By Joseph Ametepe
God’s heart is a heart of love. He wants the best for the people He created. His heart is also a heart of missions. He, God the Father, sent His One and Only Son to earth to die for our sins. The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, willingly offered Himself as the perfect and pleasing sacrifice for our sins. The Holy Spirit was sent in fulfillment of the Father’s promise to indwell and empower those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
This is all because the advancement of the gospel of God had been and is still very dear to the heart of the Triune God. Jesus Christ selected men whom He trained for three years. To these men, Christ entrusted the work of advancing the gospel. However, they could not do this divine work in their own strength. This divine work could only be accomplished by divine power, which was to be provided by the person of the Holy Spirit. And so, before His ascension, our Lord Jesus instructed these men saying:
Earlier, speaking in the context of His second personal return, our Lord Jesus expressed His passionate concern for the progress of the gospel in the nations in these words:
Jesus also assured His disciples of His universal authority in heaven and on earth. On the basis of this universal authority, the Risen Lord gives His Church the mandate of working purposefully toward the advance of His gospel in all the nations.
The apostles and disciples, after Christ, effectively carried out the work of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ in their generations. It is now our turn to share in this privileged work in our generation. But the question is "how can we do our privileged part in this work effectively?"
The answer is, first and foremost, through prayer. This is because prayer is partnership with God for the advancement of His kingdom and His gospel.
A necessary question must be asked at this point: "How then are we to pray in order to see the advance of God’s kingdom and His good news in our day?"
Most of us, desirous of seeing the progress of the good news, have offered prayers toward this goal, such as, "Lord, save our neighbors who are lost. Lord, let the unsaved receive the good news and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Lord, help the unbelievers to accept You."
These and many other prayers like them sound so right and spiritual. Yet most of us will admit that we have seen little or no fruit at all after praying these prayers.
Perhaps, it is time for us to freshly learn to seek God on praying effectively for the progress of His gospel. For our prayers to be effective, we must know what is dear to the heart of God as it relates to the advancement of His gospel in such a time as this
So what really does God want us to pray for, in order for His gospel to make an impact on people’s lives in our day through our prayers? In the Word of God, God has left a reservoir of clear instructions for us.
These clear instructions are given to us from which we are to learn. As we apply them, we will learn to offer up prayers that have great power with God in their effects. We will be blessed to see more fruit in our prayers especially for the progress of the good news of Jesus Christ.
To learn to pray effectively for the advance of the good news, we will look at the commands of Christ, the Head of the Church Himself, Apostle Paul’s requests through the Holy Spirit to the churches, and the prayers of the Spirit-filled apostles.
A. Learning to pray for the advance of the gospel from the Commands of Christ
Furthermore, the Lord Jesus now lives at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25).
We are therefore to listen to what He commands us to pray for concerning the advance of His gospel.
1. Praying that God’s kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10).
What is the kingdom of God?
We are to pray for God's rule to advance as Christ takes His rightful place as Ruler over all.
Why are we to be so concerned about the coming of God's kingdom?
the conversion of unbelievers.
the consecration of the lives of believers to the cause of God.
The more the believer desires the will of God to be fulfilled in his life, the more the kingdom of God comes in his life.
2. Asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers in His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
A major transition was about to take place in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The time had come for Him to involve His disciples in the work of advancing the gospel of God.
Before He would send them to teach, preach and heal, He commanded them to commit themselves to prayer, beseeching the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.
Discipline and devotion to prayer was to become the foundation of their walk and partnership with God for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
Prayer was to be a priority in their lives just as it was a priority in His life.
This would enable them to have a fruitful and effective service in the work of advancing the good news.
Deomai is the Greek word translated beseech in the New American Standard Bible. It is an imperative. So it is a direct command of Christ, the Head of the Church to His Church.
The word beseech also means ask, implore, beg, request and refers to a particular need for which one prays.
This is a significant point to note. Because it reveals Christ’s superiority not only of His person and position as the Head of the Church, but also of His superior wisdom. He knows all things. We can therefore trust that He is guiding His Church with perfect wisdom. He alone, therefore, can be relied on to provide the Church with the most significant and successful strategy for the harvest.
Oh that the Holy Spirit would let these truths burn in our hearts and so move us to earnest prayer!
Ekballo is the Greek word translated send out. It also means thrust forth, lead out.
