Acts 4:25-26 (Part 2)
Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
After the lame man was healed, and 5000 became Christ-followers, Peter and John were released by the religious leaders, and went to celebrate with their fellow believers, who voiced 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 many examples we could use of people in the Bible praying words of the Bible. This has caused us to ask, if God promises something, why should we pray about it? If God is sovereign, why pray at all?
The acronym ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) is helping us. We pray, first, because God deserves our adoration. We also pray due to our need to ever be confessing our sins. We must pray in order to live holy lives.
“Prayer is the lungs of holiness. . . .Prayer and sinning cannot keep company with each other. One or the other must of necessity stop” (E. M. Bounds). “Prayer is a reminder to yourself, as well as a declaration to the enemy, that you know he’s there. That you’re on to him” (Priscilla Shirer, “Fervent”, p. 44).
The first of the 95 theses Luther nailed on the Wittenberg door was; “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent, he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This is not doom and gloom. Luther was speaking of the joyous method we are allowed to use to always be close to God. Because we know God wants to forgive us of our sins, and to restore a joyful relationship with us, we can approach repentance not as something we dread, but as a precious gift.
Luther understood the ongoing dynamic of the Christian life. It entails never ending change. In this life we never fully arrive at all we should be, but we must ever be growing closer to the ideal. Repentance is the key to spiritual success.
This dismantles religiosity—for instance, using indulgences to buy people out of Purgatory. We joyfully expect God’s forgiveness if we repent of our sins.
Confronting our own sins is a bitter pill to swallow, but leads us to joy in God’s presence. To find God’s power for holy living, we must always be confessing our sins. The more we pray, the closer to God and the purer we will be. Holiness matters most, and holiness lives or dies in prayers of the private place.
Why do we pray? First, adoration; second, confession; third, thanksgiving. We don’t want to make too hard and fast a distinction between adoration and thanksgiving, but there are maybe subtle differences. Adoration praises God for who He is. Thanksgiving praises God for what He has done, for gifts He give.
Adoration consecrates our present tense, our right now. Thanksgiving consecrates our past. It sets yesterday on the altar as a gift to the Lord.
Giving thanks provides us one more moment of enjoying something that brought us pleasure. It becomes pure worship when our final burst of happiness over something we have enjoyed is directed toward Heaven (C. S. Lewis).
Confession and supplication are often instinctively driven by circumstances. Events in our lives regularly drive us to our knees to repent and to request. This inner compulsion is not available for adoration and thanksgiving. This is why the latter two are such wonderful forms of worship. They rise unprompted by some compelling force; they prove love is bubbling up unforced, like an artesian well.
If thanksgiving is not impelled, then what should we do to encourage it? Begin by organizing your prayer life. Create a system whereby you regularly come into God’s presence with thanks. Write a prayer list of what you are thankful for.
C. S. Lewis gave another helpful hint. He said we should develop the habit of thanking God immediately, on the spot, for every good thing in our lives that happens to us. Whether He is the first cause, the obvious origin, or not, we should remember He is sovereign, moving behind all things coming our way. “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17b).
Once we capture this truth, whenever we are blessed in any way, “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun” (C. S. Lewis). Habitually ask, what kind of God would be this good to me? Keep chasing sunbeams to the sun.
Why do we pray? First, adoration; second, confession; third, thanksgiving. Fourth, we pray in order to offer supplications, to make requests.
We ask God for things because He told us to. He ordains not only the results of our requests, but also the means of receiving them, and one of the means is; He tells us to pray. Our prayers are somehow included in helping order our cosmos.
A Bible example of this is the interfacing of a prediction given through Jeremiah, with prayers Daniel offered. As Israel was being exiled, YHWH said through Jeremiah (29:10b), “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place.”
Seventy years later, Daniel (9:2b), living in exile, took hold of this promise, saying, “I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be 70.” What happened next is very informative for us. Daniel did not sit by idly and wait for the prediction to be fulfilled. Instead, “I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petitions, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Since God promised Israel would return from captivity, why pray?
Let’s return to Jeremiah’s prediction. The length of the exile was only a part of God’s prediction. The Lord also said through the prophet about this event, “You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you” (Jer. 29:12).
God needed a person to do what He said had to be done before the prediction could be totally fulfilled. Someone had to pray. Before the predicted result could be fulfilled, the predicted means had to be fulfilled. When Daniel prayed, the angel Gabriel came to tell him his prayer request had been heard and would be granted.
Now I need to clarify one matter. Direct promises declared in the Bible by God will be fulfilled. This does not mean God’s perfect will shall always be done.
Let me give an example. We know it is God’s will that no one be unsaved. One of the most helpful Bible comments for praying for lost loved ones is 2 Peter 3:9b, which says God is “not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
This means we can come boldly to God, and pray in agreement with Him, saying we too want a particular loved one to be saved. This does not mean God will force that individual to be saved. Free will is something He will not violate.
Some want to fully understand the difference between free will and God’s sovereignty. We cannot grasp this fully, but they are two sides of the same coin.
God ordained in His sovereignty that people would have free will. God can heal the sick, move mountains, and alter circumstances, but will not force free will.
He is bound by His own edict. We are thus making a huge request when we ask Him to save someone. Do ask. Ask Him to put people in the loved one’s path. Ask him to put circumstances that challenge the unbeliever. Do ask, but know God can only go to a certain point and then has to stop, due to His own self-limiting.
We embrace sovereignty and free will with equal vigor, not knowing 100% how they interact. Embracing both at the same time protects our prayers from two extremes. His Sovereignty gives us freedom to pray as boldly as we like. We do not have to worry about asking for something that might end up being ultimately harmful. Our sovereign God loves us, and lets the Holy Spirit filter our prayers.
Without this safety net under our prayers, “wise people would never pray again” (Tim Keller). This being said, I warn us to beware the sin of the high hand, of belligerently lambasting God in prayer. We do not want to test His patience.
While sovereignty protects our praying, free will allows us to pray our own heartfelt prayers. This keeps us from being bored and listless in God’s presence. This helps us commune with God, and forces us to stay in contact with the Father.
Why pray? So we can offer adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. May God give us all a spirit of prayer. May our lives ever draw closer and closer to the goal set before us of praying without ceasing.