Expectant, confident prayer
In Acts 4, the Christians believed God would answer their prayers, even in the face of great discouragement and threats from the authorities.
They had been faithful and bold in proclaiming Jesus, but now were forbidden. They had hit a brick wall! But they didn’t give up. They turned to prayer, confidently expecting an answer.
But what about us? Perhaps we’ve tried reaching out, new ideas with evangelism, missions, leafleting, youth work, Christianity explored, etc.? Yet maybe our churches are finding most people hard and disinterested, and hardly anyone comes to hear the gospel. And so many of our folk have lost heart and our leaders have lost confidence to press ahead with fresh endeavours.
Is discouragement stifling our vision and expectancy? We can so easily turn God’s sovereignty against us to justify a lack of vision, effort and expectation: we feel our nation is under God’s judgement and he is saving very few at the moment, so it is hardly worth praying.
Now, the early Christians could easily have reacted like this, but their confidence was clearly in the sovereign power of God. ‘Sovereign Lord’, they cried. ‘You are the great creator; you are the author of Scripture; you are the Lord of history; and you control everything by your sovereign will, even when the future looks really bleak.
‘Even when Herod and Pontius Pilot were doing their worst against your holy servant Jesus, they were only doing what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
‘Sovereign Lord, you were always in absolute control, always working everything for your glory and the good of your people, and therefore you are in absolute control now. You have allowed our persecutors to hinder the spread of the gospel, but you can now silence them.
‘Consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus’.
Here is a powerful demonstration of how to draw encouragement from God’s sovereignty. We must let God’s sovereignty work for us, not against us. Even the difficulties and hindrances are under his control and woven into his sovereign plan. They must in no way undermine our trust in him or discourage us from calling on him afresh, with absolute confidence.
I remember a man at the Bala ministers’ conference praising God for being ‘so extravagant in election and predestination’! Here is the motive to keep on praying, to keep calling upon God for a great harvest.
The Christians in heaven aren’t going to be a tiny minority, huddled away in a corner, but a vast company — many of them people living in our own communities, who as yet are not saved!
Yes, we are going through tough times, but God is no less in sovereign control now than if we were in the midst of revival. All the powers of hell can’t prevent God from saving his elect.
At any moment, he can save the most debauched sinner in your community, the most cynical critic in your family, that son or daughter who is breaking your heart. At any moment, he can turn the tide and come to our land in revival.
‘Sovereign Lord’, they cried. Let this cry go up from our prayer meetings too. ‘Sovereign Lord, extravagant predestinating Lord, come again in mighty power. Turn the tide and save your chosen people!’
We have allowed discouragement to get the better of us, but a fresh vision of our reigning, sovereign Lord is the antidote to our discouragement and a mighty faith-building stimulus to passionate, believing prayer.
Is your cup ‘half-full’ or ‘half empty’? Two sales representatives for a shoe manufacturer went to an African country. One sent back the report, ‘They don’t wear shoes out here; there’s no market here’. The other sent back the report, ‘Hardly anyone here has shoes. There is a great market here; send a large quantity of shoes!’
God’s sovereignty should not empty our cup, but fill it to overflowing, because his extravagant sovereign grace is going to fill heaven.