Often times God has to do the unpleasant work of thrusting us forth into His harvest.
The harvest is Christ’s. He knows the best strategy that will result in reaping a bounteous harvest.
He identified the particular need for which we must seek His face earnestly.
He sent the apostles and disciples to harvest fields that resulted in this cry among men:
"These men who have turned the world upside down have also come here" (Acts 17:6).
Although our Lord’s command here, is so clear, yet we tend to choose our own harvest fields and ask Christ to bless our harvest fields.
Our plans and programs and strategies have replaced earnest and beseeching prayer.
The trend I see in the Church today is that we have dethroned Christ and His Holy Spirit from being the Lord of the harvest. With our plans and programs we choose our own harvest fields and then ask Christ to bless the work on our harvest fields. All the while, the Lord Jesus calls out to His Church: "I was the Lord of the harvest in the past. And I am still the Lord of the harvest. Beseech, implore, ask Me, the Head of the Church, the Lord of the Church. I will identify the harvest fields that are already ripe for you that you may reap maximum harvest of righteousness. Ask Me, and I will call and send out the workers I have already prepared."
Like the disciples, we are to commit ourselves to prayer as well as to be prepared to be sent into the Lord's harvest field.
We must take Christ at His Word. Surely, the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His harvest as we diligently implore Him to do so.
B. Learning to pray for the advance of the good news from Paul's requests
As God used him to establish churches, he devoted himself to prayer for these young churches.
As he did, God revealed to him things that are dear to His heart concerning the work of advancing His gospel.
Paul, in turn, through the work of the Holy Spirit, wrote to these churches asking them to pray specifically, not only for the gospel, but also for him and his fellow-workers.
Paul’s requests can be divided into two broad categories. The first category concerns prayers for the message itself. And the second has to do with prayers for the messengers.
1. Praying that God may open a door for the message of the good news (Colossians. 4:2-3).
Prayer is to be the main activity of the church. Since through it, God empowers His people for the work of advancing the gospel. Unfortunately, prayer is no longer the main activity of the church. It is only given lip service in evangelical churches today.
Proskartereo is the Greek word translated devote.
It means adhere to, persist in, busy oneself with, be busily engaged in.
It speaks of a steadfast, single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action.
Busily engaging ourselves in prayer is what we are being commanded here. A steadfast, single-minded loyalty to prayer is what is expected of believers.
The Spirit is speaking here of serious, intense, earnest, persistent and passionate corporate prayer.
This devotion to prayer was the norm in the early church (Acts 2:42).
The command devote yourselves is a present imperative. So it could be translated, keep on devoting yourselves to prayer. The Church, that is, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, bought by the precious blood of Christ, born-again by the Spirit and brought into union with God, is called to keep on devoting herself to the hard work of prayer.
Paul had seen God’s work of opening a door for His message on his missionary journeys.
Giving a report to the church at Antioch in Syria after their return from the first missionary journey, we are told:
"On arriving there [Antioch], they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul again disclosed God’s work of opening a door for His message:
"I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me" (1 Corinthians 16:7b-9).
"Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord has opened a door for me"(2 Corinthians 2:12).
God is sovereign over the nations. He is more than able to open a door for His message anywhere.
God’s people must take Him at His Word. He is true and trustworthy.
2. Praying for clarity in the proclamation of the message of the good news (Colossians 4:4).
Our God is a God of order. He is not a God of confusion.
Paul knew this very well. So he requested through the Holy Spirit that prayers be diligently and specifically offered for clarity in preaching and presenting the truths of the good news.
Phaneroo is the Greek word translated clearly in the New International Version.
It also means to make known, reveal, show, make evident, or plain.
The message of the good news must be made distinctly clear, plain, and simple for all to understand. Of course, this understanding is given by the Holy Spirit.
But please note that this does not mean diluting the message. The truths of the good news must be clearly spelled out. We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves from our sins. The wages of sin is death, which in its ultimate sense means eternal separation from the Eternal loving God. But God, through Jesus’ death on the cross, has made a way to save us from eternal separation from Him. It is the only way by which sinners can be brought back into a saving relationship with God. This saving relationship is a precious gift of God, obtained through God’s grace alone, by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the only way back to God. All roads do not lead to heaven. There is only one way, and that is, through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man. He is sinless. He is perfect.
