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Life In The Church: Prayer




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In our series, we have been considering Life In The Church. Through this series, we have explored the rhythms and patterns found in Acts 2:42, which provide a snapshot of early Christian life.  


"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Acts 2:42 (NASB)


These practices played a pivotal part in forming the early church's identity. Today, we see how these practices form and shape life in the church—a rhythm that stretches across time. As we conclude our series, we will dive into prayer and discover the importance of prayer's rhythm.


Struggling With Prayer

Struggling with prayer is a common experience among many Christians. Sometimes, it can feel like our prayers are not being heard or answered, or we may struggle to find the words to express what's on our hearts. It's okay to feel this way; even significant figures in the Bible experienced moments of doubt and struggle in prayer. King David, credited with writing many of the Psalms, at times, struggled with prayer and feelings of isolation from God (Ps. 22:1-2). 


Remember that God understands our hearts and struggles and invites us to come to Him with honesty and vulnerability. In those times of difficulty, know that you are not alone. Keep pressing into God, even when it feels hard, and trust He hears and cares deeply for you (Heb. 4:16). 


We completed a series on prayer not too long ago. Your notes include a link to those lessons to explore this topic further. Today, we will consider the importance of prayer as it relates to community and the identity of life in the church. 


The Text

Acts 2:42 is a pivotal moment in the story of Scripture and in God's story. Prayer has been a significant part of the communities and lives of those who seek to know and follow the Lord.


In Four Means of Grace (Acts 2:42) John Mark Hicks records the following about James A. Harding. 


"As a summary of early Christian steadfastness, Acts 2:42 has served as a influential reference point in the Believer's Church tradition, and it has been especially important to the Stone-Campbell Movement. As early as the 1830s some even regarded it as the biblical "order of worship." Others simply emphasized its fundamental orientation. James A. Harding, co-founder of Lipscomb University and namesake of Harding University, called them "means of grace," that is, four spiritual disciplines that form believers into the image of Christ.


Harding identified the four as (1) reading and studying the Bible, (2) ministering to others (especially the poor) as we share ("fellowship") our resources, (3) participating in the Lord's day meeting at the Lord's table as a community, and (4) habitual prayer. Sometimes Harding identifies these with the Lord's Day assembly or communal gatherings but generally understood Bible study, missional engagement with the poor, and prayer as daily spiritual disciplines. According to Harding, believers should adopt a kind of rule of life which involves daily Bible reading, "doing good" daily as they have opportunity, and pray every morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.


But these are no mere duties. Rather, they are "four great means of grace—appointed means by which God dynamically acts among, in, and through the people of God. They are not modes of human self-reliance but means of divine transformation by which God graciously sanctifies believers. They are spiritual disciplines through which God conforms believers to the image of Christ.”(1) 


Acts 2:42 has been foundational and formational in believers' lives since Luke first recorded the words. Prayer is vital to the community and life in the church. 


The Shema

Looking back through the canon of Scripture, we could notice the many prayers of those who followed after the Lord and how they influenced communities and lives. For example, the Psalms contain many prayers that have been part of the worship practices of those who have sought and followed God for generations. 


However, I want to draw our attention to one prayer in the Old Testament that has shaped and continues to shape many people's lives today: The Shema. Jewish people have prayed these words for thousands of years, every morning and evening.


 Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (NASB95) 

"Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." 


The prayer gets its name in the first word, Shema, hear or listen. The Shema is a pledge of devotion and a call to pay attention or listen closely. It recognizes the oneness of God and commits our devotion to love God with all our heart, 

soul, and might—words which Jesus echoed in (Matt. 22:37) when asked which was the greatest commandment in the Law. 


As the words of the Shema are recited, they form and shape communities. The Shema is not just a prayer. It is meant to influence and instruct lives through God's wisdom. 


 Deuteronomy 6:6–9 (NASB95) 

"These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 


The Shema formed their identity and shaped their community. 


The Lord's Prayer

Like the Old, the New Testament is replete with wisdom and instruction on prayer. 


1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NASB95)

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”


 Philippians 4:6 (NASB95) 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”


 Colossians 4:2 (NASB95) 

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving"


In (Luke 18) Jesus, through parables, teaches several lessons about prayer. We could list other passages; however, the importance of prayer, as we see, is stressed throughout the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament. 


Jesus offers this instruction to His disciples:


 Matthew 6:9–13 (NASB95)  

"Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 'Give us this day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” 


Jesus teaches His disciples to set apart and honor our Father in heaven, participate in His purposes, forgive, and rely on God for our strength. 


The pattern of prayer found in (Acts 2:42) is not by accident. It's not a side note or a passing thought by Luke. Prayer has shaped the identity of the Lord's people since the first ink strokes of the Scripture and even before. Today, as a community that follows Jesus, prayer is vital to our identity and lives. Prayer should preceed each step along our journey.  


The Outcome

As we conclude our series, we have noticed the importance of the "graces," teaching, fellowship, the table, and prayer as we have discovered how (Acts 2:42) has formed and continues to form the identity of the Lord's church. What flowed out from the commitment of these early followers of Jesus?  


 Acts 2:47 (NASB95) 

"praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." 


These practices were life in the church. 


Crossing The Context

Today, like the early followers of Jesus, we need to be devoted to prayer, both as a community and as individuals. Prayer needs to form our lives and precede our steps.


Luke draws our attention to a pattern shared by the early church, a practice that was their identity. They were continually devoted to the Apostle's teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.


As we close, I would like to return to the article by John Mark Hicks: 


"God in Christ through the Spirit is graciously active through these communal and personal faith-practices. God actively transforms believers into God's own image, and believers who pursue these gifts of grace will experience transformation by divine power rather than by human effort."(1) 


May we pursue Life In The Church as a community and personally today. 



 
NOTES:

Scripture references and quotations are from the: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.


  1. Hicks, John Mark. "Four Means of Grace: Acts 2:42." John Mark Hicks Blog, 23 Apr. 2016, johnmarkhicks.com/2016/04/23/four-means-of-grace-acts-242/.




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