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The Essentials: Devoted to Prayer

We have begun looking at what the first disciples of Jesus devoted themselves to after hearing and responding  to the gospel and what are the 7 Essentials we can’t grow without. Acts 2:42 reveals that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. And it is opportunity to ask ourselves what are we devoted to? We have already explored their devotion to fellowship, so now we turn our attention to “prayers,” and this is not the only occasion that the infant church is described as being devoted to prayer. 

After Jesus’ ascension before the Holy Spirit even came the Apostles went to the room upstairs where they were staying. They along with the women, Mary Jesus’s mother and his brothers were continually united in prayer one translation says “with one accord [and] were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Later, the Apostles appointed seven men to oversee the distribution of food to widows so that they could “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So, what does it mean to be devoted to prayer?

First, I think devotion to prayer means that prayer is prioritized. The first century church frequently assembled for the purpose of praying. Journey through the book of Acts and you’ll discover that they assembled to pray for a variety of reasons. For example, to pray about important decisions, such as the decision to replace Judas as an Apostle (Acts 1:24). The church assembled to pray for courage, particularly after Peter and John’s interrogation by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:29-30). The church assembled to pray about circumstances like Paul’s trip to Jerusalem (Acts 21:5-6). The church assembled to pray about their leaders. 

What we learn from the first century church regarding prayer is that it is intended to be our first response not our last resort. Don’t we all too often consult God after we have attempted to solve things on our own or after we have exhausted all other options? But this was not the way the early church practiced prayer. When Peter pointed out the need to replace Judas as an apostle the church’s first response was not to campaign for candidates or make a pros and cons list of each individual. Instead, their first response was to gather together for prayer. 

When Peter was imprisoned, the church’s first response was not to rush to the palace of King Herod and plead for his release nor was it to petition the courts for an appeal. Instead, their first response was to gather together for prayer. The first century church possessed a “seek first” mentality. Before they worried about what they could do they turned the matter over to God to see what God could do.

They sincerely applied Paul’s instructions about prayer in Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Before they worried, before they tried to solve things, they prayed.

Second, I think devotion to prayer means that prayer is a disciplined mindset. Prayer is often associated with a place and a time throughout Scripture. For example, in Acts 3:1 we learn that Peter and John went “up to the temple at the hour of prayer, [which was] the ninth hour” (3:00 p.m.) In Acts 10:30 we find out that Cornelius received his angelic vision when he “was praying in [his] house at the ninth hour.” In Acts 10:9 we read that Peter “went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray (12:00 p.m.). 

It is also worth noting that when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He included the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). In that little statement, Jesus instructed His disciples to make prayer a daily routine without directly telling them to make prayer a daily routine. The fact that prayer is presented in Scripture as a habitual and timely practice indicates that it should be viewed as a spiritual exercise that we intentionally include into our daily schedule.

But then on the other hand prayer is also described in Scripture as a constant, continual, or timeless activity. For example, Cornelius is described as “a devout man who feared God” and one of the pieces of evidence for his faithfulness to God was the fact that he “prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:1, 2). Throughout Paul’s letters he instructed his readers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), “be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “[pray] at all times” (Ephesians 6:18), and “continue earnestly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2). The fact that prayer is presented in Scripture as a continual activity indicates that prayer should also be a mindset to which we instinctively turn at a moment’s notice.

Third, Devotion to prayer means that prayer is not viewed as inconsequential. In other words, the first century church did not pray as though they thought their prayers didn’t matter. They prayed with the belief that God was listening to their requests. Consider in Acts 12:1-5 when Peter was imprisoned. The church gathered to pray for his safety and his release. You have to remember that they were in a heightened state of fear because James was executed not long before and the popularity of his death among the Jews had caused Herod to pursue Peter. From the church’s vantage point, it was a real possibility that they would lose Peter as well so they prayed for God to intervene. They did not think the matter was too big for God to handle.

We recognize that God is wiser than us and we may not get the answer we want or feel like it is unanswered. But just because we know that God’s will takes precedence doesn’t mean we should refrain from asking. Remember that throughout the New Testament prayer is presented as a unique privilege. John wrote, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:15-16). And James adds, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). 