It is this Jesus who died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried to put away our sins. He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. This resurrection is a mighty proof that God is fully pleased with the once for all sacrifice of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. No other sacrifice is needed. Jesus paid all of our sin debt. He perfectly finished the work of redemption. We have redemption through His precious blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.
And so, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to ask the church at Colossae to devote themselves to praying for clarity in the preaching of the good news.
This prayer request must also be lifted up to God in our day, in our partnership with Him for the progress of the good news.
3. Praying that words may be given to the true servants of God so as to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19-20).
Making known the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ is God's idea It is not man’s idea.
Only God’s words, empowered by the Spirit of God, can explain the mystery of His good news. This and this alone brings conviction to the heart of people, leading them to confession, conversion, and change.
Apostle Paul was effective in communicating the mystery of Christ primarily because he knew that only God's own words could explain the mystery of Christ.
Therefore he earnestly sought God to fill his mouth with His words.
Paul’s desire to be given words to declare the mystery of the good news is similar to the longing of the psalmist who said "I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands"(Psalm 119:131).
We must also ask God to give us such a longing for His word.
Parresia is the Greek word translated fearlessly in the New International Version.
It also means courage, confidence, boldness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.
It also conveys the idea of frankness, plainness of speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing.
It means speaking without holding anything back even in the face of opposition.
You will notice that in this passage, that is, Ephesians 6:19-20, the word fearlessly occurs twice.
This repetition is to emphasize an important point.
Paul was in prison in Rome.
Fear of men, especially of the powerful Roman soldiers serving in the palace of Caesar, fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of failure, fear from threats and intimidation, all were a concern for Paul.
Despite his imprisoned situation, Paul would not want fear to rule and reign in his heart.
He knew he had been entrusted with the message of the good news.
Moreover, the Lord Jesus Himself had assured him of his going to Rome to testify for Him there (see Acts 23:11).
Therefore, now that he is in Rome in fulfillment of the word of the Lord to him, he must without fail declare the message of the good news. And he must do so boldly.
Please, note that Paul was not primarily asking for boldness. He knew that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).
He was asking that words might be given him to make known with all boldness the clear message of the good news, no matter what.
The New Testament shows that "boldness" actually depends on two factors.
The first is being given the words of God to speak as Paul is requesting here.
Second, it depends on the filling of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:31, after the believers asked God specifically to enable them speak His word with great boldness (Acts 4:30), we are told, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
It is therefore very clear that divine boldness is based on the word of God and the Spirit of God.
When do we speak with confidence in the authority and anointing of the Holy Spirit?
It is only when we are given God's word to speak. This is how it was with the prophets of old who spoke for God. Our Lord Jesus Himself spoke with great authority and confidence the words the Father had given to Him.
And so, as we also pray for God to give us His words to make known the message of the good news, we will do so in all boldness under the leadership of His Spirit.
4. Praying that the message of the gospel will not only be in words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
From the above verse, we observe that the gospel is to make its way to people in a fourfold manner.
Words are basic to intelligent communication. Using words is only a part of the whole picture. But words of mere hollow rhetoric cannot be used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose in the lives of people.
The preaching of the gospel must therefore contain other essential ingredients to bring about the accomplishment of God’s redemptive purpose in lives. Therefore Paul was led to state three other important ways in which the gospel must be proclaimed, namely, "with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
And so, the second manner in which the gospel is to be presented is "with power."
Dynamei is the word for power.
It speaks here of the inward power with which the speakers are filled as they give the message. This power might show itself in a variety of ways. This makes the speakers aware of God’s special involvement in the gospel and its presentation.
The third manner in which we are to pray for the gospel to be presented is "with the Holy Spirit."
An important ingredient for the spoken word is the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Person of the Holy Spirit is certainly behind the power just named. Yet He is much greater and more versatile than just the subjective power He produces. He is part of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit supplies the sense of divine reality to the spoken message. Our Lord Jesus Himself said in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."
No matter how eloquent and persuasive a preacher is, he cannot supply such a sense to the spoken message of the good news. Therefore, there is a desperate need to pray fervently for the good news to be preached in or with the Holy Spirit.
Believers should endeavor to lift up such a cry to God daily, through the help of the Spirit Himself.
The fourth ingredient of the spoken message is "deep conviction."
Growing out of the Holy Spirit’s special activity is the "deep or full conviction" with which the gospel is preached.
"With deep or full conviction" simply means that the preachers possess perfect assurance as to the truth and effectiveness of their message.
