No power: A couple of years back I was doing my turn in the Churches Bookshop in Strathalbyn and I accidentally switched the power off. The switchboard is behind the curtains in the backroom and I wanted to look behind the curtains and as I pulled them back I touched the main switch. I knew what happened straight away because I heard the till make a closing down sound; I heard the computer make a closing down sound; and I also realised that it had become hard to see.
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Well, I did the right thing – I immediately turned the main switch back to on and the till made a thank you noise. The computer made the Microsoft logon sound. And the lights came back on. All was well I thought – the power is now back on and everything is OK again. However two things happened to make me aware that all was not right.
First, a man came in to print some pictures and the photo booth wouldn’t work. That was because it had shut down when the power went off and I hadn’t reset it. The power was there but it had been deactivated. Second my mobile phone rang and the caller asked me if they could speak to Andrew the manager. They said that they had rung the landline but the call was diverted. Again it was because the phone had shut down when the power went off and I had not reset it. The power was at the PowerPoint but the switch on the phone was not turned on so the power had not been activated.
We can treat God’s power like that phone
Sadly, the typical local church is a bit like the phone in the bookshop – God’s power has been connected but it has not been activated. Instead the church is just coasting along, perhaps with a great program and lots of activities but it is not being what God wants it to be. It reminds me of a story about a lifesaving station where a few members kept a constant watch over the turbulent sea. With little thought for themselves they would go out day and night tirelessly searching for those in danger as well as the lost. Many lives were saved and gradually this little station became famous. Some of those who were saved as well as others along the coast wanted to become associated with this little station. They were willing to give their time and money to support its objectives. New boats were purchased. New crews were trained and the station began to grow.
However, some of the members were unhappy that the hut was so unattractive and so the emergency cots were replaced with lovely furniture. Rough equipment was discarded and classy systems were installed. The hut itself was then torn down and replaced with a building that better suited the classy new furniture. It began to be used as a clubhouse and eventually gave up rescuing people and the original goal was forgotten. Some churches are like that. They have forgotten God’s goal for it to be a place where people are rescued and made into disciples for Jesus and have become just a clubhouse. In effect those churches, and there are many of them, have forgotten about activating God’s power to do His work.
What does the Bible say?
On a day in about the year 33AD God connected the followers of Jesus to his Power and we read about that in the Book of Acts and throughout that book we read what happened when the church activated that power. We read that Peter and John were on their way to the temple for a prayer meeting with the other believers and a 40-year-old crippled man stops them to ask for a handout. They don’t give him the handout he is after but they do something amazing – in the name of Jesus they tell him to get up and walk and he does. He doesn’t just get up and walk – he went with Peter and John into the temple courts ‘walking and jumping and praising God.’ (Acts 3:8)
How did this miracle happen? It happened because Peter and John activated God’s Power. As we read on we find that Peter tells the gathered people about Jesus and how God had glorified him by raising him from the dead. He tells the people that their leaders had conspired together to have Jesus crucified even though he was the prophet who God had told their ancestor Moses about. Obviously the leaders don’t like what’s being said and they have Peter and John arrested and put into jail overnight.
Next morning the two apostles are brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and are asked ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’ (Acts 4:7) They wanted to know how they made the crippled man walk and Peter tells them ‘It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed.’ (4:9-10)
The members of the Sanhedrin are not impressed by that answer but recognise that Peter and John had courage that could only have come from their being with Jesus and because they had God’s power in them. So they try to switch off God’s power by commanding Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. However Peter and John were not going to be silenced and they told the Sanhedrin, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ (4:19-20) There was no answer to that and after being warned again Peter and John were let go.
What did Peter and John do?
They went back to the other believers, certain that this was a fight that they couldn’t fight on their own – they needed divine help and we find out where they got that help in Chapter 4 beginning at V23. We read that Peter and John then went back to the other Christians, including the other apostles, and told them what had happened and what the chief priests and elders had told them. (V23) This caused the group to get on their knees and pray as they had not prayed before because they realised that they needed to activate God’s power and we get to see how they did it.
First as those early believers began to pray they praised God and acknowledged that He already knew about the threats that had been made. Then they acknowledged that it was only with his knowledge that Jesus had been crucified. After that they asked him to do three things. They asked him to take note of the threats made by the Sanhedrin; they asked him to give them the ability to speak Jesus’ name boldly, and they asked him to perform signs and wonders in Jesus’ name. Then the story ends like this. 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.
Why is this story about God’s power in the Bible?
It is in the Bible for the reason that it tells us about activating God’s power and the way to activate his power is through prayer. That’s what prayer is – prayer is God’s way of giving his people access to his power to do His work. And God’s work for the church, for those early Christians and for us today, is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus knew that for the early Christians and for us today this could not be achieved without the Holy Spirit, God’s power. Let me share three reasons why this passage of Scripture is so relevant for us today.
First, it is relevant because of who prayed
Within the Old Testament congregation of Israel only the Priests had the right to pray to God. The people brought their prayer requests to the priest who then relayed them to God. In some Christian denominations this is also the case and the priest or the ordained clergyman prays on behalf of the people and they do that because they continue to operate very much in the Old Testament traditions. But, the Scriptures of the New Testament clearly point out that all Christians can come in prayer to God who is our heavenly Father and he will listen to and answer those prayers that are made in the name of Jesus.
