The Bible encourages Christians to pray in very many places. But in the New Testament we don’t actually have many examples of the prayers Christians used. Here is one of them!
What the disciples didn’t pray for
They didn’t pray that the opposition would stop. If we are truly following Jesus sometimes life will get hard. Sometimes people will react against the difference Jesus makes in our lives. Sometimes our words of testimony will cause people to turn against us. There have been times in my life when standing up for Jesus has got me into trouble and I am sure that will be your experience as well. But the first Christians didn’t complain when that happened to them. Peter and John had been thrown into jail. The ruling council of Jerusalem the Sanhedrin had threatened them. When they continues to preach very soon the apostles would be flogged and soon after Stephen would be martyred. But they don’t pray to be delivered from opposition and persecution. They prayed for boldness to be able to preach better. We use the phrase “asking for trouble.” The apostles’ prayers were certainly “asking for trouble”!
The believers’ prayer
24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
They prayed to the Sovereign Lord – they recognised that God was Lord of all. Caesar was not Lord. The Sanhedrin certainly weren’t in charge. Jesus was King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Almighty God was Sovereign on the throne of heaven and earth.
They prayed to the Creator God – who made heaven and earth and sea. God who spoke into the darkness and there was light. God who created every living creature from nothing and God who continues to sustain every living creature.
They prayed to the God who shapes the future
25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“ ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
The apostles recognized that the Sovereign and Almighty Creator God was in control of history. Even when they were experiencing persecution, they recognized that nothing could possibly happen without God knowing about it in advance and nothing could possibly happen to them unless God permitted it. When we pray, let us never forget who we are praying to. The Sovereign Lord who holds us safe in the palm of His hand. God who is in complete control of everything He has create, even if we cannot recognize that at the time.
Prayer to be able to speak with great boldness
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Remember that during the last week of His early ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would give them words to speak on occasions when they were called to preach the gospel and to testify about Him.
Mark 13 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s version of that saying in Luke 21:15 Jesus says, 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
So in Acts 4 the disciples are simply claiming those promises of words and wisdom and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Just before his Ascension Jesus had made this promise to His followers.
Acts 1 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In Acts 4 the believers were simply claiming that promise of power to be His witnesses for Jesus, power from on High from the Holy Spirit.
Prayer for more signs and wonders – even though it was the miraculous healing of the lame man which had got them into trouble in the first place.
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Speaking with boldness in preaching the gospel. And speaking with boldness testifying to what they themselves had witnessed of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and of the miracles which were happening in Jesus’s name.
Acts 4 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
And we will read in later chapters how not only that powerful preaching but also those signs and wonders continued as the Early Church spread and grew. But will you notice something very significant in the way that prayer was answered. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
They were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit. Not just Peter and John. Not just the apostles. But ALL of the believers received the power to speak the word of God with boldness. Now some of those present would have been among the 3000 new Christians who had been saved on the day of Pentecost. Some would have been among the 2000 who had been saved since as a consequence of the healing of the lame man. But Peter and John and the rest of the eleven apostles were also there. Many others who had been present when the Holy Spirit fell on the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost were there. And we read ALL these people were filled with the Holy Spirit.
So we conclude that at least some of those who were filled with the Spirit on this occasion had already been filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Back in Acts 2 we read this.
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Here in Acts 4 we read this. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Exactly the same words – they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In one case they all began to exercise the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues to praise God and in the other they all began to speak the word of God with boldness, and that may well have included praising God in tongues as well. But on both occasions we read that everybody there was filled with the Holy Spirit. Why does this matter? Because traditional conservative Evangelical theology will tell you that a believer receives the Holy Spirit the moment they become a Christian and are born again. Often that once and for all arrival of the Holy Spirit will be undramatic and even unseen. On the other hand traditional Pentecostal theology will tell you that a believer needs to receive the Holy Spirit at a separate time, often a long time after their conversion. Pentecostals give different labels to this once and for all subsequent experience including “baptism in the Spirit” or “the Second Blessing” and some give the impression that receiving the Holy Spirit in this way lifts the believer to a new level of Christian experience. All through 1970s and 1980s different corners of the church argued bitterly over which understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit was correct, although actually what they mostly disagreed about was the language people were using to describe their experiences of the Holy Spirit. In their own ways Evangelicals and Pentecostals are both right and both wrong. Because what we clearly see here in Acts 4 is a group of believers being filled with the Spirit, EVEN THOUGH at least some of them has been filled with the Spirit in Acts 2. It is clearly possible for believers to be filled with the Spirit on more than one occasion!
Evangelicals are correct to say that God gives the Holy Spirit to every believer at the moment they are born again. Pentecostals are correct to say that Christians can be filled with the Spirit on an occasion subsequent to their conversion. Because Acts 4 makes clear that Christians can be filled with the Spirit not just once, but twice, and three times, and indeed probably a hundred times!
Pentecostals and charismatics will sometimes ask the question, “Have you been filled with the Spirit?” The more helpful question is this. “Are you filled with the Spirit right now?” Somebody asked the great evangelist Moody, “Have you been filled with the Spirit?” He replied, “I have been filled with the Spirit, but I leak.”
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul writes, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Actually sometimes Greek is a more precise language than English and what Paul says does not mean, “Be filled with the Spirit once.” The command is present and continuous. “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” In other words, don’t live on past experiences. Don’t think to yourself, “Because I was filled with the Spirit back in 1983 J am doing fine thank you very much.” What matters is, are you filled with the Spirit today? “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.”
This account encourages us to pray the same prayer as those first disciples prayed. To pray for boldness to be able to preach the gospel and to be witnesses for Jesus. It encourages us to pray, expecting God to fill us with the Holy Spirit in the same way as those first Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with power from on High. And it doesn’t matter if we would say that God has filled us with His Holy Spirit before or not. It doesn’t matter whether we would call ourselves Evangelicals or Pentecostals or Charismatics. All that matters is that we want to be bold for Christ. We want God’s power to be witnesses for Jesus. If that is what we truly desire, then God WILL fill us with His Holy Spirit. Jesus has made this promise in Luke 11:13 “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”