The preachers are reminded deep down in their hearts that God’s word, spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, will not return to Him empty without accomplishing what God desires (see Isaiah 55:10-11).
To pray that the gospel will not only go forth in words, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, is to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:14-18; Acts 10:38) and Paul (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The Lord Jesus was keenly aware of the presence and power of the Person of the Holy Spirit in His life as He preached the good news.
He could therefore say to those in the synagogue at Nazareth, where He had been brought up; "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor"(Luke 4:18a).
Apostle Paul also wrote to the church at Corinth, making it clear to them that he did not come to them as a clever orator or scholarly genius. He did not preach with personal confidence in his own strength. Rather, he presented the testimony of God and Christ’s death. This he did with well-placed confidence in God’s mighty power to make the message life-changing.
May I say to us, unless this kind of total, absolute reliance on God marks each and every believer who presents the good news, our presentation will lack the divine dimension, which only God and God alone can provide.
5. Praying that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified in the hearts of those who hear it (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
The command "pray for us" is a present imperative. It could therefore be translated as, "keep on praying for us."
The gospel had a great impact on those who heard it from Paul in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. The impact of the gospel was such that some of the Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
Trecho is the Greek word translated "spread rapidly" in the New International Version.
The word is used here figuratively, using the foot-races in the stadium as a basis.
Paul was led by the Spirit to write specifically to remind the Thessalonian believers of the impact of the gospel in his first letter to them.
"In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Through the Spirit, Paul therefore commanded the believers in Thessalonica to pray fervently that the message of the Lord would spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with them.
In other words, since the Thessalonians had seen the power of the gospel at work in their own lives, they were to pray that it would have the same effect on others.
If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you have certainly experienced the power of the gospel in your life. As we remember how the message of the good news impacted our own lives, so we are to cry out to God with this specific request: "may Your message run its course and be honored in the hearts of those who hear it."
In verse 2 of this same letter, the focus of the request shifted from the message to the messenger.
Now, the Spirit directed Paul to write to the church to pray specifically for the deliverance of the messengers of the good news from evil people who opposed the progress of the good news of Jesus Christ.
The proclamation of the message was not without opposition. Paul had learned this from experience.
At Lystra: The Jews stoned him and dragged him out of the city (Acts 14:19).
At Berea: "But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, stirring up and inciting the crowds. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea" (Acts 17:13-14).
Paul experienced the attack of evil and perverse men from Thessalonica itself.
He even wrote to them of this: "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition" (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
The unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica stirred up and incited crowds against him.
He was not only opposed, but he was bitterly hated.
So when the Spirit commanded the believers at Thessalonica, through Paul, to pray for deliverance of God's messengers, they would have been reminded of that incident in Paul’s life, and they would have prayed more fervently for Paul and his fellow workers.
At Corinth: "Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garment and said your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent" (Acts 18:5-6).
At Jerusalem: "Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together, they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune" (Acts 21:30-32 see also Acts 23:12-15).
In spite of these attacks on Paul’s life, he faithfully preached the good news of Jesus. The unbelieving Jews stoned Paul, seized him, stirred up the crowds against him, opposed him, reviled him, hated him to the point of even wanting to kill him. From this rich reservoir of experience, Paul, earnestly asked for prayer to be rescued from wicked and evil men.
The Lord Jesus Himself knew that the messengers of the good news would face difficulties and be hated by the world. So He specifically asked the Father "to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15).
Poneros is the Greek word translated evil.
The Holy Spirit is speaking here of the true enemies of the gospel.
Paul asked that persistent, prevailing, persevering prayer be made for the true messengers of the good news to be delivered from such people.
Rhuomai is the Greek word translated deliver in the New American Standard Bible.
Please note that Paul’s hope for deliverance was not set on the government of Rome, but on God alone.
Paul’s hope in God’s deliverance alone is clearly expressed in these words to the church at Corinth;"But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:9b-11).
The context of this request is the coming of the man of lawlessness or the son of destruction, whose whole goal is to oppose God. His secret of lawlessness is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2).
Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to repeat this request to the church at Rome in Romans 15:30-31a.
He was guided to do so even with a greater sense of urgency.
He wrote, "I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea."
Oh that God will open our eyes to see the urgency of crying out to Him to rescue His messengers from wicked, evil and unbelieving men who oppose His message and messengers!
