Prayer is a privilege. Indeed, prayer is a spiritual blessing enjoyed by those who are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:11-18; 3:12; cf. Heb. 14:14-16; 10:19-22). We are assured that “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are upon unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12; cf. John 9:31; Ps. 65:2; Pro. 15:8, 29). How comforting to know that when we approach our heavenly Father, He will both hear and regard our words. And yet, if there is one area of the Christian’s life that is least attended, one spiritual blessing most neglected, it must certainly be the blessing and privilege of prayer. Why? Is it because we do not know how to pray?
One of Jesus’ disciples implored, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It is both instructive and insightful to study the prayers of Jesus (cf. Matt. 11:25-26; 26:39, 42 Luke 10:21; 22:41-44; 23:34; John 17:6-26). We learn how to pray from Jesus by noting how He prayed, when He prayed, why He prayed, and for whom He prayed. We also learn how to pray from other notable figures of the Bible, such as David (Ps. 16, 17, 51, 2 Sam. 7:18-29; et al.), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:4-11), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10), Zacharias (Luke 1:68-79), or Mary (Luke 1:46-55). Yet, when we consider the subject of prayer, we rarely consider the prayers of the church. Is it possible for an individual to learn how to pray personally from the first-century church? Imagine if we could be transported back in time and give ear to the prayers of the church in the time of the apostles! Luke provided an inspired account of one occasion when the saints in Jerusalem were gathered together, offering up prayer and supplication to God (Acts 4:23-31). From this record, we discover no less than six qualities of the prayers of the church that “teach us to pray” like the church.
First, when the church prayed, the saints were fully informed: “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God” (23-24a). Our prayers ought to be informed prayers. For whom are we praying? What are their needs? Some often “ramble on” in their prayers, speaking repetitiously and without thought. The Christian ought to be informed before he approaches the mercy seat of God to beg for favor.
Second, when the church prayed, the saints glorified God: “they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is” (24b). Every prayer the Christian offers up ought to begin with an acknowledgment of the greatness of God. Such was the practice of Nehemiah (Neh. 1:5) and Hannah (2 Sam. 2:2-4), and it is according to the model prayer Jesus provided for His disciples: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). If one desires to pray like the church, he will begin his prayer magnifying the Almighty God before whom he has come to pray.
Third, when the church gathered in prayer, the saints prayed with an understanding of truth:
Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together (25-27).
The church understood the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Jesus. This understanding not only provided faith in Jesus as the Christ but also a faith and confidence in God to hear and regard their prayers. The Old Testament is as much a part of the truth of God as the New. And the pages of the Old Testament reveal the God of heaven is a God of covenant, mercy, and promise. To pray like the church is to pray with an understanding of the truth of God that reveals to us God in His fulness. Such a prayer is acceptable and founded upon faith, hope, and confidence.
Fourth, when the church gathered in prayer, the saints prayed fully aware of the sovereignty of God: “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (28). What confidence, hope, and comfort come when the Christian realizes that the God to whom she prays rules in the dominion of men (Dan. 4:25). To pray like the church, one prays fully aware often the sovereignty of their heavenly Father.
Fifth, when the church gathered in prayer, the saints petitioned God for favor: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus” (29-30). The saints made three distinct requests: an appeal to see their plight, strengthen their resolve, and stand with them as they boldly proclaimed the Word. If one desires to pray like the church, he will petition God for needed favors.
Sixth, when the first-century church prayed, they followed up their prayer with action: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (31). When our prayers are according to God’s will, so will our actions be according to His will, and the Word of God will boldly go forth.
Prayer is a privilege. We can best learn how to pray by looking to the saints of God and patterning our prayers, and our lives, after their example.