Praying Through Difficulty

By Lee Jones

//Acts 4:23-31//

Many Christians express dissatisfaction with their prayer habits, and they cite differing reasons for that feeling. Some of those reasons are lack of time, thinking they’ve not been heard, even exhaustion from trials sapping any energy for focused prayer. 

The apostles Peter and John had a harrowing experience in Acts 4:13-22 which resulted in a remarkable prayer that deserves some focus. 

In Acts 3, Peter and John get themselves into some hot water over the healing of a lame beggar (3:1-10) and Peter’s subsequent open-air sermon (3:11-26). Both men were hauled in by the Jewish and Gentile authorities to answer for these victimless crimes. They gave a faithful answer, were threatened (4:21), and were let go without formal punishment. 

So they returned to their companions to report what happened. Rather than organizing a union, starting a protest to Occupy Jerusalem, or angrily tweeting to promote social justice, they took their petition directly to God in prayer. 

That prayer has elements that are crucial to every Christian’s prayer discipline, regardless of circumstance. 

First, in verse 24, they begin by praising God. Regardless of how we feel about the various prayer acrostics you can find online, the good ones always begin with praise. That’s the biblical way. After all, our Father in heaven is worthy of praise, and we seek for his name to be hallowed (Matt. 6:9). He rules over everything. 

Grounded in rightly seeing God, the group continues their prayer in the words of scripture, particularly Psalm 2. The Bible is filled cover to cover with inspired words, and our prayers are best when they’re informed by scripture, and to pray God’s inspired word back to him is a beautiful thing. 

The group takes comfort (verse 25, 26) in Psalm 2’s description of the Messiah’s troubles. Jesus promised that his disciples would be mistreated like him, as described in Matthew 10:24 and John 15:18-20. 

Prayer is not intended to change God's purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment.

—Arthur W. Pink

These apostles and disciples knew that the scripture testified about Jesus, so it is entirely proper to read the psalm this way. They recognized the inspiration of this passage in verse 25, and therefore know it is truthful (God never lies), so it can be used to discern what is happening around the them at their present moment. We can and should use scripture the same way today, to use a biblical perspective to look into our culture and current events. As this passage shows, that kind of discernment belongs in our prayers as well. When we notice evil in the world, we must run to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) and we know God hears those prayers. 

The discernment they practice in this passage is intrinsically connected to, and caused by, God’s sovereignty. The group recognized all this persecution is due to what YHWH’s “hand and plan had predestined to take place” (verse 28). They connect the suffering to Jesus’ suffering, which was appointed by God for their ultimate good. The Greek word here for predestined, proōrisen, is the same word used in Romans 8:30 (those predestined he also called) and I Cor. 2:7 (wisdom which God decreed before the ages), just to name two. The events recounted here in Acts are not a surprise to God, they were planned and accomplished by God in accordance with his will. That helps us make sense of the difficulties in our lives, just as it did for the praying group here. 

Furnish thyself with arguments from the promises to enforce thy pravers, and make them prevalent with God. The promises are the ground of faith, and faith, when strengthened, will make thee fervent, and such fervency ever speeds and returns with victory out of the field of prayer.... The mightier any is in the Word, the more mighty he will be in prayer.

—William Gurnall

Finally, after praising God, recognizing he gave us faithful biblical testimony, and that he is sovereign over all creation, they seek his help in verses 29 and 30. They ask him to give them boldness, not safety (as many of us would think to ask). The natural response would be to shrink back after an ordeal like Peter and John’s, yet they ask God to fuel them all the more for ministry. They asked also for further demonstrations of Jesus’ power through healing and other wonders, which were hallmarks of the Apostles’ ministry. God powerfully answered that prayer, and quickly, as the room they were gathered in was shaken and the Holy Spirit gave them boldness (verse 30). 

This passage is incredibly encouraging and challenging for us. While we in the US are fortunate, on a whole, to experience soft persecution at the worst, we still find ourselves in many situations that try our faith. In those times, it is good to be reminded of the elements in this passage to strengthen our faith and prayers in times of distress. This passage reminds us that:

-God is worthy of praise on all occasions, and giving him glory fuels our joy.

-God is sovereign and orders all things according to the counsel of his will, and we should have confidence in that.

-We must utilize scripture in our prayers, which helps us to clearly see God and to discern our times.

-We must seek God’s help in moving forward in the great commission.

Prayer like this isn’t a chore or a duty or a drudgery. It’s a joy-fueled, joy-fueling, relational connection to YHWH that should be treasured, enjoyed, and repeated often, unceasingly. 

Glory to God alone. 

Lee Jones