Praying in the Direction of Faith
Topic: Faith Passage: Acts 4:18–31
Grace Community Church
May 12, 2019
Praying in the Direction of Faith
ILL: When Muslims gather to worship they believe it is important for them to pray facing the direction of Mecca. So imagine the dismay a mosque in Turkey felt when they discovered that for nearly 40 years they had been praying in the wrong direction. When the mosque was built in 1981 it was built facing the wrong direction.
As Christians, we know we don’t have to face in a certain physical direction when we pray to be heard by God. But if we want our prayers to move the hand of God and receive powerful answers, if we want our prayers to have the power to change hearts and lives, if we want our prayers to move mountains we do need to face a certain spiritual direction. We need to pray in the direction of faith. Jesus said we will receive what we ask for if we believe. When we pray we need to pray in the direction of faith.
We are in a series call Only Believe and this morning we’re going to look at the connection between faith and prayer. Prayer needs faith and faith needs prayer. Faith without prayer will die, prayers without faith will be cold and lifeless. But when we pray in the direction of faith, our prayers are set on fire and Jesus said nothing is impossible. We can ask big things of a big God when we pray in the direction of faith. So let’s pray together and then join a prayer meeting found in the book of Acts 4 that was definitely facing in the direction of faith.
Just to set the context, Peter and John were heading into the temple one day when they saw a lame man begging for alms. Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold to give you, but what I do have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk!” And the man got right up and began to walk. And crowds began to form around Peter and John and they preached the good news of Jesus and hundreds if not thousands believed in Jesus that day. That angered and alarmed the temple priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees and they threw Peter and John into jail for the night and then threatened them not to speak of Jesus anymore. That’s the context. Let’s pick it up in verse 18. Acts 4:18-31
That’s what I call a prayer meeting! They prayed with faith and God answered – even shook the place so they would have no doubt He heard them. Let’s look at four things we learn from this prayer meeting about praying in the direction of faith.
- Pray in real time in real life
One thing that can discourage us from praying is seeing prayer as disconnected from real life. For some of us this sense of disconnect was reinforced in church services where the person coming up to pray would deepen their voice and use words like “thee” and “thou” and “art” and other words no one ever used in real life. So prayer can feel unnatural and disconnected from what’s going on in the real world.
The prayer meeting in Acts 4 happened when Peter and John’s friends heard what happened to them. It was a real time response to what was going on in real life. The passage mentions their concern over the threats that the priests made, but I tend to think there was also excitement over Jesus healing a lame man, and over a couple thousand people believing. In Acts 2 there were three thousand souls saved, after Peter and John preach to these crowds the number jumps up to five thousand. I seriously doubt that they only told about the threats and didn’t mention the amazing things that God had done leading up to the threats. So they’re bundling all this up, the threats, the healing, the salvations, and bringing it all to God in prayer cause this is what’s happening in their lives.
What’s happening in your life right now? That’s where prayer happens. What’s happening in the lives of the people you care about? That’s where prayer happens. What’s happening that you don’t want to happen? That’s where prayer happens. What’s not happening that you’d like to happen? That’s where prayer happens. What are you afraid of? That’s where prayer happens. What are you thankful for? That’s where prayer happens. Prayer happens in real time in real life.
Sometimes we can think of prayer mostly in individualistic terms: what I should do when I pray. What I love about this passage is that it’s about friends praying together. There is power when God’s people – God’s friends – pray together. Prayer happens in real time in real life and sometimes it should be with real friends.
- Focus on the greatness of our God
The religious authorities threw Peter and John into prison and then threatened them not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. Their intent was to intimidate them into shutting up. Intimidate them into silence. They didn’t want this thing to spread any further than it already had. If you want to believe in Jesus, fine, but keep it to yourself. Or else…
This is a warning meant to intimidate. Bad things will happen to you if you continue to speak out about Jesus. And it’s not an empty threat: they had the power to make life miserable for the disciples. But hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully the disciples will be intimidated enough to shut up.
Intimidation. You ever feel it? We are usually intimidated by things or people that seem bigger than us in some way. We don’t stand up to that bully at school because he is bigger than us. We don’t contradict our boss because she is such a strong personality and could fire us. We don’t take that opportunity because we fear that it’s too big for us, that we’d fail.
Sometimes situations make us feel intimidated. I remember going to a friend’s house for dinner and his family was an expressive, loud, Italian family. So everyone is talking loudly over each other at the same time, laughing, busting on each other – whatsa matter fo you? -and it’s just an atmosphere of loving, laughing, loud chaos! That’s not what my family dinner table looked like! I loved it, but I felt intimidated by it. They kept asking me why I was so quiet.
Intimidation makes us feel small and weak and fearful in contrast to something that looks bigger and stronger than us. The word “timid” is in the middle of intimidation. The religious leaders were hoping to turn Peter and John’s boldness into timidity, and through them, to spread intimidation to the other disciples. We need to shut up or else they’re going to come after us… End of problem.
We are in a spiritual war and intimidation is one of the enemy’s weapons. The end game of intimidation isn’t to keep us quiet during an Italian dinner, it’s to keep us quiet about our faith in Christ. Satan and his minions want to keep us from talking about Jesus because there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
But Peter and John and the disciples weren’t intimidated by their threats, they were energized! They could have prayed, “Lord, help us! These guys are so big and bad we don’t know what to do! Help us stay out of trouble and avoid prison or death!” They could have agreed together that faith was a personal and private thing and from now on they were going to keep it to themselves.
I know I’m guilty sometimes of praying as if the problem were big and God were small. That’s not praying in the direction of faith – that’s praying in the direction of unbelief. The disciples chose to pray in the direction of faith and focus on the greatness of God. The first half of their prayer says, God you are great and powerful and awesome, and these people who rage against you are so small and insignificant.
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’”—27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
They are quoting from Psalm 2 which goes on to say The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath…(Ps. 2:4-5)
God laughs at their puny rage. He mocks their attempts at stopping His plans from going forward. Then He says, “boo” and they are so terrified they wet their pants. That’s my interpretation of the Hebrew. The disciples saw the greatness of our God and the smallness and futility of those trying to frighten them and refused to be intimidated. Just the opposite: they prayed help us do more of what they are telling us not to do – only bigger and bolder! They ran towards the intimidation not away from it!
When we pray in the direction of faith, we begin to see more clearly the greatness of our God and that gives us boldness to face whatever life throws at us. If there’s something or someone in your life right now that you feel intimidated by, or a situation that is threatening to overwhelm you, or an opportunity that you’d love to step into but feel inadequate to do so, believe that God is bigger than it. This isn’t to deny the threat, or the feeling of intimidation. Some challenges are really big compared to us. But they’re not big compared to God. That’s the point. It takes courage, but it’s courage that God can give to us. Remember, the same Peter that denied Jesus when a servant girl confronted him boldly looked the top religious authorities in the eye and said, “I’m obeying God not you. You got a problem with that, talk to God.” The difference is the Holy Spirit working boldness in his heart. The Spirit wants to do the same in us.
Winston Churchill once said "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."I would add, courage is what it takes to kneel down and pray. Let’s pray in the direction of faith and focus on how great our God is.
- Ask God to do big things
Look with me at verse 29: 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
If someone was threatening to hurt me, I’d be asking God to hurt them. But that would be a small, mean-spirited prayer. The disciples aim their prayers higher than that. They ask God to do big things. They ask God for boldness; they ask Him to stretch forth His hand and perform healings and signs and wonders. All of this because they want the name of Jesus glorified and they know that the only way they’re going to reach the world is by the power of the Holy Spirit working supernaturally through them. The same is true today.
I believe the Lord interrupted the sermon plans I had and put this series on my heart because I saw a problem with my faith: I wasn’t expecting much from God and I was ok with that. We can be faithful and plug along and believe orthodox things about Jesus and that’s enough. But it’s not enough if we’re going to reach the world. We need the supernatural power of God if we’re to do what God has called us to do.
That unsaved friend doesn’t need church to hear great messages. They can literally download TED talks from some of the greatest communicators in the world. They don’t need the church for entertainment – there are a million ways they can entertain themselves that are far more polished than church. They don’t even need the church for community. With social media, they can be a part of a community without ever leaving their home. And if they want to be around people, they can join a dozen groups with similar interests. Let’s face it…we can’t compete with the world if church is just about natural things.
But one thing they can’t find anywhere else – the supernatural power of God. That’s what the disciples are crying out for. That lame person who walked again? The boldness to preach Jesus to the gathering crowd with words that cut to the heart? The two thousand saved? None of this was the power or eloquence of Peter and John, it was the supernatural power of God working through them. They’re not asking for anything new when they ask God to stretch forth His hand and heal and perform signs and wonders, they’re asking God to keep doing what He’s been doing but do it more. Do it bigger. Do it bolder. Why? Not for the sake of sensationalism, for the sake of the gospel. For the sake of the lost coming to know Christ. For the sake of the name of Christ being lifted up. For the sake of the world seeing that there is a God who reigns over all. For the sake of seeing lost sinners come home to the Savior who loves them. Do big things God so that people are saved. That’s why.
Remember, the church was born out of a prayer meeting. They were praying in one accord when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. God hasn’t gotten smaller since those first days. He hasn’t gotten weaker. He hasn’t lost His love for the unsaved. And contrary to what cessationist churches might teach, God didn’t decide the world didn’t need His power once the Bible was completed. God is still willing and able to stretch forth His hand and do powerful things. But the church needs to pray.
And one more thing to point out from their prayer: the disciples aren’t just praying God do big things. They’re asking God to do big things through them. Peter and John got into trouble because God stretched forth His hand through them and healed a man, then they spoke the gospel boldly. They’re asking God to do big things and do it through them!
- God answers big prayers prayed in the direction of faith
Verse 31 tells us that God powerfully answered their prayer. God is good at that.
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
God answers big prayers. May not answer exactly the way we want. We need to be ok with that and we need to not let that stop us from asking God to do big things. We need to pray in the direction of faith, not the direction of formula, as if prayer is a way of getting whatever we want from God. Let’s focus on the bigness of our God, and ask Him for big things. And believe.
- What’s the big thing on your heart to pray for? Pray in the direction of faith and ask boldy.
- What’s trying to intimidate you into silence? Do what the disciples did – run towards that thing by praying towards that thing, not away from it.