These days, the gospel is being proclaimed online each week by more preachers than at any time in history. As the gospel is preached, prayer must continue to be our foundation. In previous articles (see Part 1 and Part 2), I noted how first the church was birthed in prayer, and that prayer should be the foundation to all we do. Next, I observed how prayer is our response in times of difficulty.
In this third article, I want us to see that prayer was as important to the leadership of the early church as was the preaching that was being done. If you are a preacher, I don’t need to convince you of the importance of preaching. If March 22 was the first time you ever preached online, and especially if you had technical issues (as many did), I doubt I have to talk to you about the importance of prayer. I saw some pastors asking for prayer because of the technical issues they’ve faced.
When we read Acts, we see constant references to prayer. But I think we can think of prayer and preaching separately and not bring them together adequately. Sometimes, we think the most important thing we do is preaching when, if you read Acts closely, you see that prayer is mentioned far more frequently.
How did the apostles deal with issues that came up in the church? They didn’t have to figure out how to use Facebook Live so they won’t be sideways on a screen, but they did have the issue of widows being neglected. This was a real problem that needed a good solution. These weren’t complainers. These widows were genuinely being neglected. Today, we too need to pay attention to those being neglected and to prioritize helping the most vulnerable.
How did the apostles respond?
Here’s what they didn’t do: they didn’t stop their calling because there was a need. Every need is not a calling. They didn’t overreact, stop what they were doing, and physically meet the need themselves.
On the other hand, they didn’t ignore the real need as an inconvenience or as unimportant. What they did was to remind the church of their calling and then sought the Lord for a solution. In Acts 6, we read: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” Instead, they chose godly and wise men to do that important ministry. However, they concluded, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (vs. 4).
Read that verse again. Prayer and the ministry of the word. Both matter a great deal. But it’s too easy today to focus on the ministry of the word and to neglect prayer. People today are tweeting about being stir crazy and struggling to find ways to fill time. Could that be an indictment of our prayerlessness?
Perhaps a global pandemic can do more than awaken us to the need to pray for a solution to the crisis. Perhaps it can bring us back to seeing the joy and peace that comes from simply resting with the Lord in prayer?
Is your praying as important as your preaching? Is prayer as important as the ministry of the word, not only to you, but to your church?
Church buildings are empty, but prayer closets can be full. Family altars can be established or renewed. We can help our churches pray for peace over fear, for patience over stressing.
Oswald Chambers put it this way, "We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God's wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before anything we do at all."
We see this in the early church, and God answered their prayers throughout the Book of Acts. Let’s be doing it again in our day.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.