The Crisis of Prayer

Title: The Crisis of Prayer

Bible Book: Acts 4 : 23-35

Author: Stephen F. Olford

Subject: Prayer; Praying



Between Chapters 2 and 4 of the Acts of the Apostles, we find that the church had passed into a state of fear and frustration. Although the apostles themselves were bold when brought before the magistrates, the reaction to this ordeal had deeply affected them. So these wonderful Christians called a prayer meeting, and what took place constitutes one of the classic passages in the Word of God on pressure praying. We read that, "The place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). In every sense of the word, they experienced the crisis of praying.

For our instruction, I want us to look at the setting, the significance, and the sequel of this prayer meeting.

I. The Setting Of This Prayer Meeting

"And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them" (v. 23).

The disciples had really been through it. The record makes it clear that for those early Christians this was:

A. A Time Of Tribulation

They were commanded "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). At this point in time, Jerusalem was no fair city with open churches and freedom of speech. The apostles were against it, and to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus was forbidden. Nor could they buy themselves out of this kind of situation. The church was poor. Addressing a lame man who asked for alms, Peter had to say, "Silver and gold I do not have" (Acts 3:6); and yet this is when God breaks through in revival.

History shows that the Spirit of God is never poured out upon a church that is rich and increased with goods. I am not suggesting that it is a sin to have a good home and plenty of money, but I am saying that one of the greatest dangers in the religious world is when we turn from a hunger for the living God to a state of mind when we have need of nothing. There is something wrong with Christians when they do not suffer tribulation in some form or other. For Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

B. A Time Of Persecution

We read that after the apostles were beaten, the Sanhedrin threatened them by commanding "they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go" (Acts 5:40). There was a quality of life, which created hostility and belligerency from the outside world. The point is that there was no compromise on the part of these early disciples. It wasn't the "in thing" to be a Christian.

How this differs from our day! Whoever would think of being persecuted just for being a Christian? And yet this is precisely the case in other parts of the world. But the significant thing about it is that where tribulation and persecution exist, revival also breaks out. This does not mean, of course, that we are to go into the world and stir up strife for the sake of strife; but on the other hand, we should never neutralize society. Our quality of life should either attract or antagonize. Jesus said: "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). And again, "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:12).

This, then, is the setting of this prayer meeting. But now look with me at:

II. The Significance Of This Prayer Meeting

"And being let go, they went to their own companions" (v. 23).

What significance is bound up in those words "their own companions!" There is no greater force on earth than a church at prayer. When Jesus left His few disciples to work out in the world all that He had wrought out on the cross, He told them to go back to Jerusalem to pray. This is when the Holy Spirit came down and the church was born; this is when global evangelization began and the world took notice. Observe three important aspects of Christ's praying:

A. There Was A Unity Of Voice

"They raised their voice to God with one accord" (v. 24).

Sectarianism had not entered into the church at this point; they were one company. Such was the outward hostility produced by their Spirit-filled lives that they were knit together. There was only one group to which they could go to breathe out their problems and sorrows and breathe in the rarefied air of heaven--and that group was the company of Christians. We read that they were of "one accord."

Here was unity in prayer; and something happens when "brethren...dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133:1): the Spirit comes down in anointing blessing--"like precious oil" (Ps. 133:2); refreshing blessing "like the dew of Hermon" (Ps. 133:3); and commanding blessing--"The Lord commands the blessing" (Ps. 133:3).

B. There Was A Clarity Of Vision

"Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them" (v. 24).

They had a great conception of God. To them, He was the God of sovereignty--"Lord, You are God" (v. 24). The word here is despotes or despot, the unrivaled ruler of the universe. He stands apart from the earth and sea and all that He has made.

How we need to catch a vision of God who is outside of our world, and yet totally involved in it! To the disciples, He was not only the God of sovereignty, but also the God of prophecy, "who by the mouth of Your servant David have said" (v. 25). In their prayer they quote Psalm 2, which speaks of the One who sits in the heaven and laughs at puny man. And as Spurgeon once said, "If the laugh of God is so terrible, what will His frown be like?"

The vision, then, was of the God of sovereignty, prophecy, and also the God of history. Behind Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the nations, God was at work doing "whatever [His] hand and [His] purpose determined before to be done" (v. 28). What a vision of God! How far removed from the shallow and shameful concepts we have today!

In that prayer meeting, they scaled the heavens to see the God of sovereignty, prophecy and history. No wonder the place was shaken. No wonder they stormed out with boldness to shake the city of Jerusalem.

But with the unity of voice and purity of vision:

C. There Was A Purity Of Value

"Now, Lord, look on their threats and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus" (vv. 29-30).

You will notice that they did not pray for little things. These men and women prayed for revival. They wanted God to shake the world of their day. In the context of threatenings and tribulations, they did not ask for any alleviation of their situation; on the contrary, they prayed for boldness to expound the Word of Christ--"Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word" (v. 29). Whether publicly or privately, they wanted everyone in Jerusalem to hear the gospel.

They prayed for boldness to extend the work of Christ--"By stretching out Your hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be done" (v. 30). Their longing was to extend the work and build up the church of Jesus Christ.

They prayed for boldness to extol the worth of Christ--by making known "the name of [the] holy Servant Jesus" (v. 30). Nothing really mattered save the name and fame of the Lord Jesus. Their reputation counted for nothing. His glory meant everything.

What a prayer meeting and how significant the unity of their voice, the clarity of their vision, and the purity of their values!

Finally we see:

III. The Sequel To This Prayer Meeting

"And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" (v. 31).

I remember hearing Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach on this text. During his sermon, he said quite simply and sincerely that he believed God could still shake buildings if prayer meant to us what it did to those early disciples. But whether or not buildings are shaken, we ought to see the bulwarks of hell shaken if there is a real prevailing in prayer, for our God is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).

Three results followed this prayer meeting:

A. There Was Great Power In The Ministry Of The Church

"And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (v. 33).

What the Savior had promised for the task of witnessing was fulfilled in their lives in a fresh visitation. You will remember that He said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

How we need to know that power today! Without it all witnessing is futile; and yet this is the task of the church to the end of the age. The reason we have no great power is because we have no great prayer meetings.

B. There Was Great Grace In The Fellowship Of The Church

"And great grace was upon them all" (v. 33).

"Grace" is a lovely word. It is the love of God in action. The spirit of liberality and hospitality was so shed abroad that no one had any lack. We read that "they distributed to each as anyone had need" (v. 35). There was a conscious spirit of community--a sharing and a caring that was beautiful to behold. No wonder the world looked on with utter amazement.

C. There Was Great Fear In The Discipline Of The Church

"So great fear came upon those who heard these things" (Acts 5:5).

When sin reared its ugly head in the persons of Ananias and Sapphira, the judgment of God fell upon the perpetrators, and we read that fear came upon all the church and the world had to stand back and respect the Christian community. Christians were as salt in the earth and light in the world. Anyone with discernment could see the three characteristics--great power, great grace, and great fear. This is what happened after that Pentecostal prayer meeting.

Can we be satisfied with anything less? Let us see to it that we know something of this praying in the Spirit, praying in the name of the Lord Jesus, praying according to the will of God, praying in the assurance revival will truly come. God does not work in spite of us. He works through us, but He works only in answer to prayer. God teach us the crisis of praying until we can say:


"Bring us low in prayer before Thee

And with faith our souls inspire,

Till we claim, by faith, the promise

Of the Holy Ghost and fire." Paul Rader

Stephen F. Olford, Founder and Senior Lecturer The Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching Memphis, Tennessee



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