“All the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…’Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:24,27-31, NLT)
This morning, we’re in the middle of a four-week sermon series entitled “Called to Boldness”. And, in just a moment, we’re going to be in Acts chapter 4, as we talk about what it means to pray bold prayers.
Last week, we learned that boldness contains three elements — conviction, courage, and a sense of urgency. The first of those elements is conviction. We need to believe strongly that something ought to be said or done, or else, what’s there to be bold about?
Another way to put it is to say that boldness is behavior born out of belief, because what you believe determines how you behave. If you believe everybody is going to criticize you for doing something, then you’ll behave tentatively. If you believe you’re probably going to fail at what you’re about to attempt, then you’re going to venture out cautiously. But, if you believe that God is calling you, empowering you, leading you and equipping you, you will live very boldly. Because boldness is behavior born out of belief.
Let me explain how that applies to our lesson this morning — what you pray for reflects what you believe about God. What you pray for, or we could also say, what you don’t pray for, reflects what you believe about God.
For example, if you are someone who doesn’t pray at all, then that reflects the fact that you likely either don’t believe in God or you don’t believe that God answers prayers.
If you do pray, but you pray very small prayers all of the time, it probably reflects the fact that you don’t really believe that God is a God who answers big prayers. If almost all of your prayers are for yourself: bless me, help me, comfort me, be with me, then that reflects your belief that God is just there to serve you. Because what you pray for reflects what you believe about God.
And the way that we phrase things also says a lot about what we believe about God. For example, maybe somebody is in a difficult situation and they’re trying to figure out what to do. How do I overcome this problem or how do I deal with this challenge in my life? And after they’ve done everything that they know to do, they will sometimes say something like this, “Well, I guess all I can do now is just pray.” If prayer for you is a last resort, then that also reflects what you believe about God.
As we think about prayer this morning, there’s something that I’d like for all of you to do. I’d like for you to take a moment and think about what you prayed for this past week. I’ve given a spot in your notes and I’d like for you to just go ahead and jot it down while I’m talking. What did you pray for this past week?
Some of you might say, “Well, I don’t think I really prayed much at all.” And let’s be honest, that says something about what you believe about God
Some of you might say, “I can’t really remember what I prayed for.” And that says something as well.
Some of you might say, “Oh yeah, I prayed for this, I prayed for that, I prayed for this, I prayed for that.” What I want you to do is to go ahead and think about it for a moment and jot down two or three or four things that you prayed for this past week.
And after you’ve done that, I want to ask you this question: If God answered yes to all of your prayers this past week; if every time you prayed, God said, “Yes, yes, yes.” God just miraculously said yes to everything you prayed for, here’s what I want to know — What would be different in the world today? Think about it. If God answered everything that you prayed for this past week, what would be different in the world today?
And I don’t know how you would answer that question, but if you’re like most people, chances are pretty good that the only things that would be different would be things that affect you personally.
For example, if you’re a single guy and God answered all your prayers this past week, then God would have given you that gorgeous, spiritual Christian woman that you’ve been dreaming about!
Or, if your marriage is struggling and all you seem to do is argue all the time, but this week, God answered all your prayers, and this morning, everything in your house is peaceful and loving.
And you would have gotten that raise that you wanted, and you would have qualified for the home loan you applied for, and your grandmother would have been healed of cancer, and you would have found out that you’re pregnant, or you found out that you’re not pregnant. Some of you are praying for very different things! But chances are, if you pray like most people in our culture, the only things in the world that would be different would be those things that are very close to your little circle.
And I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone, because I’ll be honest, I do the same thing. And I need to learn from those people who pray really big prayers because I’m telling you, if God answered every one of the prayers that some people pray, churches would be overcrowded today, because they are praying for churches around the world every single day. They’re praying for revival to break out, they praying for people to come to know Jesus Christ, they’re praying for orphans to be adopted, they’re praying for those trapped in human trafficking to be set free. They are praying some really, really big prayers and I need to learn from that.
But, think about your own prayer life. If God answered everything that you prayed for this past week, what would be different in the world today? And I want us to understand this morning, that if we really want to make a big difference in this world, we are going to need to learn to pray some very bold prayers.
Let’s turn now to the book of Acts. And let me give you a little bit of context in case you missed last week’s lesson. Last week, we took a look at Peter and John and their boldness in speaking up for Jesus Christ.
We saw that in Acts chapter 2, Peter preached boldly and he called the crowd of Jews in front of him a corrupt generation, and he told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. And because of his boldness, 3,000 people were baptized into the family of God.
And then, Peter and John went up to the temple and they came across this guy who had been lame for forty years. For 40 years, he hadn’t been able to walk. And they said to him, “Pick up your mat and walk.” And all of a sudden, miraculously, this guy was walking, and leaping, and praising God.
But, the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, were disturbed by this. These were the 70 most powerful leaders in Israel. They were the ones who had Jesus put to death. And so, they arrested Peter and John, they brought them in and put them on trial, and demanded, “By what name, by what authority are you doing these things?”
