PART 6 PRAYER - Does God hear and answer our prayers?
PART 6 PRAYER
When, How Long, and What Did the Assembly of the Saints in the Early Church Pray for?
Here are some questions about prayer to consider. Have you ever wondered whether prayer is mandatory? Have you ever wondered whether there should be a certain amount of time for prayer set aside by the leadership of the church? What we’ll try to do in this chapter is answer both of these questions. Another question to consider is what did the saints of the early church pray for? We’ll, let’s try to find out what Scripture has to say.
Let’s begin by taking a look at when and how often did the assembly of the early church pray for. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts.
Acts 2:41-42, 46
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
On the day of Pentecost, over three thousand people believed in Christ as their Messiah/Savior. Because of such, many of them attended constantly to the teachings of the church, the meetings of the believers for Christian fellowship that was centered on intimate worship, sharing, and learning the Scriptures, sharing of fellowship meals together, which was followed by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and in prayers.
It’s also conjectured that the believers would also go into the court yard of the temple at Jerusalem for public prayer on a daily basis. There were three different times of the day, when the temple was open for such. The third hour (9:00am), which accompanied morning sacrifice; the sixth hour (noon), when the sun had gained the meridian; and the ninth hour (3:00pm), which accompanied the evening sacrifice.
However, there are some commentators who believe that the three daily prayer-times of the Apostles and of the early Christians, consisted of praying first the Lord's Prayer at the three daily times of 9am, Noon, and 3pm, which might be followed according to individual choice (available time or inclination) with Psalms, Hymns, spiritual songs, and personal prayer.48 Thus, the amount of time spent by each individual would be left up to them.
What we’ll ask a question about next concerns group prayer for someone whose life was hanging in the balance.
Was there ever a time in the early church when group prayer was encouraged for a specified period of time in petition to God in order to set a fellow believer free, who was put in prison for his faith?
Let’s stay in the book of Acts and proceed to chapter 12.
Suggested Reading: Acts 12:1-23
Herod the King was persecuting the church. He not only apprehended the Apostle James, the brother of the Apostle John Zebedee, but he also had him executed. After which, he had the Apostle Peter apprehended, taken into custody, and placed in prison with the intention of having a public trial for the same end as the Apostle James. Fortunately, for Peter, this trial would be on hold for eight days as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was at hand. This feast lasted for seven days and was held in conjunction with the Feast of Passover, which lasted one day. The Passover would be observed on the first day followed by the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
The church members were very much aware that what had happened to James was probably going to happen to Peter unless they did something. Their secret weapon was not to try and storm the prison, but pray. It appears that some in the assembly would meet in groups to pray for Peter at different houses. The idea of prayer … without ceasing doesn’t seem to indicate that it occurred all day long, but rather it refers to the fervency or urgency of prayer made by those who were engaged in it.
12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
While Peter was sleeping in prison, he was awakened by an angel of the Lord, who led him out safely and without detection. After he walked through the main gate, he went to the house of a woman named Mary, where many had been gathered together all night in continuance of prayer for him knowing that on the next day he’d probably be tried publicly and put to death.
This story gives us a unique glimpse into corporate prayer. The church was faced with the dire prospect that another one of their apostles could be put to death by King Herod following the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Private homes were made available for group prayer. How often the believers met and for how long each day isn’t clear? What we do know is that on the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread those who met at the house of Mary prayed all night. One more thing to note was the intensity of the prayers. They were made in earnest, which implies urgency and not necessarily constancy.
What we’ll take a look at next is the prayer that the Apostle Paul asked the believers at the church of Thessalonica to exercise in respect to something that might inhibit himself, Silvanus, and Timothy when they were preaching the gospel. Please turn to the book of 2 Thessalonians and we’ll find out the substance of this prayer.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
The Apostle Paul was asking the believers at Thessalonica to pray for himself, Silvanus, and Timothy so that they would be delivered from opposition in their attempts to spread the gospel. This resistance would be from those who wouldn’t listen to arguments, not being under discipline; that don’t have the right view of spiritual things; that act agreeably to the disorderly and unreasonable impulse of their own minds having bad aims and purposes, and have not the Christian faith.
Something was asked by the Apostle Paul of the assembly of the saints at the church of Colossee that they would pray for something while he was in prison. Did he ask for them to pray for better jail conditions, better food, cleaner bed materials, etc.? Please go the book of Colossians and let’s find out what they were asked to pray for.
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Paul was asking the believers at Colossee to pray for both Timothy and himself that God would open up a door of utterance (occasion, opportunity, or entrance49), for the mystery of Christ (the doctrine of the Gospel) to be able to be declared from where he was, which was in prison.
What we’ll take a look at next is another prayer request that the Apostle Paul made to one of his disciples named Timothy to whom he instructed to express such in the public assemblies.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
The Apostle Paul was giving instruction to Timothy strongly recommending that supplications (something definite was asked; these petitions having to do with one's personal needs as they are related to the government under which he lives50), prayers (the general word for prayer), intercessions (for conversions; prayers offered for another person), and expressing gratitude not only on account of personal prosperity and success but also for the salvation of unbelievers; For kings, and all that are in authority so that they may lead a life which is quiet (freedom from outward disturbance or persecutions) and peaceable (freedom within; calmness) thus showing great devotion and reverence (or, respect) for God, and behaving in a right and proper way before other people.51
So, there we have it. The assemblies of the saints in the early church were instructed to pray three times a day at times designated for such according to when prayer was offered at the temple in Jerusalem. However, it appears that attendance wasn’t mandatory. Along with this, believers were encouraged to attend to the teachings of the church, the meetings of the believers for Christian fellowship that was centered on intimate worship, sharing, and learning the Scriptures, sharing of fellowship meals together, which was followed by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and in prayers.
In times of persecution, they were asked to pray in earnest for anyone who had been apprehended for their faith. They were also asked to pray for those in leadership that they would be delivered from those who would try to inhibit them in spreading the good news, the gospel of Christ. And finally, to thank God for His many blessings in their own life along with praying for the salvation for those in authority so that their new life in Christ can be evidenced before other people with fear of reprisal.
I think we could deduce that corporate (group) prayer should never be mandatory and used as a barometer for determining the spiritual status of someone in the assembly. I hope that what was just presented has given you further insight in relation to this aspect of prayer pertaining to the assembly of the church. In the next section, we’ll attempt to answer the question, what should you or me as an individual believer pray for, when we pray on our own? But before we do, I’d like to leave you with an article that contains many of the prayers of the early church that we didn’t look at in this chapter.
WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY FOR?
If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.
The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh [doesn’t] naturally love it. Therefore, it [doesn’t] come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.
Years ago, when I wrote Let the Nations Be Glad, I argued that prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom. God is more like a general in Command Central than a butler waiting to bring you another pillow in the den. Of course, [He] is also Father, Lover, Friend, Physician, Shepherd, Helper, King, Savior, Lord, Counselor. But in this fallen “world with devils filled,” prayer will function best when we keep the frequency tuned to Command Central in the fight of faith.
[So,] when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I [needed]. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.
[It’s] a great confidence-builder in prayer to know that [you’re] not quirky in your praying. To pray what the New Testament prays is a safe and powerful way to pray.
“From time to time, our prayers need a jolt out of the rut they have fallen into.”
Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of [His] people. Oh, [don’t] neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.
If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .
Pray that God would exalt [His] name in the world.
“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” (Matthew 6:9) ESV [English Standard Version}
Pray that God would extend [His] kingdom in the world.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
Pray that the gospel would speed ahead and be honored.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)
Pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19)
Pray that God would vindicate [His] people in their cause.
“And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7 RSV)
Pray that God would save unbelievers.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)
Pray that God would direct the use of the sword.
Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:17–18)
Pray for boldness in proclamation.
[Pray] at all times in the Spirit . . . and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18–19)
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
Pray for signs and wonders.
“And now, Lord, . . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29–30)
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17–18)
Pray for the healing of wounded comrades.
Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14–15)
Pray for the healing of unbelievers.
It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. (Acts 28:8)
Pray for the casting out of demons.
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)
Pray for miraculous deliverances.
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. . . . When he realized [he had been freed], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:5, 12)
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake. (Acts 16:25–26)
Pray for the raising of the dead.
But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw [Peter,] she sat up. (Acts 9:40)
Pray that God would supply his troops with necessities.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
Pray for strategic wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
Pray that God would establish leadership in the outposts.
And 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. (Acts 14:23)
Pray that God would send out reinforcements.
“[Therefore,] pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)
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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2–3)
Pray for the success of other missionaries.
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints. (Romans 15:30–31)
Pray for unity and harmony in the ranks.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21)
Pray for the encouragement of togetherness.
We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:10)
Pray for a mind of discernment.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9–10)
Pray for a knowledge of God’s will.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Colossians 1:9)
Pray to know God better.
[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17)
Pray for power to comprehend the love of Christ.
I bow my knees before the Father . . . [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14, 18–19)
Pray for a deeper sense of assured hope.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:16, 18)
Pray for strength and endurance.
[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. (Colossians 1:11; cf. Ephesians 3:16)
Pray for a deeper sense of God’s power within you.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16, 18–19)
Pray that your faith not be destroyed.
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
Pray for greater faith.
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17)
Pray that you might not fall into temptation.
“Lead us not into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13)
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Pray that God would complete your good resolves.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Pray that you would do good works.
[We have not ceased to pray for you that you would] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work. (Colossians 1:10)
Pray for the forgiveness of your sins.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
Pray for protection from the evil one.
“Deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)52
48Monk Preston, “The Threefold Daily Prayers”, 08 February 2016 ˂http://prayerfoundation.org/dailyoffice/the_threefold_daily_prayers.htm>.
49Adam Clarke’s Commentary Pc Study Bible version 5, 2004. BIBLESOFT. WEB. 14 July 2022 ˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
52John Piper. “WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY FOR?” 15 July 2022 <https://bit.ly/3o3SHsG>.
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