Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 7 Page 3 July 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Building a House of Prayer, Part 2

By Allen Webster

A praying church begins in a single closet in a single home. We can make the church a house of prayer by making our houses “churches” of prayer. No one can keep us from praying. The devil can’t. The atheists and evolutionists can’t. The ACLU can’t. A hypocrite or a hypercritic can’t. The liberals and the radicals can’t. Do you remember how Daniel responded when “all the king’s men” told him he could not pray for thirty days?

“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God” (Daniel 6:10-11).
Nobody could stop Daniel from praying, and his prayers were powerful enough to shut the mouths of the king of beasts. Our prayers can keep another “lion” at bay (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

The Church of Christ Must
Pray to be Like Its Ancestors.

The Bible’s history book, Acts of Apostles, tells us why the Jerusalem church of Christ was great,1  a growing church. Even a casual reading of Acts reveals that the early church relied heavily upon prayer. They “continued steadfastly . . . in prayers” (2:42). This phrase (proskartereo) means, “to be earnest towards, to attend assiduously, be instant in.” This they did! Prayer, prayers, prayed, praying and pray are found 34 times in Acts (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:31; 6:4, 6; 8:15, 22, 24, 34; 9:40; 10:2, 4, 9, 30, 31, 48; 11:5; 12:5, 12; 13:3; 14:23; 16:9, 13, 16, 25, 36; 21:5; 22:17; 23:18; 24:4; 27:34; 28:8).

This emphasis started with the preachers. The apostles placed prayer at the top of their “To Do” lists. They felt prayer was more important than taking care of the hungry, visiting the widows and organizing the church’s benevolent program. When a church fuss started over the neglect of some of its older members, the apostles refused to get involved (Acts 6). They said, “. . . we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (6:4). Many churches would benefit from looking at how they ask their evangelist to use his time. If he is taking care of benevolence, tell him to stop! Under normal circumstances, when calls come in, they should be referred to a deacon (here appointed to that task).2  While the preacher has as much obligation to help the needy as any Christian (James 1:27), he should spend the bulk of his time in prayer and teaching.3  No one has enough hours to do everything. To be successful, we must prioritize our time and do the most important things first. Otherwise the “urgent” takes precedence over the “important.” In practical terms, if the preacher tries to handle church administration, benevolence, youth activities, building maintenance and “coffee shop” duty, he will get to the end of his week without having prayed or studied as much as he needs to in order to properly feed the congregation on Sunday. Preacher, by the way, how much “prayer-peration” went into last week’s sermons?

Elders in the early church were men of prayer. When Paul called an elders’ meeting at Miletus, he warned the overseers of the Ephesus church of Christ that false teachers would arise to teach “perverse things to draw men after them.” Before parting, these men bowed to pray (Acts 20:36). For what did they pray? We are not told, but the context indicates they prayed for Paul and the trouble he faced, and for the church and the trouble it faced. Are you an elder? If so, are you a man of prayer? Do you begin or end your meetings with prayers for wisdom? Do you pray that the church may be spared the destruction of false teaching? Do you pray for the straying sheep under your watch? Do you pray for your missionaries? Do you pray for the deacons helping you carry out your many works? Do you pray for the teachers in the Bible school you oversee? Do you pray for the preacher who assists in feeding the flock? Do you prayer for wisdom to untangle the dilemmas (troubled families and divorces, for instance) laid before you? Do you pray for courage to stand for the Truth even in the face of wicked and unreasonable men? Do you pray for the church to grow? Do you pray that all “your” flock will make it to heaven? Elders, deacons and preachers need to say more often, “Let’s have a word of prayer.”

The Church of Christ Must Pray
to be a People Who Follow the Bible.

As the church is a “house of prayer” because of the emphasis it gives to prayer, the Bible may be called God’s “book of prayer” for the same reason. The church of Christ has always rightfully “staked its claim” on being a “people of the Book.” We plead that all churches do Bible things in Bible ways (1 Peter 4:11). We argue that each must go back to the Bile to be right and leave nothing out and add nothing in (Revelation 22:18-19). If we are going to give more than lip-service to the restoration plea, we must not only talk about prayer, we must practice it. The New Testament uses the words pray, prayed, prayers and praying one hundred sixty-three times (not counting synonyms such as ask, seek, knock and petition). By contrast, it uses baptize, baptized and baptism seventy times. This does not mean that prayer is more important than baptism, but does suggest the emphasis prayer should receive in Christ’s church. When the scribes and Pharisees murmured against Jesus and asked him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?” He said unto them,
“Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Luke 5:33-35).
Implied in this exchange is the fact that when Jesus went back to heaven, his disciples (church) would fast and pray. Are we living up to his expectations? We are “always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).

Endnotes

1 The word great is found thirty-nine times in Acts, and its greatness can be found by tracing this word through the text. To get started, note that the church began on a “great and notable day” (2:20), and then, use a concordance to follow the word great through this book.
2 Some Bible scholars differ with this position. Hugo McCord, for instance, argues against it in material quoted from him by Earl West in The Enchanted Knight (Religious Book Service, Germantown, TN, 1999), saying that these are not deacons since no elders had been appointed to oversee them. He may be right when he says this was a sort of “benevolence committee,” and we would not make a great issue of it, but their qualifications are very similar to those of deacons in 1 Timothy 3. We do not know where elders were first appointed (cf. 14:23), but even if they were not appointed by this time, the apostles would have been there to oversee the deacons and keep them from being de facto elders.
3  This includes preparation to teach for he cannot teach what he does not know. It would include teaching through publications, internet, radio/TV programs, jail ministry, youth devotionals and similar efforts.

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