And, as I said last week, I think they expected Peter and John to back down. But, to their surprise, these two men grew even bolder. They said, “It wasn’t by our power. Rather, we are doing this in the name of Jesus, the man whom you crucified, but God raised him from the dead.”
And it took a lot of boldness for them to say that because the Sanhedrin had the power to do with them pretty much whatever they wanted to do. And those Jewish leaders really wanted to keep them in prison, or maybe even kill them for what they were doing. But, the problem was, there was this lame guy who had been healed and he was walking all over the place getting everybody all excited. And everybody knew that it was obviously a miracle which had been done by the power of God. And the Sanhedrin didn’t want all of these people to start a riot, so as much as it pained them, they had to release Peter and John.
And this is where we pick up the story in Acts 4:23. Verse 23, “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
Peter and John would have said, “The Sanhedrin threatened us. They told us not to ever speak in the name of Jesus again.” And when they heard this, here’s what the Christians did…
Verse 24, “they lifted their voices together to God.” I love that phrase. They raised their voices together in prayer to God. There is something incredibly powerful when Christians come together and lift things up in prayer to God. There’s something incredibly powerful about praying together.
And it may be that some of you are like me. Because I’ll be honest, I’m not the guy who’s first in line for the three-hour prayer meeting. But even though that may not be my natural nature, I have found that there’s something incredible that happens when I pray with someone else. I may not have a lot of faith for something, but I hear someone else praying and it’s almost like I get to climb up on top of their faith and then I pray and it builds my faith, and there’s like this cumulative, exponential faith. And when you read scripture, you find that there is tremendous power when believers come together in prayer before God.
So, here in Acts chapter 4, we have these Christians who have been experiencing this terrible persecution, so they came together and this is the prayer that they prayed to God. Verse 24,
“Sovereign Lord…” Sovereign means basically, “God, you’re in control of everything, you have the final word, you have the final say. Whatever you want to happen, that’s what’s going to happen.”
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit…”
And then, they quote one of the psalms where David is talking about people opposing God. And then they go on to say in verse 27,
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28)
And so, they’re praying with all of the focus on God. They say to God, “You are the Creator of everything in this world, you’re in charge, and nothing happened that you didn’t want to happen because you are in control, you are the Sovereign Lord.”
And it wasn’t like God needed to hear that. I don’t think God’s response was to say, “Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me, I forgot, I’m in charge!”
But what these Christians are doing is they are posturing themselves in a position of worship before a holy God. And I think it’s important before we ask God for anything, even before we give him thanks for what he has blessed us with, before we do anything else, we recognize God for who he is.
It’s what Jesus did in the Lord’s Prayer, when he started with these words, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.” May your holy name be honored. You are an awesome God, you are above all other gods. So, here we have these Christians praying, “God, you are sovereign, you are in control of everything that happens.”
And then, after that, they prayed very boldly for two things. And it is my prayer this morning that we as a church would pray for these two things. Because if we are ever going to make a difference in this world, we cannot be halfhearted, lukewarm Christians. We need to be fully-devoted followers of the Jesus Christ, who live boldly for the name that is above all other names, the name of Jesus. And so, I want to encourage you to pray boldly for these two things:
1. Give Us Boldness
The first thing these Christians prayed for was boldness. And we need to pray for boldness. We need to ask God to make us a bold people. In verse 29, they said,
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats…”
We don’t know exactly what those threats were, but we would assume that those leaders threatened to beat them, or put them in prison, or kill them. Whatever it was, “Lord, consider their threats”, and then here’s what they prayed for:
“Lord, please keep us safe. Please take away all the persecution so that we don’t need to be afraid any more. Take care of us. Don’t let anything bad happen to us.”
No, that’s not what they prayed for at all. I think that’s what we would have prayed for. I know that’s what I would have prayed for. But, that’s not what they prayed for. They said,
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
They prayed for even more boldness. Now, if I had been there, I would have been thinking to myself, “Isn’t boldness what got you arrested the first time?” In other words, “Aren’t you already bold?” And yet, they’re praying for even more boldness.
There’s a part of me that would have wanted to say to Peter and John, “Maybe you need to lay off that whole Jesus thing for a bit. Let’s lay low for a while, we don’t want to get you arrested. We need to keep you safe because without you we can’t really do the work we need to be doing in this city.” But, they’re praying for even more boldness.
Let me ask you this — have you ever prayed to God for boldness? Have you ever just prayed, God, make me bold? And if you’re like me, the answer is probably no. Most of you probably haven’t even thought about praying for something like that. You might pray for God to help you to be more loving, or to be more patient, but you’ve never thought about praying for God to make you bolder.
For some of us, praying for boldness is a bit scary. Because we like our comfortable lives, and boldness doesn’t usually result in being more comfortable.
And for some of us, we wouldn’t want to pray for boldness, because boldness doesn’t really do anything to help me or make my life any better. Boldness is for the benefit of someone else, to help them know the love of God through Jesus Christ. And let’s be honest, most of the things we pray for are very self-centered –
• Help me make an A on this test,
• Help me give a good presentation,
• Help me to get the raise,
• Help Grandma to be healed,
• Help me to get that new car,
• Help me put up with my family when they come over to spend a week.