The point being made in all these passages is that prayer is powerful, not inconsequential. When we look at the New Testament, we see that there are myriads of scriptures telling us to pray without stopping and continue in prayer. And we could spend more time with me trying to convince us that you need to be devoted to prayer. That prayer is supposed to be a vital connection for you to God. But you know that. But prayer is still a challenge. Prayer is difficult. These are some of the reasons why we can struggle with prayer, neglect prayer, and not be devoted to prayer. So, let’s see how maybe we can overcome the obstacles to a vibrant prayer life.

First, we have to realize and believe that God Wants You To Talk To God. We need to know that God wants us to talk to God. Too often we can think of prayer as something formal rather than a way to talk to our Father, our heavenly parent whatever image you need if your earthly father wasn’t a great mentor for you. The reason we are told to pray is not because this is supposed to be yet another rule we are supposed to follow. We are told to pray because God wants to hear from us.

Having almost finished being a parent for 19 years I feel I understand that better each day. Parents want to hear from their children. But they especially want to hear from their children when they are far away. Hannah is about to start college at Vol State. We are moving here to Nolensville in early July. A good portion of her life is centered in Hendersonville still. Hannah and I have a strong bond and I made a covenant to care for her after my divorce. We are in two peas in a pod.

So her life heads into a new direction and there is always that fear at least for me that our relationship will be left behind with that old life. On my phone Hannah has had a special ringtone for a number of years. It is Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid. I try to stop everything when that ringtone goes off. It does not matter what is happening except apparently worship. Maybe you do that too for your kids. Why do we do that? Because we want to talk to our child who is far away from us in one way or another.

On this day we celebrate the men in our life like our earthly dads...sometimes we fail to communicate with our earthly fathers the way we want…we lose sight…my dad...

Friends, our Father is in heaven and we are physically separated from Him. But God wants to hear from us. God wants to know what is happening in our lives. God wants to know how we are doing. God wants us to share what we need. God wants us to hear about our victories and about our difficulties. We are not bothering God. God wants to hear from us. God is not so busy or so big that God does not want us to come to Him with our issues. If God had a refrigerator your and my picture would be on it. Not only this, but

God Wants To Answer You. Prayer is not a vain exercise where you are simply getting things off of your chest. God wants to answer our prayers. Listen to what Jesus said about this in Luke 11:5–8: Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” 

So Jesus begins with a simple story. If you have a friend that you are pestering at midnight, you may not want to act on the request because of the friendship, but you will act because of the audacity displayed. You are going to get what you need simply because your friend wants you to go away. Now Jesus continues with a contrast. 9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13 NIV)

Our Father in heaven is going to open the door for you when you knock on it. Our Father is going to give to us what we ask. God wants to answer our prayers. In fact, God wants to bless us with good gifts. If you ask your earthly father for food, is he going to give you something to harm you instead? Even we as humans who are bent toward evil know how to give good gifts. So how much more will our Father in heaven do the same for us?

Now please let this sink in: God wants to answer your prayers. God is not a stubborn father figure who is not interested in God’s children or who is completely disengaged from the concerns and cares of us. God knows how to give good gifts. God wants to give us good gifts. God is in this for our good not for our harm. God wants you to talk and God wants to answer you.

But with this renewed desire to pray, something is going to happen. You and I are going to pray for things in faith, knowing that God is listening and wants to give to us, but the answer is going to be no. We are going to pray for something and it is not going to happen. It’s a no dawg. We can become depressed and dejected because our Father, who says that He loves us, wants to hear from us, and will answer us, did not give us what we asked for. We think that if God loves us then God is going to answer our prayer and say yes to our requests. Why would God ever deny our requests? Before I answer this, I want us to think about parenting for a moment. Even if you are not a parent, you had parents. Do parents always say yes to their children? When parents say no, does that mean that they do not love their children?

No, in fact, good parents say no BECAUSE they love their children. The parents know that the request is not for the child’s good. Parents say no because they have the understanding and wisdom to know that whatever is being requested is not for the welfare of the child.

