If you get a little angry when television programs delay the part you’ve been waiting to see after having just advertised it, you may feel the same way about this next passage. The previous passage (1.1-11) left us with the expectation that the Holy Spirit was going to come, but this next passage does not contain that event. Instead the author has decided to tell us of the decision to fill the office that Judas Iscariot left abandoned following his suicide. This post will focus on vv. 12-14 as it provides an opportunity to teach a very important lesson concerning prayer. The next post will finish the passage with vv. 15-26.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Following Jesus’ ascension they leave the place where it occurred, Mt. Olivet, and went back to Jerusalem to the room where they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. This is in accordance with Jesus’ command in 1.4. The author also pauses here to tell us that there were more present and praying than just the Apostles. While the exact identity of the women present here is unknown I will point out that several women are mentioned in Luke’s gospel as having either accompanied Jesus or provided for him during his ministry: Mary Magdalene, Joanna (Herod Antipas’ household manager), and Susanna (see Luke 8.1-3). Jesus’ mother and His brothers were also present. The word translated “brothers” in this verse is adelphos. It can refer to physical brothers, but it is also translated “brothers and sisters” and is translated as “brethren” in the following verse. In the next verse we find out that the total number of people gathered and devoting themselves to prayer was around 120.
There aren’t “right” or “wrong” ways to pray, but I do think there are profitable and and non-profitable ways to pray. I often see prayer described as “bringing your requests before God,” but what I don’t often see described is what these requests should be. I have found not knowing what to pray for to be quite detrimental to my personal spiritual life, and I imagine it has had the same effect on others as well. We can certainly pray for things like a spouse, a new job, a baby, healing for a friend or family member, etc, but if we only pray for these things our thoughts will be primarily focused on these requests being granted and we will feel disappointed and angry with God should they not be granted. These are not bad things to pray for, but they should not be the only things that we pray for, nor should they be the primary things that we pray for. If our prayers are focused on these things God becomes a divine cosmic genie whose sole purpose is to give us what we want, rather than the purifier and sanctifier of our souls.
Instead, I believe, that our prayers should be primarily focused and concerned with requests that will make us more like Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life while on Earth after all, at least to the extent that it is possible to achieve in a Fallen world. I’ve found that praying written prayers everyday is one of the best ways for me to learn what I should be praying for and where the emphasis of my prayers should be: on requests for sanctification (becoming more like Christ). Prayer is profitable when we focus our requests and mind on things that will sanctify us, and is unprofitable when we focus our requests and mind on personal desires (e.g. spouse, baby, healing, etc).
My morning and evening prayers consist primarily of written prayers with personal requests being brief (e.g. one sentence or so for each one). Doing it this way allows me to focus on what I am praying for rather than on composing my prayer. I was surprised at how much easier prayer became and how much more eager I was to do it when I removed from myself the burden of having to compose my prayers each day.
Most likely any liturgical Christian tradition (probably all actually) is going to have written prayers or prayer books that they use regularly. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is great since it contains the services of Morning and Evening prayer which can be used for personal devotion by omitting some of the parts (you can find it online here: http://commonprayer.org/offices.cfm), but will be of limited benefit if not used within the Anglican liturgical cycle (I don’t think you should use it outside the Anglican liturgical cycle). The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions also have prayer books available as well, just make sure that you don’t get one that is intended for use in monasteries and convents; monks and nuns have devoted their lives to prayer and can afford to do it for hours a day, everyone else cannot and is not expected to. Also be aware of prayers to Mary and other saints if you have objections to that sort of thing.
So that wraps up this post. I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, but the prayer thing is pretty important and I think real instruction in prayer that is profitable is quite lacking in Evangelicalism these days. Next up is 1.15-26.