[This is a post in our ongoing series looking at the themes raised by David Crump in his book Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. We began this series here.]
If you prayed recently for a non-Christian to be saved, you did something that, as far as we can tell, no one in the church recorded in Acts ever did. That does not make what you did wrong, but it does make it curious.
As the New Testament unfolds, we begin to see the ways in which the newly Spirit-filled church prayed. It is surprising that no where in all of the book of Acts, no where in all of the account of the phenomenal expansion of Christianity, no where (but possibly once, Acts 26:29, which in my mind has more of the feel of a rhetorical device) in the history of the works of the Spirit among this newly anointed people do we see anyone or any group praying for unbelievers to come to faith in Jesus. Rather, time and again they pray for believers to be bold.
Is that something worth noting? I think so. Crump makes an important case suggesting that we ought never to idolize the past, even if that past is divinely recorded. And yet we can learn much from these early saints, particularly what God has chosen to reveal about them.
As I think about this ‘lack’ among the Christians in Acts, I realize that it is easy to pray for unbelievers. When I do that I’m asking God to do something with them, while I sit safely in my study or in my small group or in my pew. To pray rather that God would give me and my Christian friends boldness requires a different frame of mind. It requires that I actually want to be bold and that I believe in something worth being bold about. It requires that God act on ME before he acts on others, and I may not be sure that I want that. But that hesitation did not hinder the Christians in Acts. They prayed for boldness, for God to act on THEM.
Something else these early Christians did not pray for was protection. Their’s was a volatile and hostile setting, but they prayed that they might be engaged in God’s kingdom work, not that God would put up hedges and protect them from the fray. As taught by the Lord’s Prayer, they cared more for God’s glory and kingdom than their own personal peace. Our prayers are more likely to be prayers seeking comfort than seeking his kingdom. We are more likely to pray for proper political leaders than to pray for boldness. And this contrast should unsettle us.
The church in Acts was a flawed bunch, as every manifestation of the church in history has been. And yet, it has left us an exemplary model of prayer. These Christians prayed together (a point we too often overlook!), and they prayed for the kingdom (rather than for comfort). In so doing they opened themselves up to the work the Spirit would do, and the world has never been the same.