They Devoted Themselves To Prayer
By Dave Butts
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42).
"But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:4 NASB) .
What or who are you devoted to? Many would respond that they are devoted to their families, and that is a good response. Others might speak of their devotion to their job or their country. Christians may indicate their devotion to their church or ministry. Many would have to honestly say that sports, entertainment, television, and other leisure activities hold their devotion.
In the Bible, the word "devotion" implies an intensity and focus that escape most of us today. In the Old Testament, when Israel was conquering the Promised Land militarily, God commanded them to devote the pagan cities to Him. He made it clear that this kind of devotion meant to destroy those cities completely. Most of us aren’t used to the concept of that kind of loyalty!
A Christian’s primary devotion ought to be toward Jesus. He is our first love. We should be able to say, as Paul did, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The question becomes: "How do I demonstrate devotion to Christ?" Though there could be many responses, it should be obvious that the primary means of expressing devotion is prayer. It is in prayer that we talk with the Lord and walk in continual awareness of His presence in us.
Our model for this devotion to prayer is the early Church. My friend and Harvest Prayer Ministries colleague, Alvin VanderGriend, has written a powerful article demonstrating this fact biblically. His new book, The Joy of Prayer, contains the following excerpt and many other wonderful helps for us as we grow in our prayer lives:
"The first Christians were truly devoted to prayer. The prayers at their prayer meetings were not short, shallow, bless-me kinds of prayers. Three times in the early chapters of Acts Luke uses the intense Greek word proskartereo, often translated as ‘devoted to,’ to report on the strength of their commitment to prayer. The word literally means ‘to occupy oneself diligently with something’ or ‘to persist in.’ It’s the word used in Acts 1:14 to describe their first prayer meeting: ‘These . . . were continually devoting themselves to prayer’ (NASB). It’s the word used in Acts 2:42 to characterize their community activities: ‘they devoted themselves . . . to prayer.’ It’s the word used to explain the intent of their spiritual leaders to ‘devote [themselves] to prayer’ (Acts 6:4, NASB). Do you get the picture? They were really committed to prayer.
"Paul uses the same Greek word when he talks about prayer. For example, he instructs Colossian Christians: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful’ (Col. 4:2). He exhorts Roman Christians to be ‘devoted to prayer’ (Rom. 12:12, NASB) and he urges Ephesian believers to pray devotedly for all the saints (Eph. 6:18). The New Testament writers could not have been clearer. Devotion to prayer was the norm for New Testament Christians.
"Most of the above references to devoted prayer have to do with corporate prayer. Luke’s list of activities to which the early Christians were devoted – teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer – are all communal activities, including prayer. Acts 3 begins with a report of Peter and John on their way to a prayer meeting at the temple. In the next chapter believers have come together for prayer in response to the threat by Jewish leaders (4:23-31). Not long after that believers gathered in a home to pray for imprisoned Peter (Acts 12). That early Christians regularly gathered for group prayer is a biblical fact not to be denied.
"Why, we may ask, were those first Christians so devoted to prayer? The answer is that this is what they saw in the life of Jesus. He spent entire nights in prayer. He bathed the key moments of His life in prayer. His words, His miracles, His power all came through prayer. He gave His disciples a pattern for prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) and taught them to pray with boldness and persistence (Luke 11:5-8, 18:1-8). The first Christians simply continued with what they saw in Jesus’ life and heard from His lips.
"Unfortunately most of today’s Western church does not share this same devotion to prayer. Saying prayers now and then to try and get our problems solved is not devotion to prayer. Rehearsing me-oriented prayer lists before God is not devotion to prayer. Prayer groups that spend most of their time sharing and a few minutes in prayer can hardly be called devoted to prayer.
"God’s Word pictures a church that was devoted to prayer, that persisted in prayer, and that occupied itself diligently with prayer. That is what God expects. That is what Jesus taught. That is what the New Testament Church modeled.
"If you are a child of God, a Word-oriented Christian, and a member of this same New Testament church, then Paul is speaking to you: ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful’ (Col. 4:2)."