In Acts 3:1, we see Peter and John going up together into the temple, “at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour”. God would use these two apostles to bring about healing in a man who was lame. “And he (the lame man) leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them (Peter and John) into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8).
This miracle was wrought at the hour of prayer. A certain man, who was lame from his mother’s womb, was carried and laid at the gate of the temple on a daily basis (v. 2). He was there to ask alms. Asking of alms was a common thing among the poor people of the Jewish community. If they were blind, or lame (like this man was), they would normally sit outside the temple, where people often came to pray. Showing mercy to the poor and needy is something God has commanded both in the Old and New Testaments, so many worshippers would give alms to help these poor people to survive, including this lame man in question. But something else better happened to this man. For Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (v. 6). And then Peter “took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength” (v. 7). Amazingly, this man didn’t immediately run back home to tell the people, but he went into the temple together with Peter and John, to pray and praise God (cf. v. 8). The most important thing to him, upon restoration of his mobility, was to get into the temple to pray – not to go away to engage in self-centred pursuits, Brethren, why does God heal us? Why does He save us and give us all spiritual and physical blessings? That we should pray.
Significantly, we can observe two categories of people mentioned here. Firstly, the apostles Peter and John (representing the leaders), who were observed to be going to pray. Peter was a man who would have a big role to play in the early leadership of the church. Before Paul appeared on the scene, Peter was the most celebrated among the early church leaders. John, another “pillar” of the church leadership (cf. Galatians 2:9), was seen on several occasions together with Peter in the Acts episodes. It seemed that both were the chief representatives of the apostles. This is corroborated in 8:14-15, “when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them (the Samaritan converts) Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost”.
These were two mighty leaders of the early church, who were able to stay together and serve God because they were prayerful people. Truly, the leadership of our church must be a prayerful leadership. There is something really special about the leadership that pray. God will use them mightily. But the converse is true – the leadership that cannot pray together is in great danger! Peter and John, though endued with so much power of the Holy Spirit, performing stupendous miracles, went regularly to seek God in the temple. It goes without saying why they went to the temple at the ninth hour. Was it to perform some miracle? No, but to pray! For it was the hour of prayer in the temple. They went there like any other worshipper – to pray! That, we believe, is the secret of their mighty ministry together as church leaders.
Secondly, the prayerful inclination of the healed lame man (representing the lay people) is also worthy of more than a passing mention. Because of Peter and John, he was also led to enter the temple to pray. A praying leadership will give rise to praying congregations. This is alluded to in Acts 1:14, where we see not only the eleven disciples, but also others (including “the women”) being mentioned as praying with them. This is significant in the ministry of the church. While it is a pastor’s duty to pray as an expression of his faith (in obedience to God who commands that we should pray), at the same time, it is also his duty to call people to pray for him. Take a leaf from the apostle Paul’s desire for the lay people to join him in prayer.
When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said in Romans 15:30, “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me”. Paul asked the people in the church to exert themselves in the spiritual exercise of prayer on behalf of him. He was unashamed about this matter of asking others to pray with him and for him. In Ephesians 6:19, we read that he had asked the Ephesian church to pray “for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel”. Without question, for the church ministry to flourish, both the leadership and laity must strive together in prayer, so that, among other things, “the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Belief in Christ and prayer are two sides of the same coin. Every believing heart is supernaturally, spiritually endued with the desire for prayer. There is not a believing heart that doesn’t pray. The greater the faith of a man, the greater his prayer habits. Dear church, we must not fail to pray if our ministries (both local and overseas) are to flourish. It is good to remember that Peter and John, who were going up to the temple to pray together, were working together for the spreading of the Gospel. When you pray together, you work well. Whether you are serving in a committee, or going for evangelism, or engaging in visitation of the elderly / needy brethren in church, it is vital to pray first. Otherwise, you may quarrel along the way, or your visitation may end up in disarray. Likewise, if you are singing together in a choir, or if you are working together in the PA team, or the internet media ministry, or the ushers’ ministry, or the refreshments team (which also oversee the Holy Communion preparations), etc., always pray first – and pray together frequently.
The attitude of prayer ought to be one of humility, and acknowledgment of weakness prevailing in us. It is not a time to show off our powers. Each time we come together as a church (even if it’s a small group of brethren), it is most necessary and fitting to pray to the Lord. It is not without reason that the Old Testament temple (and, as a corollary, the church) is called “an house of prayer” (cf. Isaiah 56:7).
If the church is to be a house of prayer, then there must be appointed seasons of prayer in the church. Notice that Peter and John went up to the temple regularly for prayer. There was a set time for prayer, which, according to Acts 3:1, was the ninth hour (i.e. 3 o’clock in the afternoon). The ninth hour was one of the set times for Jewish prayers. According to the Old Testament, there were morning sacrifices, and evening sacrifices in the temple (cf. Exodus 29:38-42), so the believing Jews all went to the temple to pray at those set times, as it was customary.
There is thus biblical precedent for the church to set aside a regular appointed time for corporate prayer – hence the weekly church prayer meeting, which is, in many ways, the “power-house” of the church. Sadly, there are people who don’t believe in the importance of prayer meeting. Worse still, there are people in churches today who don’t see the need for daily prayer, as individuals and as a family. They say there’s no evidence in the Bible for such daily devotion. Do they not know from Scripture how Job prayed for his children every day, even with sacrifices, in case they had sinned and thereby needed sanctification (cf. Job 1:5)? Have they conveniently forgotten the biblical instruction in Deuteronomy 6:7, where God says that a father should speak about God’s Word with his children while he sits, walks, lies down, and moves about with them? Have they not read the Book of Proverbs (especially chapters 1 to 8), wherein is impressed upon us how a father and mother should instruct the children in the Word of God? The biblical teaching is that such times for devotion / prayer are not just on a regular basis, but as often as possible! The same applies to the larger family of God, the church.
Truly, when a church makes full use of those provisions under God’s providence to pray (at set times and set places), there’ll be provisions of God’s blessings. While none of us today is an apostle and so won’t be able to heal people miraculously, we will be used by God to restore many to the joy of salvation, and to spiritual health. That, spiritually speaking, is the biggest miracle! Just like that healed lame man, who “entered … into the temple, … praising God”! That being the case, may we, as a church, pray always (Luke 18:1) and without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Amen.