The Church on its Knees: Unleashing the Power of United Prayer
April 19, 1998
“Prayer is that slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.”
I don’t often begin a sermon with a confession but this week it seems the appropriate thing to do. Over the years whenever I have prepared to preach on prayer, I have always approached my task with a bit of reluctance. It is not that I don’t believe in prayer, or that I don’t pray, or that I don’t like to preach on this topic. None of those things are true. My difficulty lies entirely in another area.
Even though I have been a Christian for nearly 30 years, I still find prayer to be an enormous challenge. It doesn’t come naturally to me, never has, and for all I know, it never will. Real prayer is hard work that involves the mind, the soul, the heart, and the will. It also demands a certain amount of bodily concentration. None of this is easy for me.
As I look at my own life, I find that I pray in fits and starts. There are moments when I feel I am touching the hem of his garment, then somehow I seem to lose my grip. This distresses me when I consider the apostolic injunction to “pray without ceasing” because all too often I seem to “cease without praying.” I hesitate to speak this way because I know that my experience is not universal. I truly believe that God gives some people the gift of prayer just like he gives others the gift of music. They know how to pray the way some people know how to make beautiful music on the violin. Over the years I have known Christians who pray for several hours each day. It is hard for me to know what to say about that except that I stand in amazement at such a gift and such a dedication to God.
There is another side to all this, and I take comfort in it. We know that God doesn’t gift all his children in the same way. One teaches, another sings, another cooks, another serves on a committee, another leads the children’s choir, another writes to the missionaries. And so it goes. We aren’t all alike, which is good because how boring the church would be if we all were cut from the same cloth. Even if you don’t have the gift of prayer, you can learn from those who do. Over the years I’ve grown close to many people who love to pray and do it much better than I do. They are in graduate school and I’m still playing with the blocks in kindergarten.
I say all that so that you will know that when I preach on prayer, I’m talking to myself first. When you point a finger at someone else, it always means you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. That certainly is true this morning.
The Christian’s Secret Weapon
We have come in our study of Acts 1 to the first prayer meeting of the Christian era. It happens just after Christ ascends to heaven, leaving the disciples alone in the world. As I studied the commentators this week, many of stressed that the Christian church was born not in a preaching service but in a prayer meeting.
I take from that the following truth: Whenever God wants to do something great in the world, he first stirs his people to pray. When God wants to touch a family, a church, a city or a nation, he begins by moving his people to pray. Prayer is always the first stage in God’s plan to change to the world. In the words of S. D. Gordon, we can do many things once we have prayed, we can do nothing until we have prayed. One of my mentors—Dr. Lee Roberson—put this way: “Prayer is the Christian’s secret weapon, forged in the realms of glory.”
Our subject today is not prayer in general, but united prayer. It’s about what happens when Christians come together to seek God’s face. When the church is on its knees, heaven stands at attention. This truth deserves our consideration because in a congregation as active as ours, it’s easy to forget that everything depends on God. We are what we are by the grace of God, and without him, we are nothing at all.
I. Where They Were 12-13a
“When they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.” Acts 1:12-13a
We learn two facts of interest here.
1) They were in the region of the Mount of Olives.
2) They returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem.
The Mount of Olives is on the east side of the old city of Jerusalem—just across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount area. The west side of the mountain is dotted with thousands of Jewish graves, buried so that in the day of resurrection they will be raised facing Jerusalem. When Luke tells us they were about “a Sabbath day’s walk away,” he refers to the Jewish tradition that restricted walking on the Sabbath to approximately 2000 paces or roughly