Sunagonizomai is the Greek word for translated join me in my struggle in the New International Version.
It also means to strive together with someone, to fight in company with, to contend for victory together. God gives victory to His people as they labor and strive together in prayer in the strength and power of the Spirit. What a privilege! What an honor!
It will interest you to know that Paul's request to be delivered from the disobedient men in Judea was answered. Not long after Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he was set upon by his enemies (Acts 21:27). But God, working through the Roman soldiers rescued, him (Acts 21:31-32). Paul's enemies didn't give up. They plotted to assassinate him. But again, God rescued him as he was sent out of town to Caesarea (Acts 23:23).
God answers prayer. He rescued Paul from his enemies. Paul spent two years in prison in Caesarea. He spent another two years in prison in Rome. But out of these imprisonments came a deepened relationship with Jesus Christ. Not only that, but from his prison cell in Rome, he was led to write the prison Epistles, that is, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
2. Praying that the service of God's true servants may be acceptable to other saints to whom God sends His true servants (Romans 15:31b).
This request has to do with the acceptance of his service to the believers or saints in Jerusalem.
We know from Acts 21:17-26, that the brothers in Jerusalem received Paul and his companions warmly. Paul even had the opportunity of reporting in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry to James and all the elders of the church at Jerusalem. We also know that, he stayed with the brothers at least seven days before he was rescued from the unbelievers in Judea who seized him and wanted to kill him (see Acts 21:27-36).
Why is this request so urgent such that the Holy Spirit led Paul to use these strong words in introducing the request: "I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me?" (Romans 15:30).
There are two reasons.
It may come as a surprise to us, but not everybody liked Paul. He was a controversial figure in the early church. He was often criticized, lied about and even misunderstood by his fellow Christians. So his request for prayer was a serious one. Luke records the answer to that prayer in these words:
The second reason why I believe this request is dear to God’s heart is: if believers do not welcome or favorably accept (euprosdektos) the service of God’s servants, the work of furthering the gospel will be hindered or hampered.
Instead of fervently praying that the ministry God has given them may be accepted by the people of God, some believers, acting in the flesh, forcefully push for their ministries to be accepted.
3. Praying that in their movements with the message of the good news, God's messengers may be led by Him (Romans 15:32a).
His movements and ministry were according to the clear direction of God.
He had been entrusted with the message of God, so he waited on God; to be directed by Him.
He sought to travel with the message of the good news "by the will of God."
This was the pattern in his life.
He learned the principle of waiting on God to be directed to His harvest field.
What would have happened to him if he had willfully chosen to carry the message of the good news by his own strategic planning? He would not have gone far.
I personally thank God that He has left an example for us in Paul, not to run ahead of Him, but to wait for His clear direction.
As Jesus Christ himself was led by the Spirit in His ministry in doing His Father’s will on earth, so He wants all who will travel from place to place with the message of the gospel to be led by His Spirit. He is the Lord of the harvest. He knows where He has already prepared hearts to listen and respond to the message of truth.
Sadly, some ministers are led by their schedules and schemes rather than by the Spirit.
4. Praying that God's servants who travel with the message of the gospel may find refreshing rest in the company of believers who are to receive them (Romans 15:32b).
Should God's messengers or missionaries be disturbed in spirit by lack of acceptance in the company of the believers who are to receive them, them cannot find rest and refreshment. God's work through them would then be hindered.
From Acts 21:17; we know that God answered this prayer on behalf of Paul and his fellow workers. They were warmly received and therefore found rest and refreshment in the company of the believers in Jerusalem.
C. Learning to pray for the progress of the gospel from the prayers of the Apostles
There is a great deal to learn from their prayers. As they were led by the Holy Spirit, their prayers clearly reveal to us what is God’s heartfelt and deep concern. One of their prayers is recorded for us in Acts 4:24-30.
Let us again be reminded that the Holy Spirit chose to preserve this prayer for us that we may learn what is dear to the heart of God concerning the advance of His gospel. God wants His gospel to progress. He wants to see the furtherance of the gospel among people more than we do. He wants people to respond to the good news. He knows those who will receive it and those who will reject it, but it is our duty to pray and pray earnestly. He is committed to answering prayers for the advance of His gospel. We must therefore make the most of this commitment.
