Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them
I would like to say something about the subject of prayer this morning.
In the Book of Acts Chapter 4 after Peter and John had been arrested and then released, they gathered with other believers and they began to pray. In God’s kind providence that prayer is recorded, and it is rich in spiritual teaching. Let me mention two things for us to ponder.
First of all they declared their faith in the sovereignty of God. ‘Lord, You are God’. Nothing could be more important than this. It is essential in all prayer to begin here, reminding ourselves that in any and every situation God is on the throne.
The problem the early church was facing was an acute one; but their eyes were upon the Lord, not on the crisis. I would like to stress the fact that this is a vital lesson for us all to learn. We often say: “Take it to the Lord in prayer” but sadly, all too often in our experience the ‘it’ becomes more important than ‘the Lord’. We can brood over the ‘it’ so often and in such a way that the problem or difficulty or crisis fills our whole horizon and our hearts are almost paralysed with fear and dread.
Some kinds of prayer are not very helpful to the soul because they simply focus our minds more upon the problem than is good or helpful. Very often, as with other things in life, we can make a problem out of a problem simply by dwelling upon it and we no longer see it in its true light.
Like shadows on the wall in the firelight, they become distorted and out of all proportion to reality. Only when a room is lit properly do the distortions disappear, and only when the white light of God’s sovereignty shines into a situation will our fears subside. This is what the apostles recognised as they gathered for prayer, and we also need to do the same or else we shall lose out right from the outset.
That is the first lesson and here is the second: the apostles also went to the Scriptures with their problem. They believed that God had a word for them. This is where a true knowledge of the Scriptures is important. They are a source of strength and encouragement, and they give us an insight into, and understanding of, any particular situation.
In Acts 4 the Holy Spirit guided them to Psalm 2 where they immediately saw that the real spiritual issues in the life of the Psalmist were also the issues in their own, and which are so often in ours as well. The Lord’s people in every generation are in a spiritual conflict.
The Apostles recognised, through the Scriptures, that the opposition they had encountered was part of the basic spiritual struggle between light and darkness, and Psalm 2 renewed and re-affirmed their conviction that God was on the throne. Isn’t this what we have been hearing each morning as our pastors have expounded the Book of Psalms for us? We are all concerned about dealing with the issues created by this pandemic, and how to deal with them and with all that they are doing to our lives. We should not miss the fact that the apostles did not ask God to relieve them of the pressures that were upon them, or to remove the threatenings. Because they did not feel free to do so. They had no assurance that this was the thing to ask, and that is something vital we need to consider. Because there is a wisdom and a spiritual realism here which we do not always see, and especially in these difficult days. It is possible to waste so much time in prayer by asking the wrong things, things which are outside the divine will and purpose for us.
We should be sure that we can ask before we do ask. If we prayed more for an understanding and discernment of God’s will perhaps we may see our problems and trials in a different light.
Some of them are for our good and learning and always for our spiritual development. They are often designed to strengthen us in our resolve to continue in the Christian life and in the spiritual warfare.
Other situations can be sent into our lives so that we can realise that the Lord is presenting us with an opportunity to glorify His Name. It was not freedom from adversity, but boldness in adversity that those early Christians prayed for, and their cry was wonderfully answered, and opportunities were used, and the gospel quickly spread.
May the Lord teach us to pray like this.