Monday, December 16, 2013

Shepherding Through Prayer

The final thing that Luke points out to us in Acts 2:42 is that the early disciples devoted themselves to prayer.  This was the fourth way they made disciples of the 3000 people who came to know Christ on Pentecost.

At that time their were no books on prayer, no conferences, no prayer retreats; and most of the early Christians were Jews, so we have to think about prayer for them. We also have to look at how Jesus, the greatest Jew, talked and practiced prayer. We also have to remember, as noted in my previous post on fellowship, that even the largest churches were up to 70, and almost all met in homes. And, of course, with every thought that we muse upon, especially when it deals with scripture, is the scripture inself.  We must read and understand, not only the context, but the word and how they fit into the reading (just a little instruction on biblical interpretation).

So with that, this post is, and this fourth piece of the series and this text, is straight forward. Two commentators that have addressed it directly state, "The reference, however, is probably much broader and involves primarily their sharing in prayer together in their private house worship" and "the prayers may be translated as 'they prayed to God together.'" The early church met at times of prayer in the lives of Jews, such as in Acts 3:1, but they also shared much time together in their meetings. Jesus said in Mark 11:17 that "my house shall be called a house of prayer." He was quoting Isaiah 56:7, but we must remember that the house that God is building in the Old Testament is very different from that of the New Testament. In the NT, Paul explained in Ephesians 2:21 and Peter explains 1 Peter 2:4 in that God is fitting together believers to form His "building." Again, as previously stated, the church is an assembly, the believers, those who follow Christ, built up together into a body. It should be a house of prayer.  So, to boil all of that down, the shepherding that they were doing was prayer together.

I won't take time to go through the types of prayer we see in those arenas mentioned earlier: psalms, the disciples prayer taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the high priestly prayer of Jesus beginning in John 17:1, the prayers of thanksgiving in Acts 5:41 for persecution, the prayers for the deliverance of Peter from prison, the many prayers of Paul for the churches, and the prayers of the saints in Revelation. But I want to think about prayer together for a moment.

Even sheep pray in groups!
Much has been made of having a "quiet time" with God for every believer. Nothing wrong with this, we have an example in Jesus spending time away in prayer. Each of us should have a "walk" with, and "abiding in" Christ.  However, often the extent of our praying together is in a church building on Sunday morning.  How much prayer do we really do together?  Do we get down on the level of a small group and have times of prayer? Do we have times of prayer with individuals? Do the prayer in our assemblies as a church consisting of more than just one person praying a relatively short, flowery prayer for the congregation? I wonder because it seems that this is what is implied by the mention of it in Acts 2:42. In fact, I am convinced that the four parts mentioned here are all parts of the whole, much more interconnected and interwoven than I first thought (another benefit of meditating, studying about, engaging others about, and writing about a text). Teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer are together, not just as four different means to an end, but as THE means to an end. In this verse, this model, they don't/can't stand alone, but only together.

Some benefits to this kind of prayer would be: less drifting of your mind during prayer vs. "quiet time" prayer.  We would also hear the prayers of others, which I believe (if others are being open and honest) are the windows to their soul--its concerns and loves.  It would foster love in the body.  It would "shepherd" us. Knowing that those close relationships are there, worshiping together, bound by the teaching of sound truth, praying together strengthens all those aspects.

Some of you/us may be doing it already.  Some of the sweetest times for me lately have been those times.  If you/we are not, it might be an uncomfortable addition. Let me exhort you, however, to pursue it intentionally because that is the model given us for discipling and shepherding and because a great void may exist in your Christian walk without it. This may be the main reason that a believer with no church will dry up in virtually every case. Start with your with spouse, your coworkers who are trying to reach others together, or your really, really small group. Set aside an extended time, or meet just to pray--no bible study, no singing (necessarily, although singing could be prayer), no other agenda than to pray.

I think you'll be blessed!

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