The context of the passage indicates that the apostles had been threatened and commanded by the religious leaders not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). This was a formidable threat. Humanly speaking, these were the people who condemned the Lord Jesus to death. These were the people who stirred up the crowds to ask for Barabbas to be released for them instead of Jesus. These were the people who put tremendous pressure on Pilate the Roman governor of Judea at the trial of Jesus. These were the people who convinced Pilate to allow them to protect the tomb of Jesus after He died and was buried. Indeed, they had wielded tremendous authority in Jerusalem and all of Israel, such that many Jews lived in fear of them. What these religious leaders said prevailed. They ruled Israel with great power and authority.
The apostles could not allow this threat to haunt or hinder them in their partnership with God for the progress of the gospel. Most of us would have folded up. But not wanting to be hindered they lifted up their voices together, crying out to God, calling on God.
We learn the following spiritual truths from their passionate prayer:
Please notice very carefully that this was a corporate prayer meeting. The apostles and those with them committed themselves to prayer together. They did so with one accord.
It is very important that at corporate prayer meetings believers pray with unity of mind and heart.
Homothymadon is the Greek word translated with one accord in the New American Standard Bible. It also means with one mind or purpose, by common consent.
It means that we pray in tune with the Spirit and with focus on what God has laid on our hearts.
It means praying with unity regarding a specific revealed will of God.
It means agreeing together in heart and mind to take God at His Word.
Such united prayer has great power with God. Such a God-centered prayer of God’s people rejoices the heart of God. He loves to see the unity of the Spirit being preserved among His people.
When God’s people unite in laying hold of what is dear to His heart, heaven rejoices and hell reels. God is pleased to release His power to further His work on earth (see Acts 4:31).
Martyn-Lloyd Jones says, "When the Holy Spirit comes in power, more will happen in one hour than will happen in fifty or even a hundred years of your exertions and mine."
2. In the circumstances of life, believers should always affirm God's sovereignty over all (v. 24b).
God is the sovereign ruler over all. There is no one like Him in this regard.
Please notice that the apostles did not start their prayers with the threats of the enemy. Rather, they started by focusing on God Himself and centering on the absolute authority of God over all.
Centering our praises on the person of God Himself in times of crisis helps us see things from the right perspective. The believers praised God as the "Sovereign Lord."
Was He not the One who, in His sovereign wisdom, created the priests, the Sadducees, the rulers, the scribes of Israel? Yes, indeed!
They also saw His sovereignty in His control of all things (vv. 25-28).
They quoted Psalm 2:1-2, which was a prophecy of what was to happen at the crucifixion of the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah Jesus.
In other words, the believers praised God for His prophetic word or promise.
They saw that God was clearly in charge when Christ was crucified. Christ’s crucifixion didn’t take God by surprise. He knew all about it. In fact, He predestined it to happen. Therefore, He was perfectly in control.
The same God who was in control of all things then, is still in control of all things now. This God is so delighted to hear His children’s confident acknowledgment of His sovereign rule over all.
Since the apostles clearly and convincingly recognized the sovereignty of God over all, they did not need to march through Jerusalem with placards and posters protesting to the Roman government to intervene on their behalf. God was all they needed. And may I say to us, He was more than enough for them then. Certainly, He is more than enough for us today. He is all we need.
Oh that we would cry out to Him with one heart and mind to further His kingdom work in our day!
3. Believers are servants of God (v. 29a).
The apostles also recognized that they were servants of God.
Doulos is the Greek word translated bondservant in the New American Standard Bible. It means a slave, one who is in permanent relation of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other.
They set aside their own will, and longed for the will of their Lord, desiring only what God desired. They truly demonstrated here to us that they were slaves of Christ by their hearts’ passionate yearning to do the will of God. They knew this truth: true servants submit to their masters.
Therefore the apostles chose to submit to God, their Lord, rather than cower under the taunts and threats of men.
If we are to make a difference in our world today as believers in Jesus Christ, we must also set our will aside and embrace with all our hearts, the will of God. In short, we must live as true servants of God whose will is altogether lost in the will of God.
4. Believers are not to cower under the threats of men but should ask God to grant that they may speak His word with all confidence (v. 29b).
The heartbeat of the apostles is revealed in this request. They wanted to play an effective part in the advance of the gospel of God. They wanted, at all costs, to be obedient to the clear command they received from the Lord Jesus Christ to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8).
