Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian lives his/her life in the awareness that he/she is always in the presence of God. What compels the Christian to turn his/her face towards God is, in the words of J.I. Packer, the “tremendous relief in knowing that God’s love to me is based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about me.”
The four characteristics of the first Church in the book of Acts were present in the Church because they understood that God sent his Son to redeem them even though he saw the worst in them and because of the cross of Christ. They were aware of always being in the presence of God. This my dear brothers was the catalyst and reason for the profound impact that the first Christians had on their world:
They were devoted to God.They were devoted to one another.They were devoted to prayer.They were devoted to the mission of God.
Apart from the diligent prayers of God’s people, the Church’s ability to live out her mission will fall flat. The reason the church in Acts was characterized by a devotion to prayer was that they were convinced that the success of their mission (Matt. 28:19-20) was dependent on the power and ability of God, not on their own creativity.
With the time that we have left, let us turn our attention to the last two characteristics of the first Church.
They Devoted Themselves to Prayer
Charles Spurgeon said that, “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” If being devoted to the God is the act of his people turning their ears and their eyes to knowing and understanding him, then prayer is the act of God turning his ear to hear his children. All healthy relationships require communication between the parties involved, and regarding our relationship with the Almighty, there is no exception.
There is a prayer that the Old Testament Prophet, Habakkuk, prayed that helps me understand the relationship between prayer and the mission of God: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:1–2, NIV).
Habakkuk heard of God’s reputation. He heard of the God who spoke galaxies into being (Gen. 1:1). He heard of how God delivered the Hebrews through the Red Sea (Exod. 14). Habakkuk heard about the wall of Jericho falling (Josh. 6). He heard about how Samson struck down one thousand Philistines with only the jawbone of a donkey, because God was with him (Jud. 15). Habakkuk grew up hearing about exploits of King David and how he brought back the Ark of the Covenant after defeating the Philistines. Habakkuk also heard how Uzzah died when he tried to keep the ark from falling into the dirt, even though he was told that no unclean person was permitted to touch the ark or lest that person die. Habakkuk understood that Uzzah was arrogant to believe that his hand was cleaner than the dirt of the ground.
I am sure that the prophet grieved over the long history of Israel’s idolatry and sin, which resulted in the discipline of the LORD, but he was also aware of God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13–14).
He was also aware that every time God’s people prayed for things that lined up with the heart of God, God moved powerfully. These are the same reasons why the church in Acts was devoted to prayer. When Judah fell into moral and spiritual ch