Uniform 09.06.2015: Praying for One Another

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Acts 4:23-31

In a song of my generation, the singer pleads, “Tell me what you want and I’ll give you what you need.”

I’ve learned over the years that my prayers often go like that—I ask God for what I want and God gives me what I need. Or sometimes I ask God for what I think I need and God gives me what I really need. I hope to grow in my faith to the point that I realize what I really need and ask God for that! That would be a more efficient way of praying.

But what do I need? What do we need?

Peter and John have just been released after being placed in custody for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. They go where their friends are, which is where you want to be when it’s time to celebrate or commiserate, or both. Having gotten together, they pray together, which is the appropriate thing for sisters and brothers in Christ to do in any and all circumstances.

Given their situation, Peter, John, and their friends make an understandable request. They ask for boldness to be faithful in proclaiming the good news in the face of the serious and mounting threats against them (v. 29). And they get the boldness for which they ask (v. 31). But the boldness they request comes to them as a result of receiving something for which they do not directly ask.

They ask for boldness; they get the Holy Spirit (v. 31). They ask for power; they get the presence of God. They request courage; they get the very life of God in their midst.

The Spirit comes first. Boldness comes as the result of the presence of God.

Acts is the second volume in the two-volume work Luke–Acts. We can detect Luke’s particular emphases by reading those two books as one. We can also detect them by comparing Luke’s presentation of passages that his Gospel holds in common with one or both of the other Synoptic (“seeing together”) Gospels, Mark and Matthew. One such passage is helpful in our reading of this week’s Acts passage.

It’s one in which Jesus is talking about prayer; it begins with “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Luke’s version is found in 11:9-13, Matthew’s in 7:7-11. The two passages are almost identical until we get to the very end, where Matthew has Jesus say, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” but Luke has him say, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (emphases added).

It’s as if Luke thought, “Yes, the Father wants us to have good things. But let’s put the best thing first! If we have the Holy Spirit, if we have the life of God in and among us, we’ll have everything we need.”

As we walk through this life following Jesus and serving others, we find ourselves needing and wanting a lot. The main thing we need, though, is the Holy Spirit, because the main thing we need is God to be with us in everything.

As we pray for ourselves and for one another, perhaps we should pray that, having received the Holy Spirit, we will always be aware of and tuned into the Spirit’s presence. That’s what we really need.

Discussion Questions

1. Is it important that we raise our “voices together to God” in prayer (v. 24) in addition to praying privately? Why or why not?
2. Peter, John, and their friends quoted Psalm 2:1-2 in their prayer (vv. 25-26). How can scripture help to shape the ways in which we pray?
3. Why do you think the group prayed for boldness in the face of persecution for sharing the good news of Jesus but did not pray directly for deliverance from persecution? What do we learn from their example about how we should pray?
4. Have you ever experienced boldness to share the good news that you knew came from the Holy Spirit? What was that like?
5. What kind of boldness to share the good news of Jesus do we need today?

Reference Shelf

Word and Deed

In this unit the witness to Jesus is understood to consist both of deeds (signs) and words. The word without the deed is insufficient because there is little interest in the abstractions of another’s system of belief. It takes the deeds to pique the interest and raise the questions. Likewise, the deed without the word is incomplete. Only if the true meaning of the event is known can one discern the proper response to make to it. In Luke-Acts, the deed and the word are held together as the necessary dual testimony to the truth about Jesus.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 47.

Boldness, not Deliverance

In the petition (vv. 29b-30), the people do not ask for deliverance from the trials, but that the master grant the servants to speak the word with “boldness.” They pray that they may proclaim the gospel openly, frankly, confidently, and courageously (all representing good understandings of parresia). They do ask for God to manifest God’s power (“stretch out your arm”), but they envision such power through demonstrations of God’s liberation, such as healing, which comes with the proclamation of the gospel, not the destruction of the community’s enemies.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 80.

Reference

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 295-300.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.

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