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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Acts 4:23-37 by Robert Dean
As we see Peter and John released from prison, they do something very interesting - they hold a prayer meeting. This brings us into a review of what the Bible says about prayer and what Scripture-based prayer is all about. When the Word of God says "pray without ceasing", what does that mean?

In this lesson we look at the mechanics of effective prayer: confession, gratitude, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition.
Duration:59 mins 41 secs

Scripture-Based Prayer. Acts 4:23-37

 

Acts 4:23 NASB "When they had been released, they went to their own {companions} and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them." This leads immediately into a prayer meeting as a response to the report. [24] "And when they heard {this,} they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, 'O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.'"

What we see here is a great example in the text of how a believer is to base prayer upon Scripture. Foundational to this is a knowledge of Scripture. It is impressive in these verses how they weave together different passages of Scripture by way of application.

The importance of prayer: In the New Testament prayer is emphasized as an on-going habitual pattern in every believer's life. Colossians 4:2 NASB "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with {an attitude of} thanksgiving." This was written to the every-day people who were part of the church in Colosse. This is the Greek verb proskartereo [proskarterew] and is a present active imperative. A present imperative verb emphasizing something that should be an ongoing action, something that should characterize our life on a day-to-day basis; it is to be a standard operating procedure, a normal characteristic of our life. The verb here means to continue to do something with an intense effort—something that is thought about, something that is planned for, something where you set aside time to accomplish it. It is a priority. So the mandate is to devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. So our mental attitude in prayer that is one of gratitude toward God for all that He is doing and all that He has provided for us in our life.

This word proskartereo is used in other passages of Scripture that help us to understand its application and use. Acts 1:14 NASB "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with {the} women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." The word "continually" has that idea of being devoted to prayer. Romans 12:12 NASB "rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer." Acts 2:42 NASB "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NASB "pray without ceasing," another present imperative, and the Greek word is adialeiptos [a)dialeiptwj] meaning consistently or habitually. So prayer is to continuously characterize our lives and we have to make it a focal point in our spiritual life.

Prayer is a grace provision of the royal priesthood whereby the church age believer has access and privilege to communicate directly with God. Because Jesus Christ died for our sins the veil separating us from God is removed, we don't have to go to God through an intermediary priesthood; every believer is a priest to God. Hebrews 4:12. The purpose of this communication is to acknowledge our sin (confession), to express adoration and praise to God, to give thanks for what God has provided, and to intercede for others as well as convey our own personal needs and petitions. Each of those elements can be a prayer in and of itself, or there can be all of those elements in a prayer. 

Notice that Peter and John "reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them." Before they prayed they got the facts, they didn't just get all excited that Peter and John were back and immediately says let's pray and start praying in ignorance. They waited until they had information from Peter and John before they prayed. So one of the first principles we see related to prayer is that effective prayer relies on fact and not feeling. The emphasis is on knowledge and content, not on emotion. Having said that, it is not to say that prayer isn't emotional. Verse 24, "after they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord…" They way we read that in the English makes it seem that this was something they did very rapidly. They may have done this fairly rapidly but as we go through the prayer and understand its structure it is not certain that this was something that was done extemporaneously. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with extemporaneous praying. 

In Bible churches we have this sort of "low church" approach where we pray extemporaneously. We don't know any pastors who sit down and write out their prayers and work on them for four or five hours a week and then come in and read their prayer on Sunday morning. That is something that is typical in a high church tradition, but there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it focus attention on a lot of things and many written prayers of that type are quite wonderful. For example, the English Book of Common Prayer from about 1760 or 1770 or thereabouts has wonderful prayers and they have tremendous appreciation for doctrine. So different church groups, different denominations have different approaches to prayer and they are, we think, all equally valid.

This prayer in Acts chapter four is one of those that has the appearance of some thought that went into it. That could just be because they have finally learned how to pray. Remember, these are the same disciples who went to Jesus and said: "Lord, teach us how to pray." This is a prayer that is built off some Old Testament passages. So to understand it we really need to understand the mechanics of how they are putting this prayer together. "After they heard this" could be ten minutes later, an hour later as they sat and thought about this prayer. They raise their voice to God and in a unity of mind—it could be that one person leads them, it doesn't mean they all prayed together although that is implied by the use of the third person plural, "their voice to God." That again would give support to the view that they had written this out so that they are praying it or reciting it together in unison.