Please hear this:  God does not say no because God does not love us. God does not say no because God does not care. God says no because it is for our good. God says no sometimes because God has something else that God is going to do. God says no because God has a different purpose than perhaps what we are looking at. 

Be devoted to prayer 

The Essentials: Devoted to Fellowship

June 12, 2022

Now that we have moved past Pentecost and the 3,000 who heard the message from all the known world, we begin to examine what these people immediately did once they became followers of Jesus. Once they were added to the Lord, we see in Acts 2:42 that these Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to breaking bread, to fellowship, and to prayers (Acts 2:42).

Today we are focused on how they devoted themselves to fellowship.

But what does that word fellowship mean when it is used in the Bible? Modern thinking has really distorted the meaning of this word from how it was used in the scriptures. People typically think of eating together, watching tv together, shopping together, or something along those lines when speaking about fellowship. The idea of a “fellowship hall” is a misnomer when it is the place that the church eats donuts and drinks soda or eating a meal. Food, potlucks, and barbecues or even spending time together is not the focus of biblical fellowship. 

This should make sense to us even if we did not know anything about the scriptures. I mean, If we reread Acts 2:42 and see what this sounds like. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to breaking bread, to prayers, and to food, potlucks, and barbecues. Does that even sound right? This cannot be the meaning of fellowship and it is not the meaning of fellowship.

How do we know that? Because of how the word for Fellowship is used and pictured in other parts of the New Testament. First, listen to what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:9. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Here it is not about gathering for food and drink, clearly the idea of fellowship is something much, much bigger and much more important than spending time together having some fun. Look at what the apostle John writes in 1 John 1:3-7 and as we read, pay attention to the word “fellowship.” 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one anotherand the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:1–7 NRSV)

Biblical Fellowship is something deep and important. What we see is that fellowship is a sharing, a connection, and a partnership that bonds us together. John says that if we are walking in the light, following the apostles’ teaching, then we have participation in the gospel with each other and with the Lord. Paul used fellowship in the same way. We were called into fellowship with God’s Son. 

What were we called to? We were called to having a relationship, a connection, a sharing, and participation with Jesus. What I want us to see is that fellowship is a spiritual bond that leads to a working together. Fellowship is an intimate connection with Jesus that leads us to be closely and deeply bound to each other as the people of God.

And that leads us back to Acts 2:42 and they devoted themselves to fellowship. The Greek translation of the word paints a simple picture for us. The word here used for fellowship is Koinōniawhich means Close mutual association. A bible dictionary explains it this way… a company of equals or friends. The picture in Acts of the Church was of a people who were so connected, so living out what Jesus taught… that it pervaded their entire lives…and God blessed it!

The early Church was not about discussions whether to go to Church or not, whether to get involved or not, or whether to be part of small groups or not. The found any excuse they could to get together. That is why the early Church is such a powerful example. It shows us when it was new and functioning well. It shows us some keys for us now and what we can work towards.

And what we read in the rest of Acts 2 is the outcome of fellowship. We see in verse 44 that the disciples were together and had all things in common because of this joint connection and sharing that they had with Christ. The gospel does not focus merely on the individual but our salvation as a community of faith. The gospel produces a new family that is in fellowship with each other.  They have a concern for the needs of each other in this new family (this new fellowship) and not for their own stuff (Acts 2:45). The connection and joining together to each other that had occurred by coming to Jesus led these Christians to sell their belongings to help any other Christians who had need. 

Their connection in Christ caused them to spend time together, as we see in verse 46.  They went to the temple together every day. They ate with each other in their homes. They praised God together. They had favor with the people together. All of these things in verses 44-47 are the outcome of fellowship. When we are joined together and truly become this new spiritual family, then we will care for each other, look out for each other’s needs, spend time in the word together, spend time eating together, and spend time praising God together. But these things will not happen if we do not have a spiritual connection with each other.

