THE PRAYER OF THE EARLY CHURCH: THE GREAT SYMPHONY OF WORSHIP
The great prayer of the early church in Acts 4:23-31 moves across the whole realm of worship. This prayer is like a mighty symphony of worship that flows in harmonious worship and is brought to a glorious finale as the building shakes under the power of the Holy Spirit. The night before this prayer was prayed; Peter and John spent the night in prison because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. They had been led by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple at the time of prayer. Under the guidance of the anointing of the Holy Spirit they raised a lame man who immediately arose from paralysis to the realm of worship. He went into the temple 'walking and leaping, and praising God', and everyone saw him, (Acts 3:8-9). It caused a great multitude to believe on the Lord Jesus, and brought Peter and John into the realm of worshipping by suffering shame for the name of Jesus.
The Jewish leaders resisted the moving of the Holy Spirit and because of this they persecuted the Apostles. They held Peter and John in contempt asking 'By what power, or by what name, have you done this?' (Acts 4:7). They looked down upon the disciples of Jesus as ignorant and unlearned. Yet when Peter and John spoke the Jewish leaders had to recognise that the same boldness that characterised the person of Jesus was upon them. They were worshippers of Jesus and they had become like Him. Peter and John boldly witnessed to the One they loved and said, 'we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard' (Acts 4:20). Peter and John left the Sanhedrin and joined the believers who had obviously been praying for them through the night and were waiting for news of what had happened to them. The news they heard caused them to glorify the Lord through the most wonderful prayer of worship. We do not know who prayed, they were a united body, anointed of the Holy Spirit. The words belonged to all of them. This prayer is a great symphony moving across all the levels of worship.
The prayer begins with praise as the disciples worship God because of who He is. Worship always begins with praise and thanksgiving, '...they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, You are God, who has made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:' (Acts 4:24).
They move straight to the highest level of worship
The disciples move straight from praise to the highest level of worship and worship God because of His eternal plan and purpose. They worship in the knowledge that earthly rulers have sought in their pride to destroy the Lord's anointed, but all their evil actions can only fulfil the purpose of God. They recognise that this is exactly what David described in the second Psalm and they glorify God because they are united with Christ in His eternal purpose. 'Who by the mouth of thy servant David has said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You have anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.' (Acts 4:25-28).
The worship then moves to the level of declaring their unity with Christ in His sufferings. The disciples make mention of the threats that were made against them. The religious leaders were resisting the anointing of the Holy Spirit. They identify themselves with His sufferings, and they glory in the privilege of suffering shame for the name of Jesus. They are hated not because of who they are, but because they represent the Lord they worship. They are like Christ in His suffering and shame, and they want to be like Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. 'And now, Lord, behold their threatenings:' (Acts 4:29)
The disciples now worship on the level of a surrendered life. They lay their lives together on the altar of sacrifice. They have no concern for their own safety or interests. They cheerfully give their lives as a living sacrifice on the altar of burnt offering. They want to be worshippers who can speak without fear about the One they love even more than their own lives; they are worshipping witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ, '…and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,' (Acts 4:29)
The prayer then moves to the anointing. They recognise that they are unable to do anything in their own strength; they need the anointing of the Holy Spirit. They are weak in themselves, but mighty in the power of God. 'By stretching forth Your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy servant Jesus.' (Acts 4:30)
The Holy Spirit ends the prayer with a mighty finale. God Himself joined in with this great prayer of worship. It is a great symphony of worship composed by the Holy Spirit and lifted up through the body of Christ. God the Holy Spirit adds one final part and brings in the great Hallelujah chorus by shaking the building and they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. 'And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.' (Acts 4:31).
The Holy Spirit moved in power not just in shaking the building but in empowering the disciples to speak with boldness. They moved in authority because they were under the authority of the Holy Spirit. Their prayer was effective because they worshipped in the Holy Spirit. Effectual prayer must always come out of worship in the Holy Spirit. Prayer is exciting when the Holy Spirit is moving among us. It can be hard to get people to come to prayer meetings. This can be because there is a lack of commitment but sometimes people are committed to being at the prayer meeting without being concerned for the moving of the Holy Spirit. God will not move just because we are committed to the prayer meeting. We need to worship through prayer. When our prayer meetings become the place of worshipful prayer in the Holy Spirit then we will see God move mightily in power through the body of Christ.