Sermon: The Priority of Praying Together - Acts 6

Sermon series: Transformational Church

  1. A Winning Witness - Acts 4
  2. The Priority of Praying Together - Acts 6
  3. Dare to Fail - Acts 13, 15
  4. Sharing Christ with a Christless Culture - Acts 17

Sermon series: When the Church Prays

  1. The Priority of Praying Together - Acts 6:1-5
  2. The Critical Mass That Unleashes God’s Will - Revelation 8:1-5
  3. Why We Believe Better Than We Behave Concerning Prayer - James 4:1-2
  4. Principles for a Powerful Prayer Meeting, Part 1 - Acts 12:1-11
  5. Principles for a Powerful Prayer Meeting, Part 2 - Acts 12:1-11
  6. The Great Awakening - Romans 1:18; Joel 2

Scriptures: Acts 6:1-5


My aim this morning is, first, to so persuade you from God's Word and from church history of the primacy of corporate prayer that you will never view the prayer meetings of our church the same again.

Second, my aim and my prayer is that you will determine to take one step forward in your participation and confidence in prayer, not just as an individual, but with other believers, gathered together with the purpose of seeing God's glory manifested.

Why am I talking about this today? Is it because our Wednesday prayer meeting attendance is off or our Prayer Ministry involvement is lacking? No, in fact, in both cases, this church has been stronger in attendance and involvement than any I've served.

I bring the issue of praying together up for three reasons:

  1. Corporate prayer is on par with preaching and teaching as a priority in a healthy church.
  2. Praying together is a vital key to opening God's presence and work among His people in unique ways. And
  3. The tendency among believers, even among those who occupy leadership positions in the church, to think of prayer gatherings as the extra-curricular activity in the life of the church.

It's good to have, but not important enough to join; something you briefly tack on to a meeting before you get down to the real business. There are a growing number of believers who view prayer meetings as optional, secondary,

This morning I am on a mission: I want to convince you that God has sovereignly ordained the corporate praying of a church, such that His mighty workings increase exponentially and His purposes are accelerated when we pray together. Understand that this message is not given to minimize personal prayer. Instead, it is to show you that personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation.

"Pretty bold statements, pastor. You got anything to back that up?" I'm glad you asked. I want to give you five proofs from the Word and world history that establish the desperate need for all who are believers to become a part of the prayer gatherings of this body. This morning we will survey various Scriptures that establish something simple, profound, and stirring: Praying Churches are used of God to change the world. Here are five proofs:

I. Praying together was a priority for the apostles

In Acts 6, the Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. Here's how it happened:

In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. (Time out! The word distribution is the word "diakonia," which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry. So the emphasis is on serving people.)

Verse 2: Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, "It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. (Stop once more! The word translated wait on or serve tables is diakonein, from the same root family as in v. 2, focusing on serving others). Back to the passage: Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. Literally, v. 4 reads, But we to the prayer and the "diakonia" of the word will steadfastly continue.

Now I've always heard that this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer and receive a fresh word from the Lord to preach to the people. But that is not the point of this passage.

The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders. Let me show you the clues that lead to this conclusion.

1) The context of this passage revolves around ministries. Verse 1 points out a problem with ministries. In v. 2, the apostles discuss what ministries they must do and the ones they must not do. In v. 3-4, they instruct that seven men be identified from among the congregation to take on this ministry. This section of Scripture is focused on ministry to people, not on personal issues.

2) The definite article before prayer in v. 4 points to something significant. Listen again: But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue. That little word "the" that appears before prayer indicates that this doesn't mean prayer in general. It highlights something specific and important. The syntax of the sentence creates the possibility that the ministry of prayer and the word are twin ideas.

3) The example of the apostles in Acts points to the priority praying together held for them. Every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God's people praying together.

So by testimony and by example, it is plain that the apostles placed a high premium on the people of God praying together. They considered guiding the corporate prayer life of the church just as critical a priority as the preaching/teaching of God's Word. Let's add a second proof:

II. Praying together was modeled and practiced by Christ

The apostles learned their leadership patterns from the Master, Jesus Christ. Ransack the Gospels for Jesus' teaching and practice of prayer, and you will identify 37 verses, sometimes repeated in more than one Gospel. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus' instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private.

Take, for example, Matt. 7:7: "Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you." We read "you" in that verse and immediately think it's singular, referring to an individual. In fact, it is a plural "you," meaning Jesus is urging a gathering of believers to ask, seek, and knock.

In other passages, Jesus deliberately emphasized the significance of praying together. Listen to Matt. 18:19: Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. Jesus could have said, "If anyone asks...;" instead, He deliberately chose to emphasize a group gathered for prayer. This focus of Jesus' on more than one praying indicates that there is a design of God's in such gatherings, through which He uniquely and powerfully works.

So the apostles made it a practice and a priority to teach about praying with fellow believers and to practice it because they had heard and seen Jesus emphasize the same thing.

