Well, Friends, we’re still learning some more about the risen Christ, and during those first few days after Easter, Jesus’ friends were still trying to figure things out, too.
The disciples didn’t really know what they were going to do next. They were working it out, as they went along. Every day was a day of discovery.
I think that discovery period went on for quite a while. It actually lasted for a couple of generations. It was a time of explosive growth. It was a time when there was a lot of moving around, as individuals and families traveled to new places.
They were constantly dealing with new ideas, some of which were pretty good, and some of which had to be discarded. So it was also a time of discernment, as they tried to figure out what ideas were the intellectual and spiritual “keepers”, and which ones weren’t.
Everything was new. Jesus kept popping up in all kinds of places. It was a challenging time.
The book of Acts is where we find out what happened after Easter. Acts is actually a continuation of the gospel of Luke. Acts is Luke II – the sequel. In the minds of the people who collected the stories, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the gospels of “back then”. Acts is the gospel of “now”.
So, let’s look at the beginning of the book of Acts this morning, and let’s see what was going on.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
– Acts 1:1-14
This morning’s reading is the transition or the segue between the two books of Luke. Today’s reading recaps the gospel message, in just eight or ten short, compact verses. It gives the names of all the people who made up the inner circle – the apostles, the immediate family of Jesus, and a small group of women, who I suspect are the women who discovered the empty tomb.
And what were they doing? That’s the interesting question. What was their next move? Does anybody remember?
It says that “they all joined together constantly in prayer. . .”
That’s such an important point. The first activity, the first step on the long journey that connects the earliest Christians with who we are today, is prayer.
They didn’t start with evangelism. They didn’t start with outreach. They didn’t rush out and start doing good works on an organized basis – cause they didn’t have any organization!
They didn’t have small groups, or web sites, or Sunday School, or committees, or any of that kind of stuff. What they did have, was a group of people who knew that what they had to do was to pray.
All those other things that we do as a church are important. I’m not knocking them. But any church which wants to be a part of Jesus’ life, has to be, first and foremost, a fellowship of prayer.
We’ve been talking about prayer a lot this past winter. And there’s a reason for that. I believe that any church which wants to grow has to be a praying church.
So, this winter, we’ve been laying the groundwork. We looked at prayer that moves mountains. We studied the Lord’s Prayer, as a pattern for how Jesus prayed.
We talked about “holy ground” experiences, where we feel God is so close and so present, that we want to take off our shoes, the way Moses did, when God spoke to him out of the burning bush.
We talked about heart prayers, and we looked at the story of Jesus calming the storm – not just the storms outside of us, but the storms inside of us, as well. Jesus was able to calm the storm with just a single prayer – “Peace! Be still!”
So, in these first few days after Easter, when all those people in the earliest Christian fellowship were, “all joined together constantly in prayer,” what were they praying for?
What were they saying? What were they hoping? What were they lifting up? What were they praying for?
Think about everything we’ve read together in the Bible. Think about their situation, what they were facing. Think about everything we’ve talked about, what Jesus said, and did, and promised. What do you think they were praying for?
They must have spent hours in prayer – at work and at home, alone and together, walking along the streets and roads, worshiping in their small, secret groups and praying publicly in the Temple – what were they praying for? What do you think?
Were they praying that Jesus would come back again? Maybe so. “You told us that you would return. We believe in your word. Lord Jesus, come quickly. . .”
That’s one of the oldest prayers of the church. Those are actually the last words of the Bible, in the book of Revelation – “Come, Lord Jesus!” They believed that Jesus would return again, in flesh and blood. He would come to raise the dead, to judge between right and wrong, to cast out evil from the world.
Or maybe they were praying, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. . .”
We talked about that this past winter. That means we’re praying for Christ to be fully present. If God seems far away, we pray for God to be here among us, right in our midst.
We pray for God’s will to be done – for things to be the way God wants them, not the way society wants them. What the government does isn’t always what God wants. What we see in advertising and the news isn’t always what God wants, either.
When we cheer for one side to win, and the other side to lose, is that what God wants? I think God wants everybody to be a victor. Do we pray for one group of people to get richer, and for another group of people to be poorer, and call that God’s will? I don’t think so.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is such a powerful prayer. It’s asking for earth to become more like heaven. It’s asking for things to change. It’s asking for us to grow spiritually, and it’s asking for God to help us to let go of everything that keeps heaven from being here on earth.
Maybe they prayed using the words Jesus had taught them to use: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Forgive us our sins. Help us not to judge. Help us to see the log in our own eye, before we criticize the speck in the eye of anyone else.”
Maybe they prayed for their friends, for people like them who were trying to turn their lives around, and walk in a new way. Maybe they prayed for tiny new churches, in places they had never been, but only heard about, in the next town, or across the sea.
