In Acts 4:24 the disciples raised their voices together in prayer to God. The whole
church, from apostles to recent converts, came together to call upon God. All participated;
all were valued.
They were practising 'the priesthood of all believers'. But are we in danger of creating
a new priesthood of church leaders, who carry the responsibility – almost in isolation
– for seeking God's will, finding ways to reach the lost, re-engaging with culture
and community, and much more besides?
Is there a danger that some church leaders, reluctant to involve the whole church
in seeking the Lord's will about the really big issues, are almost without realising
it, taking to themselves a priestly role?
As a result, the church prayer meeting becomes the place for 'maintenance prayer'
for supporting the ongoing family life of the church, but not for serious seeking
after the mind and power of Christ.
Of course, leaders are appointed by God to lead. It is a huge and scary responsibility,
so they, above all, should feel the need for the whole church to be wrestling with
God over the big issues.
Until the church does this, how will we change? How will we reach our broken, secular
culture with the gospel? How can we avoid becoming a religious ghetto and instead
be living and vibrant, Christ-like, witnessing and serving in our community?
Leaders should be encouraging the whole church to pray for the 'Lord of the harvest'
to raise up a new generation of gospel ministers and overseas workers. We need the
whole church to pray for the Lord to empower his preachers with an outpouring of
the Holy Spirit, for real conviction of sin, and for an abundant harvest of genuine
Above all the whole church needs to be gripped by the urgency of the gospel and the
plight of sinners facing the eternal wrath of God. Our prayer meetings need to focus
on these weighty issues, so that even our busiest people feel compelled to come if
they possibly can.
Such will have to be convinced that the prayer meeting is the power house of the
church and that's where the real action is; that's where the really serious business
is done with God, and it's worth them making that extra effort and sacrifice of time
Isn't this what we long to see, not a new generation of priests, but the priesthood
of all believers together calling down the blessing of God in these needy days?
'Now, Lord, enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch
out your had to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders' (Acts 4:29-30).
There is nothing vague here. The disciples asked boldly for the really big issues
and stayed focused upon those.
You can't imagine that in the middle of that focused prayer meeting someone would
have prayed for the unemployed, others for the sick, bereaved and elderly, and yet
others for their neighbours or young people at university. It just wouldn't have
Yet that is how our prayer meetings are so often conducted today. True, those early
Christians were facing a major crisis. But aren't we facing a major crisis today?
Only one child in a hundred knows the gospel. A whole culturally and religiously
disinherited generation is in danger of being swept into hell, without even hearing
And up to 100,000 British people have converted to Islam in recent times. Many have
become disillusioned with the alcoholism, immorality, materialism and emptiness of
life in modern Britain, and have been drawn to the moral standards of Islam. But
why aren't they turning to the joy and peace of new life in Jesus instead?
Christianity is now so misrepresented and discredited by the media that, in the minds
of many people, the Christian church is no longer a serious option for needy people.
We Christians need to 'get real'! Prayer time is too often dominated by personal
needs and the needs of people close to us. Too much private and public prayer is
for humanitarian, rather than spiritual and eternal needs.
Only a minority of prayer is for the spiritual growth of Christians, for the anointing
of the Spirit upon preaching, for conviction of sin and conversions, for the raising
of future leaders and men for Christian ministry, for God to come to our land again
in revival and glorify his great name among us.
Of course we must give time for pastoral prayer. As the family of God, we love each
other in Christ. Of course we will give time to uphold each other in times of unemployment,
sickness, tragedy and bereavement. That should go without saying.
But perhaps we can achieve both this and prayer for the big issues by dividing prayer
meetings between the two aspects? This presents a challenged for the small prayer
groups. Small groups can be helpful, but their natural tendency is for prayer to
become insular, sharing just the concerns of individuals.
I think the ideal is for us to experience both the more intimate experience of a
small group and the more expansive experience of the whole church calling upon God
together. But, in both situations, the leaders must ensure that a major part of the
prayer is focused upon wrestling with God about the really big issues, or in most
cases it just won't happen.
The Christians in Acts 4 know they were under spiritual attack. Their battle was
not just against flesh and blood (the Jewish authorities), but against the 'spiritual
forces of evil in the heavenly realms'.
Therefore, they engaged in spiritual warfare, which means they needed the power of
God to deal with their enemies. 'Sovereign Lord!' they prayed, calling upon him to
rise up and overthrow their persecutors.
This is serious stuff. These Christians are taking up arms. They are going into battle.
The future declaration of the gospel is at stake, and they are desperate for God
to intervene. And God does, powerfully, intervene on their behalf.
What is the relevance of spiritual warfare today? 'Surely', many think, 'that subject
is best left to Pentecostals and Charismatics?' But is our Reformed theology now
so sophisticated as to leave no room for the devil and all that?
It might seem so, judging by the lack of spiritual warfare in our prayer meetings.
And isn't this why the powers of darkness are thriving and we are making such little
We seem to have lost our fire-power. It's as though we are just shooting with blanks,
while the enemy is using live ammunition. He is emboldening militant, secular atheism.
He is promoting and protecting a fast-growing Islam.
He is blinding the minds of unbelievers so that we see very few conversions. He is
making the gospel appear a laughing stock, turning gospel churches into gospel ghettoes,
splitting churches and discouraging God's servants.
And yet few of us today take the devil seriously, as Jesus did. The fact is, Reformed
Christians are generally naive about spiritual warfare. We have greatly underestimated
our spiritual enemy and his achievements in recent years.
Someone has compared evangelicals to a grounded battleship, which once displayed
awesome fire-power, but now the military just uses it as target practice for their
Without effective, militant prayer our churches provide target practice for the devil
and his wiles. We desperately need the spiritual tide to rise, to get spiritually
afloat once again.
We need to be real with the living God in prayer and engage in serious spiritual
warfare. When we gather for prayer, do we come as 'good soldiers of Christ'? Do we
come like people who believe we are engaged in the most important battle an the world?
Do we come as God's fighting unit and in good fighting order? Do we come as God's
army, or are we more like 'Dad's army'?
Years ago, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, at a Bala ministers' conference, stopped the prayer
meeting, and said, 'Gentlemen, you are praying like men on holiday!' Derek Swann
said, 'There is too much of the playground and not enough of the battlefield about
our praying today.'
The early Christians engaged in serious spiritual warfare in their praying, and that
is what our God is calling us too in our prayer meetings. 'Soldiers of Christ arise,
and put your armour on'!