Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 21: Acts)

In Acts 1, the disciples returned to Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension and gathered together, constantly praying with the women, with Mary, Jesus’ mother, and with Jesus’ brothers. Peter determined that Judas’ spot should be replaced, so they prayed, saying, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs,” and then they cast lots. Prayer for guidance. It is a request, but it is also in tandem with casting lots.

In Acts 2, the believers were reported to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to communion, and to prayer. The community of believers from the outset have been devoted to prayer.

In Acts 3, Peter and John went to the temple at the time of prayer–3 in the afternoon. The Jews had set times for prayer, and the evening prayer was during the ninth hour of the day, 3pm.

In Acts 4, the believers prayed,

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

Why do the nations rage
and the people plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together against the Lord
and against his anointed one.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

After they prayed, their meeting place was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit; they spoke the word of God boldly. Here we see prayer as declaration, recounting the events leading up to the particular circumstances, and request, including a request for miraculous healing. These requests are based upon the name of Jesus. Again, we see that healing and prayer are associated. But now we see that prayer requests are based on the name of Jesus.

In Acts 6, the Apostles decide to appoint seven faithful servants who would devote themselves to the daily distribution of food for the widows, so that they would be able to devote themselves to prayer and the Word. When seven were chosen, the Apostles laid hands on them and prayed for them. Here again we see the laying on of hands in association with prayer.

When Stephen, one of the seven, was being stoned to death as told in Acts 7, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and falling on his knees he cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Here we see two requests in prayer.

In Acts 8, after the believers in Samaria had been baptized, Peter and John went to them and prayed for them in order that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and through placing their hands on them, they did receive the Spirit. Again, prayer and the laying on of hands are associated. When Simon the Sorcerer saw what happened, he offered money to Peter and John in exchange for the same ability. Peter charges him with wickedness and orders him to repent and pray to God that he may be forgiven. Simon, an apparently slow learner, then asks Peter to pray for him in order that nothing Peter said might happen to him. Again, prayer as request–a request for forgiveness.

In Acts 9, after Paul’s conversion, he was praying, and the Lord called to Ananias in a vision, saying, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. . . .” All we can really say from this report is that the Lord acknowledges those who are praying and sees them in their prayer. Later in Acts 9, Peter brought a dead woman back to life after praying. Again, prayer and healing is hand-in-hand.

In Acts 10, Cornelius, the Roman centurion, is reported to be a devout, God-fearing man who was generous to the poor and prayed to God regularly. An angel of the Lord approached him, saying, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. . . .” The next day, Peter went onto the roof of the house he was staying at in order to pray. Peter ultimately sees a vision and is instructed by God to go with some messengers that were about to arrive. He obeys, and he is brought to Cornelius. Cornelius said that the angel came to him while he was praying. Peter spoke, retelling the good news, and while he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his family. Here we see that prayer and vision go together. Peter recounts his own prayer and vision in Acts 11 to defend himself regarding the Jewish accusation that he associated with Gentiles.

Peter was later arrested as told in Acts 12, but the church was praying for him. The Lord freed him from prison miraculously, and Peter went to the house where the church was praying for him. When he showed up at the door, Rhoda, the woman who answered the knock, did not let him in right away. She reported it to the church, and they did not believe her despite their prayers. Prayer as request, but what they prayed we do not know.

In Acts 13, Barnabas and Saul were identified to do God’s special work. The church in Antioch fasted and prayed, laying hands on them, and sent them off. Here we see a threefold combination of prayer, fasting, and the laying on of hands. Similarly, in Acts 14, Paul (formerly Saul) and Barnabas appointed elders through prayer and fasting in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas converted Lydia at a place of prayer by the river in Philippi. Here we see that a specific place was devoted to prayer. Later, when going to the place of prayer, they encountered a woman with a spirit who could tell the future. The woman followed them around incessantly, constantly repeating, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul eventually became fed up and cast the spirit out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. He and Silas were arrested and flogged as a result. After their flogging, around midnight, they began praying and singing hymns. What they prayed we do not know, but their bonds were broken, the prison shaken, yet they did not flee. The jailer thought he would be killed thinking that they escaped, but Paul revealed himself to him, which provided the opportunity to testify, resulting in the jailer’s family believing in God. Here we see the power of prayer in dire circumstances.

In Acts 20, Paul commissioned the Ephesian Elders before kneeling down and praying. Here we see that prayer can be done while kneeling. Similarly, Acts 21 shows that Paul and company knelt on the beach and prayed.

Paul recounts his conversion in Acts 22 leading up to his return to the Temple in Jerusalem where he prayed and fell into a trance. Again, we see prayer and vision together.

Paul states in his defense before Festus and Agrippa that he prays to God that all who listen to him would become a Christian as reported in Acts 26. Prayer as request.

Prayer is also a request in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was on was stuck in dangerous conditions at sea. The sailors dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.

After the ship ran ashore on Malta, Acts 28 reports that Paul healed a man inflected with fever and dysentery. He prayed for him and laid hands on him, and the man was healed. Here we see prayer and the laying on of hands in association with healing.