Acts 4:25-26 (Part 1)
Praying the Bible
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Brother Andrew was a Christian missionary most famous for smuggling Bibles into communist countries during the Cold War. One of his closest friends was Corrie ten Boom, who during the Holocaust saved many Jews from the Nazis.
Brother Andrew was blessed by Corrie’s powerful prayer life. He said an important part of her praying was the way she used Bible promises to ask God to keep His word. She would sometimes stop in the middle of a prayer, and begin turning pages in her Bible to get a promise worded precisely. Then she would hold her Bible up, point to the verse, and say, “Here, Lord, read it Yourself.”
Corrie of course did not create the idea of praying the Bible. The Scriptures themselves contain instances of people who prayed to God, using other words of the Bible.
Our text is one example of this. After the lame man at the temple was healed, and 5000 became Christ-followers, Peter and John were hauled before the religious leaders, and ordered to quit speaking in the name of Jesus; a command the disciples refused to obey. When they returned to celebrate with their fellow believers, the group broke into a prayer of praise that came straight from the Bible.
Acts 4:25-26 (Holman) You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant; “Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers assembled together against the Lord and against His Messiah.”
This quote of Psalm 2:1-2 is one of several examples we could use. When God threatened to destroy Israel because they worshiped the golden calf, Moses, realizing God’s Word is a sword we can wield in battle (Eph. 6:17), unsheathed a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (EX 32:13) to save the nation.
Moses also prayed a Bible passage often quoted in Bible prayers, Exodus 34:6-7a, where YHWH described Himself as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.”
When Israel refused to enter Canaan, YHWH was about to destroy them, but Moses saved the nation by crying out the Lord’s words back to Him, “The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion” (NB 14:18). When the Psalmist was going through a dark time personally, he twice in the same Psalm pleaded with YHWH, using the Lord’s own words, “You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love” (PS 86:5,15). In the book of Nehemiah (9:17), when the Israelites confessed their national sins, they pleaded in prayer with God’s own words, “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in faithful love.” When Jonah (4:2) pouted before YHWH for saving the Ninevites, he told God he had not wanted to go to Nineveh to offer them salvation because he knew God was a “merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love”.
Even our Master, who Himself was the Word incarnate, used the written Word in His prayers. Two of His most moving cries from the cross came from the Old Testament. In the noontime darkness, He prayed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). This directly quotes the beginning of Psalm 22, which deals with despair in the presence of the Father. I wonder how many times Jesus had read this Psalm, knowing someday He would be the one rejected. Jesus also prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), a direct quote of Psalm 31:5. This Psalm is a plea for protection.
Read the Bible. “A major reason for weak prayer lives is a neglect of God’s Word” (Wesley Duewel). Pray its promises. Immerse yourself in the Psalms; not only read them; also pray them, turn them into prayers. To pray well, we must read the Bible till, as Spurgeon said, our blood runs bibline. Pray to God through the Holy Spirit the Bible words He gave to us through the Holy Spirit. We should want the Word to flow through our prayers without our even realizing it is happening.
At this point in these prayer lessons, we have to face pertinent questions. Why do we have to pray the promises? If God said it, why pray about it? Let me expand the question. If God is sovereign, ruling in the affairs of men, and knows the end from the beginning, why pray at all? It can seem like a useless activity. The rest of this lesson, and the next, will try to answer this possible cause of fretfulness.
To unravel this quandary, we need to look at prayer in its various parts. The acronym ACTS has long been used as a way to remember important elements we should include in our prayers: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. ACTS is not a perfect, all-inclusive, way to consider prayer, but is sufficient to give us a hat rack on which we can hang some thoughts about why we should pray.
We should pray, first of all, because God is worthy to be adored by us. Our Administrative Pastor Jay Hughes often reminds us of this. God created us, sent His Son to die for our sins, gave us forgiveness, and promised us everlasting life. He gave us this church and each other, setting us in groups where we find spiritual family. I’m thankful for my wife, children, in-laws, grandchildren, parents, and 13 years of life after two heart attacks. Why should we pray? If for no other reason, to lift our hearts and voices in praise to the One who deserves to be adored. He has condescended to enter into a relationship with us. Never cease to be awed by this.
To think of prayer as only a way of getting things from God for our benefit is a selfish way of picturing prayer. We love Him because He first loved us. We should want to spend time alone communicating with Him, just as we do with anyone we love dearly.
Our inner chamber, the prayer closet within us, should be the first, and never neglected, sanctuary of our existence. There, in the private place, we must regularly convey our thoughts of love to Him, entering His presence with wonder and awe.
One way we can know our private adoration is being truly effective is when it spills over into public adoration, when we honor Him before others. Our Lord deserves for others to hear us uplifting Him, and bragging on Him.
Praise through music in the gathered assembly is one way we can honor Him before others. Never underestimate the value of unbelievers entering a worship service and hearing ordinary folks singing God’s praises. What they hear from the platform is “hired help”, but they cannot slough off people singing in the pews.
The importance of honoring God in the presence of others was driven home for me by something I recently read. We church leaders have long used the image in Isaiah 6 as a template for public worship directed toward the Father. A writer called my attention to a little phrase I have somehow missed, though having read the Bible over 40 times. The angels who say “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts” before the throne speak not only to God—their audience is not only One—they also “called to one another” (Isaiah 6:3a). Their worship is expressed toward God in the hearing of others. Even the seraphim teach us we should pray to adore Him directly for Himself, and to adore Him publicly in the presence of others.