They didn't complain about their circumstances, but asked God to grant them the privilege to speak His word with all boldness. In other words, they were asking God for more of what got them into this present crisis. This is amazing indeed! They knew the importance of declaring the good news, and though they had faced threats, yet they asked God, "We want You to give us the ability to speak Your word of life with all confidence."
They had counted the cost and knew that it would be far better for them to speak and teach in the name of Jesus Christ, even if it would cost them more trouble, than to be silent.
Oh that God would raise such men and women in our generation for the cause of advancing His gospel!
Are you willing for God to make you one of these people in our generation? If you desire that, know that others have gone ahead of you. There is a cloud of witnesses who will be cheering you on. Among them are these apostles and Apostle Paul who solemnly declared to the elders of the church at Ephesus: "I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
5. Believing prayer that advances the gospel of God asks God to extend His hands to confirm His message (v. 30).
So they implored God to extend His hands to confirm and support His word as He pleased.
Did God answer their requests? Absolutely! He did. More than they had asked or imagined.
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 31b).
They began to speak the word of God with boldness (v.31c).
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them (v.33).
It is now our turn. Let us give ourselves to believing and earnest prayer to our God.
He responds to prayer that is according to His will.
Let’s therefore pray expecting God to work in and through us to advance His gospel in our generation.
God’s promise to us is: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective"(James 5:16b).
D. Prayer requests for God’s special work among unbelievers
Having discussed the prayer requests of Christ, Paul, and the spiritual truths gleaned from the prayers of the Apostles, I would like us to consider some specific prayer requests for God’s special work among the unsaved.
These requests are derived from the Word of God. Our goal is to pray according to the will of God. God has a deep concern for the unsaved. His Only Beloved and Blessed Son died for sinners. He sent His Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin of not believing in Jesus Christ. His angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who truly repents and embraces with all his heart Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.
God’s will is revealed in God’s Word. That is why it is necessary for us to go back again and again to His Word to discover His heart for the lost. This is the only sure way of offering up prayers that are consistent with God’s will and therefore effective in accomplishing His purposes in the lives of the lost.
These requests are not exhaustive. Neither are they to be prayed in the order listed. But certainly, they supplement what has already been written.
I have given Scriptural reference(s) at the end of each request. Please take time to read them so as to pray with understanding and conviction of heart.
1. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict the unbelievers of their sin (John 16:8-11).
2. Pray that God will open their hearts to receive His good news (Acts 16:14).
4. Pray that God’s word will pierce their hearts (Acts 2:37-41).
5. Pray that unbelievers may seek a relationship with the true and living God and not merely settle for religion with gods that are no gods (Acts 17:16-31).
6. Pray that God will remove anyone or anything that is standing in their way from coming to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:6-12).
7. Pray that God may open the minds of unbelievers so that they can see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
8. Pray that unbelievers may come to understand and receive the love of God by believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18).
9. Pray that God may make the lost, who are dead in their sins, alive with Jesus Christ through genuine repentance and return to God (Ephesians 2:1-6).
10. Pray that the unsaved may come to a clear understanding that they cannot be saved by their good works but by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:5,8-9; Galatians 2:16;Romans 3:21-25).
11. Pray that unbelievers, who are held in bondage to idols, may turn from them to serve the living and true God, revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
12. Pray that they will believe in Jesus Christ through the message preached by God’s true messengers (John 17:20).
13. Pray that those among the lost who are appointed to eternal life may believe in Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 13:48)
14. Pray that the unbelievers will forsake their ways and thoughts and turn to God who is willing to have mercy on them and freely pardon them for Christ’s sake (Isaiah 55:7).
15. Pray that the lost will come to understand and believe that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather, that they turn away from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
17. Pray that they may not show contempt for the riches of God’s kindness and patience, but realize that God’s kindness is to lead them toward repentance (Romans 2:4).
God’s gospel will certainly advance. His kingdom will come.
In Revelation 5:9-10, we are given the picture of the end. Jesus has triumphed at last.
There, the Bible says, "And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
This is what God reveals of the progress of the good news. But the question is "Are we going to play our privileged part in its advance through believing and effective prayer?"
I want to. And my prayer for you is that by reviewing and praying through these requests, you will also play a significant role in the progress of the gospel of our God in our generation.
I have the assurance that as we pray according to the will of God, He will do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. Therefore, like Paul, we can also burst into jubilant praise, "To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:21).