The quotes in this prayer come from a couple of different passages, one of which is in Psalm 146. Acts 4:24 NASB "And when they heard {this,} they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, 'O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM," a quote from Psalm 146:6, although that phraseology is found in other verses. This initial part begins with adoration, that part of a prayer which focuses our attention on who God is and what He had done. It is a synonym for praise. (There is almost a hesitancy to use the word "praise" today because it has sort of been diluted by contemporary praise worship or praise chorus music which is extremely shallow and superficial in its reflections upon God) When they do this they are focusing on one particular aspect of God's character: that He is the creator.

This phrase is found in Exodus 20:11 as part of the commandment to observe the Sabbath. It is also found in 1 Chronicles 16:26 NASB "For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens." What are we emphasizing when we emphasize that God is the creator of everything? His sovereignty. The fact that He is the creator gives Him the right to dictate the rules for His creation, to run things the way He sees fit, because He establishes the laws that run the universe. So it is establishing Him as the ultimate authority. What is the situation then? It is that Peter and John have been dragged before the Sanhedrin, threatened and intimidated, and ordered not to proclaim the gospel anymore. Therefore it is an authority issue. So when they pray the first thing they do is go to Old Testament phraseology that reinforces the reality of God's ultimate authority over the universe and over their circumstances.

Nehemiah 9:6 NASB "You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You." Again at the beginning of prayer it takes our mindset and focuses it on just who God is: the God who is over everything. The bigger God appears in our thinking  the smaller our problems will appear.

There are four verses in the Psalms that reiterate the same idea. Psalm 121:2 NASB "My help {comes} from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:8 NASB "Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." Psalm 134:3 NASB "May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth." Psalm 136:5 NASB "To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting."

How is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob identified? He is identified again and again and again as the God who made the heavens, the earth, the seas and all that is in them. It is creation. If we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and are going to be consistent with that belief, which comes only from Genesis 12-50, we cannot throw out Genesis 1-11 unless we just don't like being consistent. Genesis 12 with the call of Abram, that God is going to make of him a special people through his seed (Isaac and Jacob), is built on the historicity and the truth of Genesis 1-11, which begins with creation. The creator God who made the heavens and the earth and the seas is not an option. Creation isn't optional if we are going to believe anything in the Bible from Genesis 12 to the end of Revelation. It is all built on the historicity of Genesis 1-11. That is why there is such an assault on that. But we can't escape the emphasis throughout the Old Testament on the God who made the heavens and the earth and the seas. The God of the Bible is defined as the God who made the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them.

Isaiah 37:16 NASB "O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned {above} the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth."

Jeremiah 32:17 NASB "Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You." That is the point that Peter and John are making here in this prayer. This just focuses thei9r attention on who God is and His omniscience.

It might be illuminating to look at the whole context of Psalm 146. This is a tremendous praise psalm. If someone wants to learn to truly praise God and sing a praise to God in a way that has depth and significance then this would be one of the psalms to begin with, to take the verbiage and the structure of this psalm and to see how that develops and compares to some of the songs and choruses that are sung today.

This is a praise psalm which is not attributed to any particular author. The psalmist in a praise psalm calls his listeners to praise the Lord. He is going to explain why we should praise the Lord and then he is going to express his own praise to God. He begins with a command: Psalm 146:1 NASB "Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!" In the Hebrew "Praise the Lord" is hallelujahhallelu is the second person plural command to praise; jah is the first syllable in the name of Yahweh. Literally it is "Praise Yahweh," a command to those who are listening to praise Yahweh. There are 150 psalms. The last five, 146-150, are called "the great hallel." There are a couple of different hallel groups. There is the Egyptian hallel which was sung at Passover—Psalms 113-118. The final collection of praise psalms is 146-150.  Praise the LORD, O my soul!" is referring to himself, calling upon himself to praise the Lord and focus the attention of people. 

Then there is a declaration of praise where the psalmist vows to sing praise to God. Psalm 146:2 NASB "I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being." We can see that there is a synonymous parallelism here. The first line is mirrored in the second line.

