The Narrative Lectionary reading for today is Acts 4:23-31. I decided to go back and look to see what I wrote about this passage in the Hart Haus Acts study. Here it is. You’ll notice a slight change in my language since then. Namely, I still referred to God as “He” and talked about God’s plan rather than God’s promise. Other than that, I think it still speaks.
When the disciples walked with Jesus they asked if he would teach them how to pray. The model prayer that he gave them is found in Matthew 6. The basic outline of the prayer is this:
- Father, you are the almighty, and I’m not.
- It is your Kingdom, and your plan, help me to get in step with you.
- Give me my daily Bread
- Keep me from evil.
In today’s reading we see the first example of the disciples praying this prayer in a real life circumstance. The church had just experienced their wave of resistance. The religious leaders, their spiritual fathers, had rejected them, accused them of being God-haters, and threatened them with harm if they did not cease and desist. Imagine the emotional turmoil they must have felt in the wake of this rejection. Most of us cannot grasp the level of the seismic shock they were experiencing in the fabric of their worldview. They thought they were serving God, yet the people who claimed to be God’s representatives told them they were evil. To say the least, they were confused and were most probably struggling with fear and doubt.
Notice what happens, though. They pray. In their prayer they follow the pattern of the master. In this prayer we can learn three important attitudes that we should have in the face of difficult circumstances.
It’s God’s plan, not ours
They addressed God as Sovereign Lord. He is the creator of all things. We must never forget that nothing is too big for God. Nothing takes him by surprise. He doesn’t sit way off in Heaven and think, “Whoa, I didn’t see that one coming…now what am I going to do?” No matter how terrible things may get – crucifying your leader, arresting and beating your pastor, losing your job, suffering injustice, etc. – God is in control and does actually have a plan at work.
It’s OK to emote to God
They quoted the greatest whiner in the Bible; David. Sometimes we can get this notion that good Christians don’t experience fear and doubt. Of course we do, we are human beings. The goal is not to be devoid of emotion like some kind of Vulcan guru. Rather, the goal is to follow the example of David; the man after God’s own heart. David was not afraid to openly express his fear, doubt, confusion, and anger to God. He also wasn’t afraid to express it in the forum of his community. After all, we read his heart-journal every time we open the Psalms. Yet, what is different about David as opposed to the average Joe is that David didn’t vent for the sake of venting. David brought his emotions to God, authentically expressed them, and then allowed God’s truth to pour in, flush them out, and leave him with a sense of peace and perspective at the end of the cathartic process. Just study David’s Psalms for a while and you will see that pattern emerge.
The disciples did the same thing. They were confused about the resistance they were experiencing and they expressed their emotion to God. Then they allowed God to deliver them from the fear and confusion and replace it with peace, joy, and perspective.
It’s God’s Work, not our strength
Once they were recalibrated to the plan and perspective of God (thy Kingdom come, thy will be done) then they were able to ask for the proper things. They didn’t ask for vengeance. They didn’t ask for God to remove their obstacles. They simply asked that God would empower them to be courageous conduits of the work that he wanted to do through them. It isn’t about us. It isn’t about our ability to strategically map out a plan to overthrow the enemy and rescue souls. It is simply about surrendering to the will of God and not allowing fear to inhibit us from being the conduit of his power through our lives.
A Booster Shot
Notice what happens after they pray. They experience another, mini, Day of Pentecost experience. The room shook and they were filled with the Spirit. Why did this happen? Hadn’t they already received the Spirit? Had they lost the Spirit? People will debate the answer to those questions until we get to Heaven.
Here is one thought. Perhaps this experience was God’s way of saying, “Don’t worry guys, I’m still with you. You may have been afraid, and you may have been confused, but you passed the first test with flying colors. Here’s a little encouragement and a turbo booster to keep you going.”