Being a Christian back then was dangerous. Maybe they prayed, “For our friends in prison, Lord; for our friends who stand before their accusers. For our friends who are dying, Lord, because they were faithful and put their trust in You.”
Or maybe they prayed, “Lord, we believe; help us in our lack of belief! Increase our faith, Lord! Strengthen us, in a world which denies you. Strengthen us against temptation. Strengthen us, when we’re put to the test, when we’re in doubt, or in fear. . .”
I think it’s important to try, if we can, to imagine their prayers.
“Teach us what we need to know, Lord. Help us to remember what You said. Teach us new answers, and new questions, for situations that You never encountered, when you were here with us on earth. . .”
Or as they walked along, maybe they prayed, “Those flowers are so beautiful, Lord! Why do I worry about what I’m going to wear?”
Or maybe they prayed, “Lord, you care for that fallen sparrow by the roadside. You care for the broken reed, for the flickering candle, for the lost sheep. You care for the broken-hearted. You care for the poor who are our brothers and sisters. Help us to welcome them, and clothe them, and feed them, and heal their wounds. Help us to see You in everyone. . .”
Or maybe they prayed, “Help us to be born anew, Lord, to be born within, to be reborn by being immersed and drowned in Your love. . .”
Or maybe they prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread, Lord. Give us living water to drink. Fill us with the taste of new wine. . .”
Or maybe they prayed, “Give us vision, Lord. Help us to see your glory, to see your saints, to see your people, your new city, your people waiting to be gathered. . .”
Maybe they prayed, “Help us to mourn with those who mourn, to weep with those who weep; help us to bear one another’s burdens. Be with us in the dark valley, Lord. Be with us in the cloud of unknowing. Be with us in the storm, and in the night. Be with us as we are dying, Lord, and at the hour of our death. . .”
Over and over, day after day, they found new ways to pray. They took old words, and new words, and they created new prayers. They made up new songs. They tried out new images.
When they wrote letters to each other, they started out, “Grace and peace to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. . .” From one small group of Christians to another, from one friend to another, over and over again, their letters read – “Grace and peace. . .grace and peace. . .”
And when they signed their letters, they said, “Pray in the Spirit at all times, in every prayer and in every request. Stay awake, and keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray that we will be given the message to speak, and that we will fearlessly explain the mystery of the good news. . .Pray that we will be brave and speak as we should. . .Peace, and love, and faith to the whole community. May God be good to everyone who keeps on loving our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 6:18-20, 23-24)
If we want things to change here at Springfield, I’m telling you plainly, right now, that we have to pray more.
Growth and change aren’t mainly a matter of spending more money. The big changes we have to make are mostly about attitude, and acceptance, and excitement. The big changes are spiritual, rather than physical.
The changes we need to make here in our meeting have to do with relationships, and working together. Every change that I can think of here in this meeting really starts with prayer.
We need to stop being a fearful people, and be a people of faith. We need not to lean so much on our past, even though it’s a wonderful past. We need to ask what God’s will is for us today.
If we want to grow, the reason has to stop being so we can just pay the bills. That is not a good reason for growth! If we want to grow, it’s because we want to share God’s love. We want to share the good news, that Christ is alive and present and available in our world.
The only good reasons to grow are because we want to love more, and reach out more, and serve more. And the way we start getting to that kind of growth, is through prayer. Do you all want to know the one thing that I really want to change here at Springfield? It’s not going to cost a penny. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not a new program.
The biggest, most important, most effective thing we need to do here at Springfield is to learn to pray again. I am absolutely serious. I am speaking from a lifetime of experience as a pastor, in many different congregations.
If we don’t pray, we won’t grow. Or to turn it around, if we want to grow, we need to learn to pray, and we need to pray constantly.
We need to stop protecting our past, and we need to pray for God to open us today, and to bless our future.
Every single gathering of this congregation – every meeting for worship, every Sunday School class, every Bible study, every fellowship meal, every social gathering, every committee, every business meeting, every newsletter, every pastoral visit, every time two or three people from Springfield meet together, needs to include a prayer that God will bless us, that God will lead us, that God will help us grow.
That is my #1 recommendation for change for this meeting. If we don’t pray, we won’t grow. If we pray to grow, if we ask for God’s blessing, I believe that it will happen.
Starting from today – this morning – I want to hear that kind of prayer all the time. If we’re at any kind of a gathering, and we haven’t prayed, I want to hear somebody speak up and say, “Hey, we didn’t pray to grow yet. We have to do that, before we leave!”
Everybody hear me on this one? Everybody understand?
It’s going to take practice. Just remembering to pray is going to take some getting used to.
It’s something we all do together. You all are going to have to pray, too. It isn’t just my job. To turn this group around, we all have to pray.
You can use your own words. You can say it your own way. But everybody pray.
All right? Let’s take this into worship together. And I hope that out of the quiet, if anyone has a prayer in their hearts this morning, that you’ll share it.
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown