SCRIPTURE

Study Acts 4:23-31. Listen to the accompanying sermon here.

INTRODUCTION 

Mary is a nurse. Three weeks ago she was suspended without pay for asking a patient whether she would like to be prayed for. She was suspended by her Primary Care Trust even though the patient in question was not offended. The incident was reported by a nurse who visited the same patient the day after Mary had offered prayer. Mary was accused of breaking nursing guidelines by failing to “demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity”. She’s waiting to find out the outcome of her disciplinary meeting next week. Ever since the day of her suspension, though, prayer has become a battle. Why is God allowing this to happen to her? Why isn’t he rewarding her for stepping out in faith rather than making her suffer? How will she cope with no salary for a month? How will she pay the bills? The only prayers she can muster at the moment are the ‘I’m a Christian get me out of here’ kind. She’s really shaken up by her circumstances.

QUESTIONS

1. How did you get on acting out your faith in the last week following the study we had?

2. How do you react to troubling times? How easy do you find prayer?

3. The disciples’ instinct was to pray (verse 24). How can we help each other to cultivate a prayer instinct, praying instinctively in response to good and bad news reports (note they raised their voices “together”)?

4. What didn’t the disciples begin their prayer with given the threats they’d been issued with and the increasing persecution they were facing? Phillips Brooks wrote: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” When you pray, is your priority to ask God to change your circumstances or to pray for power to overcome them and witness in the midst of them?

5. What is the significance of the disciples beginning their prayer with the sovereignty and creative power of God? Why is it important to begin praying with a big view of God? How can we cultivate a clearer vision of God in our lives?

BIBLE STUDY TIP: Quotations tool

If a new invention was branded with the tag line, ‘one small step for man…’ you would hopefully immediately hear the words ringing in your head, ‘one giant leap for mankind’. Writing just those five words results in a huge number of people who’ve lived after 20 July 1969 straight away knowing what’s being referred to. They would also get a sense of the galactic claims made about the product being sold! Now imagine you fell into a coma on 19 July 1969 and woke up today. You might see this advert and totally misunderstand it as quite humble and modest. That’s because you don’t understand the context in which it was originally said.

This same principle applies when we see Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament (and actually the Old Testament often quotes itself). Due to our lack of knowledge regarding the Old Testament content and culture we can very often run the risk of totally missing the author’s intention. For example, did you know that when John 19:36 tells us that ‘not one of His bones were broken’, he is linking Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12 and Psalm 34:20 and is comparing Jesus to the Passover Lamb? The basic tip for this session is: whenever you see an Old Testament quote in a passage like the one today, go back and take a few extra minutes to read through the whole passage where the quote comes from. This should inform your understanding of your immediate passages and also widen your overview of God’s entire story of salvation.

There are various different cross-reference Bibles now that help with this and you can also get ‘The Global Study Bible’ app for free from Crossway.org. But ultimately this calls for us all to sit down and read our Old Testaments more!

6. Read verse 25 and the whole of Psalm 2. How, in light of Psalm 2 can we understand the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection? Do you agree with the disciples’ interpretation (verses 27-28)? How is this important insight helpful when we or others are facing suffering? Also, who are the rulers inspiring against, and therefore whose glory are the disciples concerned about (rather than their own)?

7. How does verse 28 help explain the mysterious relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

8. Why is it encouraging that our God has “decided beforehand”? How would you feel if no-one decided anything, if nothing was planned or a callous despot was pulling the strings? Why is it good to know that a good God is in control when we face threats of any kind?

9. What was the three point request the disciples made? Why do you think they prayed this way? What was their thinking or hope that lay behind each request? Where do you believe the courage came from to pray this way? How often do you pray with genuine faith like this?

10. How was this prayer answered (see also Acts 5:12)? Are you surprised that God answered this kind of prayer so immediately? What impact would the shaking have had on the disciples (note: John Chrysostom says it “made them more unshaken”)? How can the experience of encountering God and being filled with the Holy Spirit be an encouragement to be bold in mission?

11. In what way(s) have you been challenged to act out your faith this week?

MISSIONARY STORIES to inspire you from our church

Peter was a court room lawyer, and like many professions today, it had been drilled into him that it was dangerous and indeed unprofessional to share his faith with a client. Just before Christmas he was called in by his clerks to represent someone at short notice he’d never met before. To be honest, he didn’t want to do it, he was hoping to begin his Christmas holiday but he went, mainly because he didn’t have much choice in the matter. Reminding himself of God’s sovereignty and that there will be purpose in this he can’t yet perceive, and perhaps in a defiant act of boldness, he put a Christian book in his bag about the real meaning of Christmas, and prayed for a divine appointment. His client, John, was a drug addict who’d breached a condition of his release agreement. He’d been clean for a week now; he’d lapsed only briefly a couple of times in the past month. The magistrates were to decide whether he should go back to prison for Christmas. Whilst waiting for the case to be called in, Peter began a deeper conversation with John about his addiction, when it began, and then he found himself asking: “Do you really want to be free? Because if you do, I know someone who can help you… His name is Jesus.” John was surprisingly receptive, “Yes, yes, I want to be free. My Uncle has taken me to church a couple of times recently and it’s made me curious to know more.”

About this time the case was called, the magistrates were generous, and kept John out of prison on the basis of his general good progress, confirmed by his probation officer.

After the hearing, Peter had the privilege of sharing the gospel with John, of all places, in the advocates’ robing room, giving him the book, and praying for him. Peter sensed that there was a seedling of faith in John, and encouraged him to get stuck in to his Uncle’s church. Looking back Peter couldn’t really believe what he’d just done, and was surprised by how bold he’d been but then he remembered the prayers he’d been praying on and off for several months, asking for supernatural courage to share the gospel.

PRAY TOGETHER 

Give a decent amount of time to confessing our weakness in witnessing, the threats we hear and fear, generally and specifically in our secular society, and then pray this prayer in your own words as a group, asking for Holy Spirit boldness on your frontlines, asking for wisdom and courage to put yourself in a position where you might risk being threatened for sharing the gospel (if you’re not already).

OTHER THINGS to plug and pray for

  • Alpha Course | 19 Oct – 21 Dec, 7pm
  • Ravi Zacharias (rzim.org) | 15 Nov, 11am service
  • Terry Virgo | 6 Dec, 11am and 530pm service
  • Carol Service | 13 Dec, 530pm service
  • Christmas Celebration Service (families) | 20 Dec, 11am service