When we as believers face a difficult providence or a complex problem, we might turn to a brother or sister in Christ and ask, “What should I do?” With godly wisdom, our friend responds, “Pray!” We recognize the wisdom of this friend’s advice—of course we should pray—and yet we often still find ourselves asking ourselves the same question again: “What should I do?”

Peter and John faced such a situation in Acts 4. They were arrested, threatened, and charged “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v. 18). There were many ways for these two Apostles to respond: they could flee, hide, speak, or remain silent. What should they have done? Their response as explained in verses 23–24 is remarkable when we consider the context. Immediately upon their release, they went to their friends—this new community of believers, now their friends in Christ—how wonderful! And together, they prayed.

The Apostles understood prayer to be kingdom warfare. When these followers of Jesus gathered to pray in Jerusalem, they were involved in battle, actively engaging in the work of the church. Their prayer was driven by the gospel, as it was filled with gospel content; and their prayer was driven by kingdom interests, as they sought strength to be instruments of the Holy Spirit in the advance of the church. In studying this passage, we can grow in our practice of gospel-driven, kingdom-centered prayer.

Gospel-Driven Prayer

When the disciples prayed together in Acts 4, they chose words saturated with the content of the gospel. We see a prayer framed by the character, words, and work of God.

They began with a reflection on the character of God (v. 24). They remembered the truth of who God is. They cried out to the Sovereign Lord, a title used also for despots and dictators. Maybe that choice of title surprises us, but it surely matched their present need. Peter and John had been threatened by earthly rulers who possessed great power, but they cried out to the Sovereign Lord of the universe who possesses all power and authority (Dan. 7:13–14, 26–27; Matt. 28:18–20). He created all things—“who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them”—and He sustains all things.

We can be sure they didn’t choose this title by mistake. Remembering that their God is the Sovereign Lord of the universe met their need head on. They faced a real threat, and they needed to know whether the Lord was powerful and able to care for them. Of course, He was—and remains—able. The rulers who threatened them were merely creatures, but the Apostles served the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the nations and rulers serve as His footstool. He was able.

They reflected on who God is, but they also remembered what God had said. “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Acts 4:25–26). They recited the first two verses of Psalm 2. Do you remember how the Lord responds to the raging and plotting of the nations according to this psalm? Seated on His throne in heaven, He laughs (Ps. 2:4). God reminds His people in Psalm 2 that He not only creates and sustains all things, but He rules over all things, including the nations. The gentiles rage, but the Lord reigns. The peoples plot, but the Lord prevails. No matter how powerful are the rulers and nations, when they plot and rebel against the Lord, they are fighting a losing battle.

We need prayers that are filled with the content of the gospel—prayers that recount who God is.

In their prayer, the brothers and sisters who were with Peter and John prayed the words of God back to God. They took confidence in the words of God. The Lord has spoken, and He always does what He says He will do. “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89).

The prayer didn’t finish there. They reflected on who God is. They remembered what God had said. Finally, they recorded what God has done. In particular, they recorded how God fulfilled the words of Psalm 2 through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Notice the clear parallels to Psalm 2 in the words of Acts 4:27. In the same city of Jerusalem in which these believers prayed, enemies had earlier gathered against the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus Christ. Those enemies included Herod and Pontius Pilate (a king and a ruler), gentiles (or nations), and the peoples of Israel.

Yet even in this apparent display of power, the rulers and people groups simply carried out the Lord’s plan, doing what He had predestined would take place (v. 28). Those events in Jerusalem were no accident. God spoke His plan, and God accomplished His plan. And what plan of the Lord was accomplished? The angry actions of this mob set in motion the events that led to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which the Lord perfectly saves His people.

In other words, this was a prayer saturated with the truth of the gospel. The righteous, holy, all-powerful God redirected the sinful actions of an angry world to accomplish salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ. That is the God to whom they prayed, and only that God was able to meet the needs of the church in that moment of crisis. This was a gospel-driven prayer.

Kingdom-Centered Prayer

This was also a kingdom-centered prayer. Maybe you noticed that to this point, the believers in Jerusalem made no requests. They simply recounted the character, words, and work of God. Only in verse 29 do we read that they asked for anything. Before considering their requests, though, it might be helpful to consider what they did not ask for. They never asked for safety, protection, or deliverance. In fact, they assumed that persecution will continue.

For that reason, they first asked for perseverance and boldness: “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (v. 29). They assumed the threats would continue, and that is indeed what happened. So, they asked the Lord to give them perseverance to continue to proclaim the gospel with boldness despite the threats of the opposition. Their greatest desire was not safety or deliverance, but strength to keep on doing the work of the kingdom in the midst of persecution.

Second, they asked for the Lord to act in clear and convincing ways: “grant to your servants to continue to speak . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (v. 30). In fact, they didn’t actually ask the Lord to act. Rather, they assumed that He would act—they would speak, but the Lord would act. They knew He would act because of the truth of the gospel that filled their prayer: they knew His character, His words, and His work. They also knew the Lord would act because they prayed through the powerful name of His holy servant Jesus, who was crucified on the cross, raised from the dead, and presently sits at the right hand of God with the nations at His feet.

The Lord answered and acted immediately in response to their prayer. He responded with signs and wonders, as the place in which they were gathered was shaken. He also gave them perseverance, filling them with the Holy Spirit as they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v. 31). The prayer in Acts 4 is clearly a kingdom-centered prayer. Rather than seeking deliverance from persecution, the disciples, with Peter and John, asked the Lord to act through their Spirit-filled, persistent witness. Praise the Lord, that is exactly what He did, and through their witness He built the church.

The Prayers of the Church Today

We live in a world broken by the fall, with constant reminders of the dreadful impact of sin and its results. News outlets regularly tell stories of disaster, violence, and death. Whether from political leaders or from those who shape the cultural ideas of the moment or from our neighbors, we are reminded that the message of God’s Word is rarely welcome in the public square. In fact, the private sphere where the Bible is welcome is continually shrinking and under attack.

The church in a hostile world needs the kind of prayer found in Acts 4. Believers need to raise our voices together in regular gospel-driven, kingdom-centered prayer. We need prayers that are filled with the content of the gospel—prayers that recount who God is, what God has said, what God has done, and what He has promised to do. We need prayers that are centered on the kingdom—prayers that ask God to give us perseverance to speak the Word of God with boldness and that ask Him to act powerfully through our witness.

We can pray with confidence because we speak to the God who redirects the sinful acts of men and women to accomplish His salvific purposes through Jesus Christ. He was present with His church as they prayed in Acts 4, and He continues to be present with us today as we lift our voices together. He continues to save a people for Himself, and we are instruments in His powerful saving arm. We must pray to that end.

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