III. Praying together in the New Testament

The Book of Acts records the mighty works of God for and through His church in its early years, and clearly connects them to unified, corporate prayer.

The 120 were gathered in an upper room praying in one accord when Pentecost comes (Acts 1:13; 2:1).

The disciples prayed for wisdom in knowing who Judas' replacement should be (Acts 1:24).

When Peter and John reported the Sanhedrin's threats, those gathered cried out to God in one accord for boldness, and the place was shaken where they prayed (Acts 4:24, 31).

The church prayed over the seven men appointed to serve the widows (Acts 6:6).

After James was martyred and Peter imprisoned by Herod, but the church was fervently praying, and God miraculously delivered Peter from his cell (Acts 12:1-11).

While the prophets and teachers were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-2).

Paul and Silas were praying when God sent an earthquake that resulted in the conversion of the jailer and their release (Acts 16:25).

Again, let me say that I am not disparaging personal, private prayer. Ananias was praying alone when God instructed him to go to Saul (Acts 9:10ff.). Peter was alone on the rooftop when he had his famous vision leading him to share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff.). Nevertheless, the majority of God's recorded workings came when His people prayed together.

IV. Corporate prayer in history

There are so many examples of how corporate prayer was the springboard for the sweeping movements of God. Let me mention a few. In 1857, America was riding the wave of a strong economy, and, as tends to be true in times of prosperity, showed a radical decrease of interest in the things of God. There was a layman named Jeremiah Lamphier whose concern led to a call for prayer. He tacked up notices in NYC calling for a weekly prayer meeting on Wednesdays from noon till one at a rented space on Fulton Street.

The first prayer meeting was on September 23, 1857. Only six people came, and they didn't arrive until just before 12:30. The next week, the attendance jumped to 20. The numbers continued to climb week-by-week.

Then, on October 10th, the Stock Market crashed and financial panic ensued. Trouble had its humbling affect and the hearts of many turned to spiritual matters. It wasn't long until somewhere between 10 and 50,000 businessmen were meeting every day in NYC to pray at noon. By week 15, the meetings moved from weekly to daily.

In 1858, this prayer movement leaped to every major city in America. The Second Great Awakening swept our land. Estimates are that a million Americans out of a population of 30 million at that time were converted in less than two years. And it all started with prayer.

Rees Howells, a Welsh coal miner, journeyed to South Africa as a missionary in 1910 in response to an increasing burden from the Lord. Six weeks after arriving, he joined in a prayer meeting. Out of that came the sweeping work of the Holy Spirit in which they had two revival meetings a day for fifteen months and all day on Friday. Thousands were converted as a result.

I could tell you story after story of how corporate prayer became the springboard for the mighty movement of God. But I want to add one more proof that is as current as today's newspaper.

V. Praying together and God's works today

Right now, the Gospel is sweeping the globe at a rate that is unimaginable. Avery Willis, the VP of our IMB, has reported that statistically, most of the people who have ever been saved in history were saved during the 20th Century. Willis suggested as high as 70 percent of the total number of people who have been saved throughout world history have come to Christ in the last hundred years.

But get this: 70 percent of that number has been saved since 1945! Let me boggle your mind with one other layer of observation from this world missions expert: 70 percent of those saved since 1945 were saved since 1990! That's how fast the Gospel is storming our world. That means that at the turn of the 21st Century, possibly one-third of all Christians who have ever lived have been converted since 1990!

What does that look like? In Nepal, just 2000 Christians were known in 1990; ten years later that number had grown to half a million. Cambodia claimed only 600 believers in 1990; there is a reported 60,000 today. In Korea during the 20th Century, the country advanced from being 2 percent Christian to about 40 percent Christian today. East Africa is experiencing one of the greatest movements of God in history. In Uganda alone, HIV/AIDS once claimed the lives of one-third of the population. The World Health Organization predicted the complete collapse of the Ugandan economy by the year 2000.

But revival has come to that country. With the salvation of many has come a transformation in morals, so that AIDS is down to 5 percent. So great is this revival that one church alone went from 7 in attendance to an average of 2000 in just two weeks! Currently, that same church as a membership of 22,000 and has planted 150 other churches.

In almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing...except for four primary areas: North America, Japan, Australia, and Western Europe. Guess what one of the common denominators is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time in prayer together. Track what God is doing in Korea, in China, in India, in Eastern Africa, and you will find behind the scenes prayer meetings.

I know what you're thinking. Our prayer meetings don't seem to convey that sort of power. And you're right. Over the next several weeks, you will see some strategic shifts in how we spend our time on Wednesdays and when our Prayer Teams get together. But as we progress in that direction, you be the change that's needed.

Lloyd Stilley is pastor of First Baptist Church of Gulf Shores. He is married to Leeanne and has two sons, Joey and Craig. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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