God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we learned why the enemies of Jesus were completely flummoxed when they considered how to respond to Peter and John sharing Christ with the Jews. If you’re interested, you can check that post out here: Who’s Standing Beside You? — Acts 4:14-22. In today’s post we’ll look at how Peter and John responded to persecution. (It might not be what you’re expecting.)
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
“for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.Acts 4:23-31
What the Disciples Didn’t Pray For
They were completely innocent and were in fact literally doing God’s work. And they were arrested for it. They were arrested for sharing Jesus.
Yet they didn’t pray for protection against being arrested again.
They saw what happened to their leader, their Lord, their Savior, Jesus. He too was completely innocent but arrested. And he was found guilty and crucified. They killed him.
Yet they didn’t pray for protection from physical harm.
(As an aside, here’s something I always marvel at: Their country was occupied by the Romans during the time of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles, but not once in the New Testament do we see anyone praying for a new government)
They didn’t storm the high priest’s headquarters or organize a protest — or express their outrage on social media.
Their response to their persecution was to pray.
And this is what they said to God.
What the Disciples Did Pray For
When Peter and John were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them . . .”
So they start by using words from Psalm 146. And Psalm 146 was written in a spirit of praise. It begins like this:
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” So the disciples are praying in a spirit of praise. (Psalm 146:1-2)
The specific words they use from Psalm 146 come from 146 verse 6. It’s the way they address God. They’re emphasizing His sovereignty. God “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them . . .” (Psalm 146:6)
Then they recognize God’s prophetic words about Jesus from Psalm 2 when they say,
“. . . through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
”Why did the Gentiles rage, and the prophets plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'” (see Psalm 2)
They recognize that when God refers to “his Anointed” there in Psalm 2, He’s speaking of Jesus. The rulers in Jerusalem were gathered together against Jesus when they arrested Peter and John, and ordered them to stop sharing Christ. The rulers were gathered together against Jesus when the Sanhedrin and Herod and Pilot tried Jesus and crucified him. As they pray the disciples recognize these events are a fulfillment of God’s prophecy and, as difficult as they are, they’re a part of God’s plan. The disciple’s hardship at the hands of the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ death, all their difficulty, it’s all God’s sovereign will.
Then they pray,
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and . . .”
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats . . .” and get us out of this situation! Help us to escape these men. Remove this problem from us, or remove us from this problem!
No, that’s not what they prayed.
“And now Lord, look upon their threats . . .” and protect us from them! Because You have seen what they’ve done and you know what they’re capable of. They might hurt us. They might kill us.
No, that’s not what they prayed.
“And now Lord, look upon their threats . . .” and remove them from power, because they’re bad men making bad policy!
No, that’s not what they prayed either.
This is what they asked of God, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . .”
They asked God for His continued help in communicating Jesus to the world. They asked for God to help them to continue to do what Jesus commanded them to do. They asked for God to help them to continue to do what Jesus commanded all of us to do. (Mark 16:15,Luke 14:23,Matthew 28:19-20,Acts 1:7-8,Mark 16:15-16)
In response to their persecution, in response to their suffering, they asked God to help them to share Jesus.
And as a part of that help, they asked God to stretch out His hand to heal people, and to perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. Because this foundation of love from God is what made what they said about Jesus so effective. The healing of the lame man resulted in five thousand being saved. (Another aside: I’ve written many times before, most of us haven’t been given an ability to perform miraculous healings or signs or wonders. The key is to focus on what you have been given. What works is to focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do. God is God, and He can use whatever it is you can do in Jesus’ name. Even if it feels small.) (Acts 4:4)
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)
So the disciples recognized the opposition they faced, when sharing Jesus, was all a part of God’s plan. From what they prayed I think they also recognized God is way more concerned about our eternal condition than He is about our current comfort. Most of us have a tendency to concern ourselves with making our current situation as convenient and comfortable as possible. We also tend to focus on making things go the way we think they should go, the way we want them to go.
When I was younger I used to pray this way a lot. I’ll bare my soul here. There was a time when I used to pray God would give me five million dollars. I also used to pray he would give me enough money to pay off all my debts. I used to pray he would give my kids victory on the tennis court, and on the soccer field, and on the basketball court. I used to pray for promotions at work. I used to pray for worldly success.
Some of those prayers are worse than others. Some of those prayers aren’t horrible. Maybe some of those prayers are OK. But now that I’m older, I don’t pray that way anymore.
Now I’m trying to pray the way the disciples prayed in our passage. More and more I’m praying for God to have His way in my life — even if it’s hard. More and more I’m praying for God to help me to prosper, not in a worldly sense, but in bearing fruit for Him, in doing the work of His kingdom. More and more I’m praying for Him to help me to obey Jesus’ command to communicate Jesus and his love to the people around me and to the world.
When I pray this way, I increase my chances of receiving the Holy Spirit the way the disciples did in our text, and I want that, I need that. I need God to fill me with His Holy Spirit the way He did Peter and John. (Acts 4:31) And, when I pray this way my life can be shaken up, even as the place where the disciples were gathered was shaken. But ultimately it’s for my own greater good. It might be hard on my current comfort but ultimately it’s for the benefit of my eternal condition. And, when I pray this way, when my life focus becomes God’s will and not my own, my trust in our Father escalates, and my anxiety diminishes. When I surrender my life to Jesus, then when things don’t go my way I’m more likely to not stress about it. I’m more likely to feel God standing there next to me and saying, “Trust Me. This isn’t what you envisioned, I know, but just trust Me. It’s going to be OK.”
And what I’ve found is that It might even be way beyond OK.
It might even be amazing.
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com
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- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
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- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
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