And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
One of the primary things we do as a congregation is pray for one another. And it’s not simply one another whom we pray for, but for those around us too. We pray for our community, other Christians, our government leaders, unbelievers, and all who are in need of God’s help (which turns out to be everyone).
One of the surprising things about this verse is that “the prayers” is definite. It doesn’t say they devoted themselves to prayer in a generic way. It is specific. They devoted themselves to the prayers. This seems to be a reference to some kind of liturgical order of prayer. We think of the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and perhaps some other specific requests that were a regular part of worship (e.g., for the ill, the poor, and all those in positions of authority). They were deliberate and orderly about prayer because it was important to them.
We intentionally develop routines for things we prioritize. When we care about something, we think through the best way to do it. But for some reason we tend to think of spontaneous prayer as being more heartfelt. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with spontaneous prayer. God invites us to express our concerns to him at any time, whatever they may be. But there’s also nothing wrong with orderly prayer. In fact, having an order of prayer is an indication of the value we place on it. It means there was some thought that went into it.
But whether we are using spontaneous prayers or written prayers, there is a common error we want to avoid. We want to avoid the error of thinking God is more likely to hear and answer us when we “do it right” or have more people praying. God hears and answers because he is our heavenly Father who loves us.
Sometimes we say that prayer changes things. That sounds pretty good, but it’s a little imprecise. Prayer doesn’t change anything. God changes things, and that is why we pray. We tend to think that God is more likely to hear us when we pray more fervently or involve more people. We need to flip that idea on its head. God hears us because he is our loving heavenly Father who has promised to hear us. That is why we pray fervently, and that is why we ask people to pray with us and for us. God does not hear us because we pray fervently. We pray fervently because God hears us.
We put thought and effort into our prayers because we recognize who we are praying to—our all-powerful and all-loving heavenly Father. And we also trust that he hears and acts far more wisely and graciously than we can even comprehend. Our prayers are often filled with doubts. Sometimes they are shallow. Sometimes they become rote. Sometimes they are embarrassingly infrequent. But God is still the same. He is still merciful, gracious, wise, and powerful. So he hears and answers according to his good and gracious will. This is why we pray.
The peace of Christ be with you all,