If we are not intimately connected to Jesus, we will never be intimately connected together because it is only through our understanding of God’s love and what God desires for us that we will stop acting as individuals and start acting as a family that is stronger and more important than blood. How will we love each other like pictured in Acts 2:42-47? How will we become the Acts 2 family? How will we want to share with each other? How will we want to spend time with each other? How will be see each other as family?

We must devote ourselves to fellowship. We must devote ourselves more to this relationship and connection that we have in Christ so that we will bear the fruit of having fellowship with each other. Our connection and participation with each other will only come as we strengthen our connection and participation in Christ.

And I think there are 3 Keys of what being Devoted to Fellowship looks like

The First Key to Devoted Fellowship is to be A place of Identity I believe we all want to fit in somewhere. We love to say we are individuals but we do things to try and help ourselves be part of the crowd. We buy clothes like someone else. We buy gadgets or toys like someone else. We even try and mold our bodies to emulate someone else. On a natural and sometimes warped level we get it. We understand that we are individuals yes… But we also recognize life just doesn’t quite make sense on our own. We also reflect back on the words from Romans 12:4-5 we first talked about as the Body of Christ In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body.

Here is a truth of the Church…

  • We can’t truly function without you!
  • You can’t truly function without us!

Whether you like it or not, we need each other. We were designed to be together and grow together. Just like Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life, “life is meant to be shared”. And these words from Ephesians 2:19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.  

Or going back to 1 Corinthians 12:25 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

And probably you like I have found that we find fellowship especially when we are hurting and grieving. We seem to be present to each other best during those times. Or maybe Romans 1:12 says it best I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you.  One of my favorite movies of all time is called The Way…Life is too big to walk it alone. We need to meet with each other.  In whatever form our health, circumstances and culture allows. Whether it be worship on Sunday, Sunday school or small groups,  or Christian Friends…

The Second Key to Devoted Fellowship is to be a place of Love Galatians 6:10 says When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it.  But we should give special attention to those who are in the family of believers. I don’t think God wants us to be religious and just say all the right words. Faith is messy. Our times together are supposed to be about genuine love for each other. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t deep down in their heart want that. It is just some of us today might not feel comfortable because of what has happened in our lives. I am not going to give 3 easy steps on how to love. We have talked a lot about love since Easter. The Bible simply says it is the giving of your life for someone else. And this is how powerful our genuine love for each can be… John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. It has the power to even help evangelize our world. Love is so much more powerful that words. It demonstrates itself! Doesn’t just talk about itself…

The Third Key to Devoted Fellowship is to be a place of Power. I love the stories in Acts. Like when you keep reading past the Acts 2 scripture we have been talking about today and see what the believers did.  Part of the whole point of God pouring out God’s spirit is so that we can minister to each other fully, and have the biggest impact possible on this earth. A key to a Devoted Fellowship is the Power of God. All that cool exciting stuff, where God demonstrates God’s power beyond our mere words. Jesus tells us that will happen in John 14:12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. The Power of God is supposed to be part of Fellowship because it has the power to change lives. 

God has a dream for you and me. An awesome dream for Nolensville First and all churches. It is a dream beyond what size our buildings can be or style of worship. It is not about returning to some old glory days. It is not about striving to fulfil some old prophecy from 15 years ago. It is about living this life together as a community of faith. Making sure it is a place of Identity, Love & Power. A devoted fellowship. A Koinonia. 

This is how the Message version puts it They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. I am convinced that if we do this, that we all take a chance and connect more with each other…that the blessing of God will be further poured out in a measure we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

New Sermon Series

The Essentials - 7 Things You Can't Grow Without

The church is made up of lots and lots of messy people who come together to know and worship Jesus. That is what we see in Acts after Pentecost. Acts 2:42-47 introduces us to the first Christian church ever. And when we look at that First Church they are a community of believers doing church together. So what does it mean to do church together and what are the ESSENTIALS we cannot grow without?

 June12    The Essentials: Fellowship

June 19   The Essentials: Prayer

June 26   The Essentials: Apostles Teaching

July 3      The Essentials: Breaking Bread

July 10    The Essentials: Small Groups

July 17    The Essentials: Serving

July 24    VBS Sunday

July 31    The Essentials: Worship