikeness may be made manifest in their life) of the Lord, being fruitful (bearing fruit) in every good work (deed), and increasing in individual internal growth by means of the full knowledge of God;
11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
Being Strengthened (empowered) with all might (power) according to God’s glorious (Shekinah) power (perfect strength) that is revealed in patience (endurance when circumstances are difficult) and longsuffering (patience exhibited under ill treatment by people) with joyfulness (thanksgiving).
What we’ll take a look at next is the responsibility of leadership concerning believers in the church who request prayer for personal sickness. This is found in the book of James.
14-15 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
If someone is physically sick, they should send for the elders (pastors) of the church to come and pray (with hands extended) over them, anointing (for the inward anointing of the soul with the Holy Spirit) with virgin oil on the forehead in the sign of the cross with the hope that they will be restored to bodily health and strength.43 If the cause of the sickness was unconfessed sin, it could be deduced that one of the elders would ask this person before the many hands were laid on them if they were aware of any known personal sin in their life. If they were to say yes, then they would be asked to confess it to God the Father.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
If the sin was committed against a fellow believer, then they would be asked to go them personally and confess this to them. Hopefully, the victim would provide forgiveness (to let go of a debt), and the resultant prayer one for another would take place so that the offender may be healed (suggests a healing of the soul and restoration of bodily health and strength; perhaps there may be a particular allusion here to sins which may have brought on the sickness as a punishment. In that case the removal of the disease in answer to prayer would [be evidence] that the sin was pardoned).44
It seems that Paul offered prayer for most of the churches that he wrote about. His next prayer has to do with the believers at the church of Thessalonica. Please turn to the book of 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonians believers that as to their entire self, i.e., their spirit and soul and body, there would be nothing blameless (no legitimate ground for accusation) in their personal life and social contact with other people. The word spirit (pneuma) refers to the faculty of intelligence, understanding, thinking, and reasoning.45 It’s also referred to as the part which is receptive to the quickening of the Holy Spirit.46 The word soul (psuchee) means the will, and the seat of the different affections and passions. And the word body has to do with the material part of man.
So, when we go to church what are the content of the prayers that are brought forth by those in leadership? Do they pray that more believers would attend church? Do they pray for an increase of financial assistance? Do they pray for whosever will that God would heal so and so?
Do they leave out what we just learned about what the content of prayer should really be about, i.e., that believers would learn how to continually reflect upon God’s Word; that they would understand the God’s Word better as they apply it to their experience; that they would gain a depth of insight into God’s ways; that they would learn to know Christ personally and intimately; that they would have spiritual discernment; that they would have assurance of their salvation and about all of whom God has made them to be; that they would know of the spiritual things that they have received; that they would be taught about personal sanctification which would be the source for God’s power and strength to live the Christian life; that they would be taught knowledge that would help them have a living relationship with God; that they would be able to discriminate between the false and the true; that they would be able to apply the Word of God to various problems; that they would be able to manifest Christlikeness, i.e., the various fruits of the Holy Spirit in their life; that they would reveal divine patience during persecution, so that their entire life would present before others a godly testimony so that the ministry is not blamed. Wow!
Well, let’s continue on and find out more about the subject of prayer. What we’ll look at in the next chapter is when, how long, and what did the assembly of the saints in the early church pray for? But before we do, I’d like to leave you with an interesting article on prayer pertaining to the spiritual walk of those in leadership.
5 THINGS EVERY CHRISTIAN LEADER SHOULD PRAY FOR THEMSELVES EVERYDAY
Christian leaders need to be people of prayer.
Perhaps no verse more powerfully communicates this to me than John 15:5:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ([Emphasis] added)
This verse first pierced my heart as a twenty-year-old when I reflected on a campus leadership [position,] I had at the Christian college I attended.