So, it’s not surprising that when Peter and John came back to their people, their fellow Christians, they called them to prayer. They didn’t have a talkfest; they didn’t discuss what the Sanhedrin had said; they didn’t prepare a strategic plan for how to tackle the problem. No, they prayed. That’s what the text says: When they heard this they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
Remember that in this group of early Christians there were apostles, men who had been so filled with God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost that they spoke in other languages and they preached great sermons and they performed miracles and yet, when they faced threats from God’s enemies they prayed. Why did the apostles pray? Because they wanted the people to know that unless God’s power was activated they had no chance of doing what God wanted them to do. And they knew that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is activated through prayer.
So if the apostles needed to pray and demonstrate the importance of prayer then we should expect that the church today will also see the need to pray. We can plan till the cows come home; we can talk all day long; we can strategise until we can strategise no more – but if we fail to pray then we fail to activate God’s power to do His work. No wonder God gave the early church access to his power. They prayed and God’s power went to work. And the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Many churches lack leaders who are prepared to get on their knees with their people and pray. Instead they prepare programs; they run training classes; they have great social activities but they don’t pray. And if the leaders don’t pray then the people don’t pray.
Second, it is relevant because of how they prayed
It would have been so easy for Peter and John to have gone back to the church and prayed about how great they were for standing up to the Sanhedrin but they didn’t. They prayed the way that Jesus had taught them. Remember the Lord’s Prayer? Remember how it starts? Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. That’s the way these disciples, these men and women in the early church prayed. They begin by hallowing his name. “Sovereign Lord.” They say. And they continue: You made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. They are praying to the Creator and so they acknowledge that he is the creator of everything in heaven and on earth and if that’s the case then those elders and chief priests who have made threats against them and against his Son are his property to do as he wants with.
Then, recognising who they are praying to, they acknowledge that God had spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David. They recalled what David had written in Psalm 2. Again we see that the church had its theology correct – they understood that God has a purpose and a plan which he is bringing to fulfilment and they let him know that they knew.
Now if God knew what was going on in their world doesn’t that mean that God knows exactly what is going on in our world? He knows what is going on with the seeming advance of Islam; He sees what is going on in the seeming alienation of the church. He knows what is going on with the seeming spread of atheism. Friends, we don’t have to protect God from attack; we don’t have to tell him how to do his work; but we do need to acknowledge that we know that he knows.
As we look at this part of the passage we see that the people knew what God’s will was because they saw it revealed in the Scriptures and in the preaching and teaching of their leaders. And that’s often a problem for the church today because so many don’t know the Scriptures and have been led to believe that prayer is our way of getting God to bless us and give us stuff and heal us and protect us. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I’m not saying that we don’t need to share our lives and our problems with God but we need to understand that we don’t do it to twist God’s arm, we do it to acknowledge that we trust Him.
If we want His fullness and the power to do what He wants us to do then we need to fill our minds with the truth about God that is revealed in Scripture. That’s why the teaching and preaching of God’s word must be clear and precise so that each of us knows what God is saying. The early church did and it’s no wonder that God gave them access to his power to do His work. They prayed and God’s power went to work.
Third, it is relevant because of what they prayed for
We find in V29 and 30 that there are three requests.
The first one is found at the start of V29. Now, Lord, consider their threats. What they are saying is something like this: Lord, take note of what the chief priests and elders have commanded us to do. They have commanded us not to speak or teach in the name of your son Jesus so what is at stake here Lord is the honour of your Son. So, we humbly ask you to help us because of the threats against His reputation. We need your power Lord so that we don’t cave into their threats.
The second request is found also in V29. Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Their prayer is not, “Lord, behold their threats, and frighten them, and stop their mouths, and fill their faces with shame;” but, “Behold their threats, and animate us, open our mouths and fill our hearts with courage.” They do not pray, “Lord, give us the opportunity to retire from our work, now that it has become dangerous;” but, “Lord, give us grace to go on in our work and not to be afraid of those who speak against you.” And so the request which is made of God is that all of them and each of them will be enabled to speak God’s word, the gospel with great boldness.
There is no doubt that the enemies of Christ today speak boldly – just think about the loud cries of those who claim to be atheists – they speak out boldly; just think of those who promote homosexuality – they speak out boldly. Why should we, the people of God be any less bold in our speaking for Him? Perhaps it’s because we don’t activate His power to embolden us.
The third request is in V30. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. What they are asking God to do is to authenticate his word. What they are asking God to do is to show the people around; show the religious people; show the sceptics; show them all that the words that we speak are from you by following them up by doing things that only you can do.
The early church was focussed on bringing the gospel to their countrymen and women who were lost in religiosity and they knew that the only way they could effectively communicate this was by activating God’s power. And that’s what they prayed for! They prayed three requests that all focussed on God’s work.
For us in 2020
In our churches we have available to us the greatest power on earth – God’s power but for it to be released it has to be activated. In the early church, we see that it was the leaders who turned on the switch and activated God’s power by leading them to pray that He would make His name great; And we see that it was the leaders who lead the people to pray that God would uphold the honour of his Son, Jesus; It was the leaders who led the people to pray that God would consider the threats of godless men and women; It was the leaders who led the people to pray that God would enable his people to speak his word boldly, and it was the leaders who led the people to pray that God would stretch out his hand to perform wonders and miracles.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous English preacher of days past, repeatedly acknowledged that his success was the direct result of his congregation’s faithful prayers. When visitors would come to Spurgeon’s church he would take them to the basement prayer-room where people were always on their knees interceding. Then Spurgeon would declare, ‘Here is the powerhouse of this church.’” That was the early churches secret! That was Spurgeon’s secret!
And who knows, if we discover the secret then this our church buildings will be shaken and we will become a church which exists to make disciples for Jesus. That’s what activating God’s power is all about.
Psalm 26:1-12; Acts 4:23-31
Grahame Daniel June 2020