Inside an Early Church Prayer Meeting

Acts 4:23-31     |    Sermon Resources     |    12 January 2020


In an effort to silence the apostles, the Jewish authorities arrest Peter and John and bring them to trial before the Sanhedrin.  The proceedings do not go at all the authorities had wanted and in the end all they could do is admonish the apostles to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.  Peter and John are emphatic that they have no plans to heed this verdict.  They are released from custody and go to their friends (v.23) where they discuss all that had happened.  This must have been a tremendous relief for their friends who surely had gathered together and had been praying for them since the time of their arrest.

Reunited with Peter and John this group of friends turn to prayer.  Luke records for us what is likely only a summary of this prayer, in much the same way he recorded a summary of Peter’s earlier sermons.  This is the longest prayer recorded in Acts and we can look to it as a model to help us to pray as well.  You might be familiar with the ACTS prayer model: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.  This prayer includes just the first and last items – adoration and supplication.  We’ll consider each one in turn.


#1 Adoration

In this passage we have an insider’s look at a prayer meeting in the early church.   Luke does not tell us exactly where this meeting occurred describing it only as a place (v.31), but we know the early church had a habit of meeting in homes (c.f. Acts 2:46).  And so this could very well have been a living room kind of prayer meeting.  The group of friends (v.23) gather and begin to call out together to God (v.24).  They address God as Sovereign Lord (v.24) which is a title that appears relatively infrequently in the New Testament perhaps because of the negative connotation it held being used to describe someone who held absolute power.  Yet the believers joyfully submitted to God as their Sovereign Lord.

Notice that their prayer does not begin with any specific requests but rather with adoration.  Before we examine the “what” of this adoration we first ask “why?”  Why do they begin with adoration?  Why do they begin by rehearsing who God is and what he has done?  Why is this a good practice for us as well?  We understand that this is not done primarily for God’s benefit but for ours.  This sets our own hearts right as we come to God in prayer.  We are declaring what we know to be true about God in our heads and as we pray through it we make it true in our hearts as well.  This is often the disconnect in our lives – knowing something is true in principle but having difficulty living it out in our lives. For instance, we can acknowledge that God is a good and loving Father who acts for his glory and for our good, but in times of trouble those truths can practically be forgotten as we become fearful and anxious.  Adoration in prayer is an opportunity then, to unite our head and our heart.

We see the substance of their adoration in the three verbs they use to describe what God has done.  He is the God who made (v.24), the God who said (v.25), and the God who predestined (v.28).  Or as John Stott puts it he is the God of “creation, revelation, and history” (The Message of Acts, p. 100)

The God who Made

The believers pray, Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them (v.24).  This is a powerful declaration to the Creator God who has all authority since he made all things.  When God becomes big, our problems become small.  Since he is the creator, he is sovereign over all people everywhere, regardless of whether they acknowledge him to be their God.

The God Who Said

God is the God of revelation.  He spoke through the mouth of our father David…by the Holy Spirit (v.25).  Interesting isn’t it that they pray God’s words back to him?  This a powerful way to pray.  They cite a passage from Psalm 2 which is a royal psalm said to have been used at the coronation ceremony of Israel’s kings.  By this time, it was widely regarded as a messianic psalm.  Psalm 2 essentially asks why anyone would even think about opposing God’s anointed as if it were even possible.  The passage is very aptly applied here as this is precisely what has taken place.  We will see throughout Acts that indeed the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot and the kings of earth and the rulers do set themselves against the work of God.  They cite in their prayer a list of people who have fulfilled this psalm by opposing your holy servant Jesus (v.27) and this includes Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and even the peoples of Israel (v.27).

The God Who Predestined 

Even with all the powers of earth arrayed against the church, they acknowledge in their prayer that those powers were only able to do whatever God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place (v.28).  God’s plans are unstoppable.  He has not only created all things, but he continues, to use the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, in his work of “preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” (Question 11)



#2 Supplication

Now we arrive at their prayer requests.  And before we consider what they ask God to do, let’s notice what they do not ask God to do.  Remember that Peter and John have just been released from the custody of the authorities where they have been “threatened” and told to speak no more in the name of Jesus.  They now know beyond a shadow of doubt that their well-being will be at stake if they are to continue in their ministry. This makes it all the more surprising that they do not ask God “to keep them safe.” Isn’t that remarkable?  Isn’t this what you and I would pray for?  Isn’t this what we do pray for all the time?  To be clear it’s not wrong to ask God for safety and indeed we see plenty of examples of such prayer in the Bible, but these believers have found an even greater priority than their own safety! They ask the Sovereign Lord to do three things: look upon the threats, grant boldness, and bring healing.


Look Upon Their Threats

The first thing they ask is that God would look upon the threats (v.29) of those who have opposed Jesus.  John and his brother James, known as the Sons of Thunder, once asked Jesus if it was appropriate to call down fire upon a town that rejected them (c.f. Luke 9:54).  John apparently is in more composed company with this group of believers as they simply ask God to look upon the trouble that is being caused.  They are content to leave it in God’s hands knowing that he is sovereign over all things and has predestined whatever takes place.


Grant Boldness

To me this is the most remarkable part of their prayer, that they would pray for boldness (v.29). They do not pray for safety or for their well-being.  They acknowledge their own weakness in light of the recent threats made against them but they do not want to shrink back from the ministry they have been given.  What a powerful prayer!  I can’t help but wonder if our seeming obsession with safety keeps us from doing what God would have us do.


Bring Healing

Their final request asks of God that you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus (v.30). Signs and wonders were already taking place and the believers are eager to see it continue, that many more people would come to faith in Jesus.


The group does not need to wait long to see an answer to their final request as we are told that the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (v.31).  This is more than just a passing detail of what happened but is of theological significance.  When the building shakes, this is a clear demonstration that God has heard and approves their prayer.  Early church father John Chrysostom explains it this way:


God heard their prayer and manifested this by shaking the place.  For “when they had prayed,” it is said, “the place was shaken.”  Why did this happen? Listen to the words of the prophet: “He looks on the earth and it trembles.”  For by this he revealed that he is present to their prayers. (Homily 11 on Acts of the Apostles)


This is all the more reason we have to look to this prayer as a model to teach us how to pray.  Chrysostom concludes that while the place was shaken, it “made them all the more unshaken.”  This is what we desire as well, to experience that boldness and un-shake-ability that these first believers experienced as they sought to be faithful to the mission God had given them.



Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it significant that Peter and John go to their friends after being released by the authorities?
  2. They begin their prayer by calling out to the “Sovereign Lord.” Why do you think they use this name for God?  Why is it appropriate to use different names for God as we pray on different occasions?
  3. They spend the first part of their prayer in adoration (v.24-28). Spend some time makings some observations on this part of the prayer.  What do we learn about their view of God?
  4. Why is it important for us to spend time in adoration in our prayers? Do you tend to skip over this when you pray?  What are some ways we can include adoration in our prayers?
  5. Spend some time discussing the supplication (requests) part of their prayer in verses 29 to 30. What do they pray for?  Which of their requests would you most need for yourself?
  6. Why is significant that they don’t pray for safety but for boldness? In what way can “being safe” become an idol?   How do you determine the line between appropriate caution and boldness for God?
  7. Describe what happened after they prayed. Can you imagine that happening after one of our prayer meetings?  What would that be like?