(In this and coming posts, I'd like to pull some lessons about prayer from some of the great examples in Scripture.)
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.
John and Peter had been questioned, threatened, and released. They immediately do what is most reflexive for Christians to do: gather and pray. Their prayer is a model for the church in how we respond to the world's pressures and persecutions. What makes this prayer such a great example?
It is a deeply theological prayer. Not content with the normal "Dear God," this church-under-threat began by reminding themselves of God's sovereignty and power in creation. They went on to honor the Lord by recognizing His complete sovereignty over the current situation. When our prayers have a theological depth to them, we are not only honoring God more fully, we are also helping ourselves by exercising our faith more fully. If prayer is how we lay hold of God in faith, then let's lay hold of a God worth trusting and praying to.
It is a wonderfully Biblical prayer. Rather than simply asking God to see their problem from their point of view, they used Psalm 2 to acknowledge God's point of view was the best one. We don't go to prayer to inform God, but to wrestle with God and, in the process, inform our souls. Bringing God's Word into our prayers is one the most effective means of wrestling with Him: showing Him, as some have said, His promises in His own handwriting. The more Scripture gets into our prayer, the more we can be sure we are praying according to God's will.
It is a genuinely obedient prayer. I've always been struck by the actual request of this prayer. Instead of asking God for deliverance, safety, or comfort, this wonderful group of believers cried out, "...grant to your servants to continue to speak with boldness." Rather than seeking escape, they prayed for faithfulness. While it certainly is good and Biblical to seek God's deliverance from our enemies, it is more important that our prayers land on our obedience to God's will rather than His bending toward ours.
It is an answered prayer! Their prayer was answered immediately and in many stages to come. Luke records that "...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) They prayed for boldness and received it--and God threw in a Spiritual earthquake as a down payment of His presence in their ministry. One might argue that the rest of the book of Acts is proof of God continuing to answer this prayer.
I want my prayers to be more like this: diving more deeply into the beauty of God's character, the power of His promises, and the perfection of His will. Surely prayers like this will be the ones most honoring to Him, most helpful for my own soul, and most rewarded with God's blessing.