If you’ve been around for very long at all, you’ve heard me say “Prayer is the work of the Church.” That’s not a new idea with me. The church has always been about prayer.
Immediately after the Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together (Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted … to prayer” (Acts 2:42, 11:5, 12:5, 12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. In Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ.
In Acts 6, the Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. Here’s how it happened:
In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. (Time out! The word distribution is the word “diakonia,” which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry. So the emphasis is on serving people.)
Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. (Stop once more! The word translated wait on or serve tables is diakonein, from the same root family as in v. 2, focusing on serving others). Back to the passage: Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. Literally, v. 4 reads, But we to the prayer and the “diakonia” of the word will steadfastly continue.
Now I’ve always heard that this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer and receive a fresh word from the Lord to preach to the people. But that is not the point of this passage.
The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders. Let me show you the clues that lead to this conclusion.
1) The context of this passage revolves around ministries. Verse 1 points out a problem with ministries. In v. 2, the apostles discuss what ministries they must do and the ones they must not do. In v. 3-4, they instruct that seven men be identified from among the congregation to take on this ministry. This section of Scripture is focused on ministry to people, not on personal issues.
2) The article before prayer in v. 4 points to something significant. Listen again: But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue. That little word “the” that appears before prayer indicates that this doesn’t mean prayer in general. It highlights something specific and important. The syntax of the sentence creates the possibility that the ministry of prayer and the word are twin ideas.
3) The example of the apostles in Acts points to the priority praying together held for them. Every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God’s people praying together.
Here is the point:
PRAYER IS THE WORK OF THE CHURCH
It’s not extracurricular activity. It’s not optional or diversionary.
It is THE WORK of the church.
If we, as a restoration movement, seek to truly live up to our calling and restore the new testament church we must have a burning commitment to restore the primacy of prayer in the church.
This week our “THIN PLACES” series looks at one of the ultimate thin places, prayer. How amazing is it that we have such a thin place available to us? That we can reach across the divide and be in the presence of God! Yet many times (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone) we treat prayer as an afterthought.
I will say again, prayer is THE WORK. The most important thing the people of God can do is seek Him together in prayer.
Prayer is the WORK of the church.
Let’s get to work, church.