. . . many were gathered together and were praying.Acts 12:12b ESV
Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.Acts 13:3 ESV
Prayer was not just a casual activity in the early church. I have a feeling their prayer meetings looked a bit different than our fellowship-driven contemporary counterpart.
We don’t know how many people were there, what the meetings looked like, how long they lasted, or the words they spoke. But, the brief references here stir my thoughts and convict me on the quality of my own prayer habits.
The prayer meeting that Peter interrupted was likely an all night vigil since the angel awoke him from a sound sleep for his jailbreak. So much to love about that account:
- Peter was sleeping. Chained on either side to a soldier and rather than pleading for God on his own behalf, he decided to sleep.
- Peter clearly had been sleeping soundly. Likely drooling on his chest, head propped up on a soldier’s shoulder. So out of it that the angel had to give him step by step instructions for dressing himself.
- Takes him until he is outside the jail walking the city streets to realize he wasn’t just having a vivid dream.
- Mary’s house is clearly central headquarters. He did not have a list of places to try to track down his friends, he knew right where to find them.
- They did not disappoint. A group sat inside praying for his release. Even after James’s execution, they did not lose faith or hope. They continued to pray that God would work a miracle (of course, even their faith might have wavered since they doubted Rhoda when she said he was not in jail).
- Rhoda – I want to meet this girl in heaven. In her excitement she forget to do the obvious (let Peter in), but she sticks to her story despite the criticism of her sanity and everyone offering counter-interpretations.
- What were cultural norms about knocking on a neighbor’s door in those days? How long did Peter wait before he resumed his knocking after Rhoda left him on the step? How quickly did fear creep back in as he realized anyone who recognized him could jeopardize his freedom? Would an angel really break him out of prison just to let him get caught again?
Jump ahead to the next chapter and we see that in Antioch, they also understood the need to prioritize corporate prayer. It is intimately intertwined with worship.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,[d] Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.Acts 13:1-3 ESV
Worshiping, fasting, prayer. All woven together in a corporate plea to God for wisdom. At that time, the Holy Spirit made his intentions clear. They sought his wisdom, and he answered. He responded in a way that was clear to the church.
Usually when I think about the importance of prayer, I think about a personal discipline that I need to spend more time in. This passage is reminding me that corporate prayer is also a neglected habit. I often attend bible studies and church services where prayer is part of the time together. But, I don’t get the feeling from these passages that prayer was just a book end for their meetings. Prayer drove their gathering, at least some of the time.
How often do I seek out friends for times of concentrated prayer?
I’m seeing a need to adjust my thinking on prayer. Prayer closet prayer is powerful and meaningful, but I also need to chase after intentional prayer times with other believers. I need to step beyond the shared requests and 5 minute prayers that wrap up our times together. The early church completely altered their culture and world. What would happen in our world if we prayed with such intention and commitment?
Lord God, teach me again to pray. Not just on my own, but with the power of the early church. In the power of community. Bring people alongside me to stir this habit and pray with passion, faith, and concentrated times. Thank you for hearing my prayers whether offered alone or in a group and for continuing to widen my understanding of you. In Jesus name, amen.