Then having made his declaration or his vow of praise he begins to express in the next two verses his convictions about praise and why God is worthy of praise. This is seen specifically in vv. 3-5. Why is God worthy of praise? Psalm 146:3 NASB "Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation." He is worthy of praise because only God is immutable and all-powerful. He is contrasted to the fallibility and finitude of human beings. Don't put your trust in mortal man, there is no salvation. All the promises that politicians make cannot provide health and happiness. They can only do what the US Constitution says, and that is to provide an environment where the individual citizen in utilizing his own personal volition can decide to pursue his own path for health and happiness. The government can't provide it. 

The reason is explained. Psalm 146:4 NASB "His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish." Man doesn't live forever. He is going to die and his spirit will leave the body. Man is finite; he is only here, as Moses said in Psalm 90, for three-score and ten. His life is like a vapor; his thoughts perish. This is not saying that there is no life after death, it is saying that as far as the impact that any of us is going to have on this earth it ends the day we die.

But in contrast. Psalm 146:5 NASB "How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob…" It is the God of Jacob who preserved the family of Jacob by bringing them down to Egypt where earlier He had brought Joseph. It is the God of Jacob who delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and brought them back to the land, etc. "… Whose hope [confidence] is in the LORD his God." So in vv. 3-5 the psalmist is saying that God, because of who He is, because He is omnipotent and infinite, is the one who is worthy of praise. 

Then the quote that Peter and John pick up in Acts chapter four.  This God is defined. He is not just the God of Jacob, He is the God—

Psalm 146:6 NASB "Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them…" That means everything. Peter and John go to this verse because it is emphasizing the authority of God over His creation—which includes the Sanhedrin and the religious leaders in Jerusalem who are threatening them and are in opposition to them. But there is something else that goes on as we read through the rest of this psalm. We begin to see ten things that the psalmist emphasizes about what God provides for us. And this is a great lesson for us on how to pray from the psalms and how to be reminded of God's character, His attributes, and connect this to other promises.

The first thing he says after he has made the identification in verse 6 is, "… Who keeps faith [truth] forever." That means He is faithful. He holds to the truth; He doesn't vary. He is the one who keeps faith or keeps truth forever. The word emeth [truth] is a word that could mean faithful, meaning stable, non-changing, and truth also has that idea of that which is eternal and never changes. This reminds us of Lamentations 3:21-23, written by Jeremiah after the first temple was destroyed. NASB "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. {They} are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness." Hope doesn't come from our emotions, it comes from what we are thinking about—eternal truth.

The next attribute mention is in the first part of Psalm 146:7 NASB "Who executes justice for the oppressed…" A reminder of Psalm 37:5, 6 NASB "Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light And your judgment [righteousness] as the noonday." The idea here is that there is the oppressed who are being treated unjustly but God is the one who will take a stand for us and bring forth our righteousness. The second thing: "…Who gives food to the hungry." He provides the physical sustenance that we need. E.g. Elijah at the brook Cherith, the feeding of the five thousand, the supply of manna for Israel in the wilderness. Luke 12:22, 23 NASB "And He said to His disciples, 'For this reason I say to you, do not worry about {your} life, {as to} what you will eat; nor for your body, {as to} what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.'" Jesus said that we are to put our focus on spiritual food. Matthew 4:4 NASB "But He answered and said, 'It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"  "…The LORD sets the prisoners free." This is what happens at salvation. We are freed from the tyranny of sin. Cf. Romans 6:6; Galatians 6:1.

Psalm 146:8 NASB "The LORD opens {the eyes of} the blind…" (Cf. Ephesians 1:18 NASB "{I pray that} the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.") "…The LORD raises up those who are bowed down," those who are depressed, overwhelmed by their circumstances. He is the God who encourages and gives us real comfort from His Word. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 NASB "Blessed {be} the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.")  "The LORD loves the righteous." His love is not based on who we are but on who He is. (Romans 5:8 NASB "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.")

Psalm 146:9 NASB "The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked."

The Lord is the one who protects us. He watches over us and those who cannot protect themselves. (Psalm 18:2, 3 NASB "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies." Psalm 71:3, 4 NASB "Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the grasp of the wrongdoer and ruthless man")

Psalm 146:10 NASB "The LORD will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!"

The focal point of the opening part of the prayer ion Acts 4 is on God's power. Isaiah 46:9, 10 NASB "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; {I am} God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'"

When we say God is the God who creat5ed the heavens, the earth and the seas and all that is in them, that sets the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from all other gods and goddesses that human beings invented, because this God is not a God of human invention.

Their focus is on who God is on who God is and that God is bigger than their problems.