If we’re being honest, most of the prayers we pray are rather self-centered prayers.
But when you pray for boldness, “God, help me to be bolder”, God will answer that prayer and use you. Pray that God will use you today, use you for your glory, make you bold, stir you up, give you eyes to see needs of those that you work with, give you a heart sensitive to those who are hurting, give you a prompting of the Spirit to minister to those that are around you.
And if you will sincerely pray that kind of prayer, you better put your seat belt on and get ready for the ride because God will answer a prayer like that. And it will change who you are.
I heard about a preacher who once started his sermon by saying, “Prayer doesn’t change God.” And everybody got quiet. He went on to say, “And prayer doesn’t change things.” He said, “Prayer doesn’t change circumstances. Prayer changes us.”
The prayers of the early disciples changed them. At one time, they were timid and afraid, hiding and secretive, embarrassed and ashamed. But, through their prayers like this one in Acts 4, God took these wimps and transformed them into warriors — bold, courageous, powerful people.
When you and I spend time with God in prayer, he changes us. Richard Foster once wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us…The closer we come to the heartbeat of God, the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”
Don’t pray unless you want to change. But, if you do want to change, one of the most powerful prayers you can pray is a prayer for boldness.
The second thing the disciples prayed for in Acts 4 was this
2. They Prayed For God to Work
First of all, they prayed for God to change them, for God to give them boldness. But then they prayed for God to work. In verse 30, “while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
It has been said, “When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.” If you and I don’t pray, we may never see the hand of God in action.
And these disciples are not praying something small. They’re praying a big, bold prayer. If you want to make a bold difference in this world, you need to pray bold prayers, because what you pray for reflects what you believe about God. If all you ever pray are small prayers, that’s a sign that you believe in a small God. And most of us pray small prayers.
“God, thank you for this day.” “Be with me.” Help us to travel safely to our destination.” And I have to wonder if God ever wants to say to us, “Ask me something hard! Ask me for something so big that when it happens, everybody’s going to know that I did it.” Pray bold prayers! Pray for something big! What you pray for reflects what you believe about God.
Why is it that we are so hesitant to pray bold prayers?
And I think maybe there are some who just don’t believe that God can do much of anything in the world today. He used to do some incredible stuff, but not anymore.
Or maybe there are others who think, “I don’t want to get my hopes up and be disappointed. I tried before, I asked God for something and it didn’t work out. I don’t want to get my hopes up again.”
But, I suspect that the biggest reason we’re afraid to make bold requests of God is because so much of our theology is reactionary. Here’s what I mean by that. Sometimes, we don’t actually go to the Bible to figure out what we believe. We just look at what everybody else believes and we know that they’re wrong, so we decide we’re going to believe just the opposite.
And we have seen so many people abuse this idea of “name it and claim it”, just ask God for whatever you want and he has to give it to you. And we get so disgusted by the selfish nature of those prayers that we tend to go to the opposite extreme and not ask God for much of anything.
And besides, we know that God doesn’t give us everything we ask for – just ask the apostle Paul who said in 2 Corinthians 12 that he kept asking God to remove his thorn in the flesh and God kept refusing.
But Jesus said, “If you don’t ask, don’t expect to receive anything.” And we’ve all seen people who received things in answer to prayer that were absolutely unexplainable in human terms.
Does that mean that God always does what we ask him to do? No. I like what Steven Furtick once said. He was talking about how Joshua prayed and the sun stood still. And then he said, “But, sometimes you pray for the sun to stand still and the sun sets.”
But here’s where our faith needs to be. Our faith needs to be big enough in God that we could ask him for something, something big, and our faith can handle it if God says no. Our faith can handle God saying no, because he is the Sovereign God, he’s in control.
So, I encourage you to ask God for some bold stuff. And when God answers your prayers, we need to tell everybody, look at what God did. And he’s going to get all of the glory. And if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we think he should, we need to remember that God is still God and that doesn’t shake our faith because we believe he is the Sovereign Creator of the universe. But we need to pray bold prayers because what we pray for reflects what we believe about our God.
We need to remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Some of you here this morning may be honest enough with yourselves to say, “You know, I tend to pray small prayers, or more self-centered prayers, but I really want to pray some bold prayers. I want to believe God for big things, I want what I pray for to reflect what I believe about God and I believe that God is all-powerful, and that all things are possible with my God. I want to pray bold prayers and make a bold difference in this world.”
If that describes you this morning, would you bow your head and pray together with me:
“Father, I pray that you would fill this church with your Spirit, so that we wouldn’t be Christian in name only, but we would be filled with faith that all things are possible with you. God, we pray for boldness, that you would make us bold for the glory of your Son Jesus.
“And Father, we pray for you to accomplish some great things. We pray for this community of Spring Lake as we ask you to make a difference. We pray for the children, we pray for families that are struggling, we pray for many who are struggling financially, we pray for those with addictions. We ask you to work through us in such a powerful way that there would be so many examples of you doing marvelous things, and we would see you at work and it would be undeniable, that God you did it, and you will get all the glory as you answer our bold prayers.
“In Jesus’ name, amen.”