I desperately wanted to honor Christ and influence others toward Him, but learned the hard way how to damage relationships by trying to force-feed them what I thought was best—I tried to do the work of the Holy Spirit. Reading Jesus’ words “you can do nothing” at the close of the year seemed to be a fitting description of the recent fruit of my labors for the Lord. I quickly learned that I couldn’t bear fruit apart from abiding in Christ.
We abide in Christ in many ways: meditating on Scripture, obedience, enjoying Christian fellowship, and prayer. In prayer we not only abide in Christ, but cast our utter dependence on Him. This is why Christian leaders need to be people of prayer. If we want our work and ministry to stand the test of time and bear eternal fruit, we can’t do it on our own.
While Christians can lift up thousands of different prayers for their leadership, I have found it helpful to daily focus my prayers on the following things:
- To be humble.
Humility should be a chief mark of every Christian. For leaders to act in a genuinely Christian way, they need to exemplify humility in their leadership and personal lives.
Humility in leadership means:
Not to think of yourself more highly than you ought (Romans 12:3Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).
To be dependent on the Lord, knowing that you can do nothing of lasting worth without Him.
To lead with [those,] you are serving in mind.
To listen to the input of others and not [strong-arm] people with your opinion.
- To be Word-fed.
Abiding in Christ means letting His Word abide in you and guide you. It is a contradiction for a Christian leader but not submit his or her life to what the Word of Christ says. Leaders need to have their hearts, minds, and wills nourished by God’s Word, and seek to create an organizational/ministerial culture shaped by God’s revealed truth.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
- To be Spirit-led.
Leaders can be knowledgeable in the Word but have a major disconnect with how it influences their daily actions and outlook. Leader: do you seek to discern the Spirit’s leading in your life/ministry? Do you obey promptings to talk to certain people or change your plans when the situation seems to call for something different? We were never meant to lead alone. God has given us His Spirit to always be with us (Matthew 28:20) and wants us to lead beyond our abilities in the Spirit’s wisdom.
- To be a servant leader.
Leaders serve others. Whether you are a Sunday school leader serving middle schoolers, a leader in an organization serving your target audience, or a pastor serving a congregation; you are a servant. This should be at the core of our identities as leaders and followers of Christ, the Suffering Servant who gave His life in service to God and for our benefit.
- To be a servant.
No, this is not a repeat. I want to make the distinction between a servant leader (who leads in front of others) and a servant (who will take on the heart of a servant even when others do not see their service). This is where true servant leadership starts: a heart dedicated to the Lord enough to give himself to the King’s service no matter what rewards may come. (This is also a mark of kingdom greatness—see Mark 10:43-45).
A short prayer for godly [leadership.]
Lord, feed me in your Word and lead me by your Spirit to be a humble servant in front of you and in front of others for your glory.47
28Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament.
30Weust’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005.
BIBLESOFT. WEB. 9 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
31UBS New Testament Handbook Series Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 11 Nov 2017
32The Pulpit Commentary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2006, 11 Nov 2017 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
33Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament, 2000, 11 Nov 2017 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
35Adam Clarke's Commentary.
36Wuest's Word Studies.
37Bible Knowledge Commentary.
38Bible Knowledge Commentary.
39UBS New Testament Handbook Series Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005. BIBLESOFT. WEB.
9 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
40UBS New Testament Handbook Series Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005. BIBLESOFT. WEB.
9 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
41Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook
Communications Ministries; Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries. BIBLESOFT. WEB. Access Date ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
42Weust’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005.
BIBLESOFT. WEB. 9 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
43The Pulpit Commentary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2006, 12 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
44Barnes’ Notes. Pc Study Bible version 5, 2006. BIBLESOFT. WEB. 12 July 2022
45Adam Clarke's Commentary.
46Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary.
47Kevin Halloran. “5 THINGS EVERY CHRISTIAN LEADER SHOULD PRAY FOR THEMSELVES EVERYDAY,” 11 July 2022 <https://bit.ly/3uEPIuy>.
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