There once was a man who was learning how to pray and so one day he asked God, “God, a thousand years is a long time for us, but how about you? What is a thousand years to you?” God replied, “It is about a day.” “Oh, very interesting.” The man said. The next day the man was praying again and asked God a similar question, “God, I was thinking, a million dollars is a lot of money for us, but what is a million dollars to you?” God thought about it and replied, “Well, I suppose it is about a loonie.” The next day the man was praying again, and this time he thought that he had finally figured this whole God and prayer thing out. This time he was praying and he asked God, “God, I’m wondering if you would like to bless me with a loonie?” And God said, “Sure. Just give me the day to think about it.”
The Holy Spirit calls Barnabas and Saul in Acts 13:2-3 and these verses will be the cornerstone of my observations on prayer.
While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.” They fasted and prayed, placed their hands on them, and sent them off.
There is something special about worship:
– it is the first priority in the Lord’s Prayer
– I believe it is key to what pleases God and honours Him.
– The word “worship” meaning worship, praise, prayer, listening, honouring.
Along with worship came fasting – fasting most likely because they sensed a need to seek God in a unique way. We actually do not know what they were fasting and praying about but based on the response of the Holy Spirit it may very well have been centred on how and where to share the gospel
I know there are some that have stated that this is the very reason they do not pray. Is it true that we know God is going to answer our prayer – by using us? God moves that way often does He not? He sends people who have it on their heart to pray.
We have here, in this chapter and the next, one of the most pivotal stories in all of missions history. This is the account of the first recording ever of missionaries being sent by a local church in the Word of God. It all started in a worship service – there was singing, prayer, fasting and then it ended with laying on of hands.
John Piper has been quoted quite a bit on worship and mission – this one I had not heard before and it comes with his account of Acts 13:2:
“This moment of prayer and fasting resulted in a missions movement that would make Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within two-and-a-half centuries and would yield 2.2 billion adherents of the Christian religion today with a Christian witness in virtually every country of the world.”
I am sure the people in that room were very different from each other – most likely as different as you and I are today.
I also believe they found themselves agreeing on a common purpose and that is why they came together:
- united by the gospel
- enthralled in worship
- intensely focused on mission
It had to be so – for when the Holy Spirit called there was immediate obedience.
“The synergy between the call of the Spirit and the prayerful response of the church resulted in a supernatural spread of the gospel that continues to this day.”
The whole church sent Paul and Barnabas – “we are with you.” Today is no different -prayer is the greatest support we can send out – invoking the very power of God to intervene in ways that are beyond my human limitations to save the lost.
Acts chapter 13 shows us the way in how we are to pray for our missionaries. I believe we have eight points.
- Pray that they would be confident in God’s Word (Acts 13:4–5).
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.
Missionaries are sent not just to learn culture or do humanitarian relief but to confidently proclaim the Word of God.
- Pray that they would be filled with God’s Spirit (Acts 13:6–9).
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
My favourite story is still Jonathan Goforth, a Presbyterian sent by God to China.
- Pray for their victory in spiritual warfare (Acts 13:10–11).
And said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.
When our brothers and sisters take the gospel, they are going into a war. The devil is dead set on destroying souls and diverting mission.
- Pray for their success in gospel witness (Acts 13:12).
Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Pray that many would come to know Christ in all walks of life from the faithful witness of our missionaries.
- Pray for peace with other believers (Acts 13:13).
Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem,
Satan attacks from all angles, both inside and outside. Pray for peace within families, in marriages, with children, and with companions and ministry partners.
- Pray for favor with unbelievers (Acts 13:14–15).
But they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”
Pray that missionaries would find favorable opportunities to share the gospel with them.
- Pray that the gospel will be clear through them (Acts 13:16–44).
Although cross-cultural communication is difficult, pray that missionaries, by grace, would clearly communicate the character of God, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of Christ, the necessity of faith, and the urgency of eternity.
- Pray that God will open hearts around them (Acts 13:48).
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
God alone draws people to Himself. Pray that He will open hearts and minds to believe and be drawn to eternal life with Christ.
The idea of world mission originates with God and not with you and I. These individuals in the room praying were not church leaders brainstorming on how to prep up their church program. The Holy Spirit initiates the work of missions.
I am not too sure what your relationship has been like with the Holy Spirit these days and I am not too sure how you interpret the fact that He spoke to them and told them what to do. It would seem that someone sensed the Holy Spirit guiding their thoughts to Paul and Barnabas and others confirmed they sensed the same thing. I mentioned that it was the Holy Spirit who initiated the work of missions and I would like to strongly suggest that it is the work of the Holy Spirit who calls workers.
What I love about this is that this is not the first time that Barnabas and Saul knew anything about God’s calling to be missionaries. If you remember, Barnabas was called from Jerusalem to Antioch. If you remember, Paul was told by Ananias that God had declared him as a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel”
I have to believe that individual prayer is alive and well. If anything, Acts 13 and those in the early church have something to teach us about corporate prayer, corporate learning of biblical truth, corporate evangelism and corporate Christian maturity.
The personal dimensions of Christianity are difficult to maintain and practice consistently unless they grow out of a proper corporate experience on a regular basis’. – Gene Getz
‘The New Testament churches were churches where the people made a priority of prayer’. – EM Bounds
Jesus himself promised that ‘where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them’. Corporate seems to have extra power. Preachers and preaching needs the prayers of the church. Those running Alpha programs on-line need the prayers of the church. Corporate prayer has also been a key to church revival.
‘A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses’. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We have talked about worship, we have talked about prayer, let me touch base on fasting. They were all fasting – a mark of deep spiritual concern. A time where I forego the demands of life in order to concentrate on finding what God wants – to express my desire for God to accomplish what He wants to do.
I need to understand that prayer isn’t just us talking to God. It’s God talking to us as well. Prayer is so much more than us letting God know what we desire. It is God letting us know what He desires.
So more important than praying expectantly, or praying persistently or praying persuasively, there is – Pray Receptively: God gets the deciding vote in what happens.
- Receptive prayer rises from worship and fasting (Acts 13:2)
In a corporate setting – if we want to really hear God speak, we focus on worship. I think it means that when we come together, every other agenda is left at the door. Every political opinion, every attempt to impress someone else, every selfish thought about how whether or not my needs are being met in the worship service—all that gets left in the parking lot.
Fasting is the discipline of going without something, usually food. The idea is that whenever you would normally be eating a meal, you spend that time in prayer instead. And throughout the day, whenever you feel a pang of hunger, you let that be a reminder that your spirit needs God the way your body needs food, and that we should hunger for Him the way we hunger for food. Do you see how worship and fasting leads us to open handed praying?
When we are focused on God’s glory, we are acknowledging that His ways are so much higher than our ways. His desires are so much more important than our desires.
And when we are conscious of our sin, which is what fasting does for us, we are in the mindset of saying, “Lord, I don’t deserve anything from you. I don’t need anything apart from you. Nothing I would desire compares with you. So Lord, I’m just going to open my hands before you and let you fill them. I’m going to open my heart before you and let you direct me.
Receptive prayer rises from worship and fasting.
- Receptive prayer lets the Holy Spirit speak (Acts 13:2) the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”