When I speak of the “early church,” I am referring in particular to the church in Acts in relationship to the mission and prayer. Jesus, God incarnate, had died, was raised, and ascended into heaven. What now? Where do we go from here? Now that their leader has left the scene, what’s going to happen with the mission? Surely these thoughts had to be going through the minds of the apostles.
They began by getting together and praying. The mission was going to be determined by the their imaginations, their culture, or anything else but God. They were, as Luke reveals,”with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). This began a pattern for the early church. After Pentecost, the thousands of new believers in Christ had “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Furthermore,this church, when their elders were released, prayed together such that “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). At a later time when Peter had been imprisoned, Luke records that “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5) such that when he was miraculously released, he found them still “gathered together and were praying” at the house of Mary (Acts 12:12). The church in Jerusalem was a praying church. God had created a culture of His nearness to them through the means of prayer on a perpetual basis.
But how and where does the mission come in the context of this praying by the early church? The first instance of missional prayer was seen in Acts 1 when they were selecting the one who would replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. Luke writes,
And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25).
They had learned from Jesus who had spent all night in prayer to the Father prior to the calling of His disciples that they should likewise commit this process first and foremost to God. When problems arose with unmet needs in the church, the apostles clarified their calling to “devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The office of the deacon was established as the congregation set the chosen servants before the apostles who “prayed and laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6).
From Jerusalem, the next movement of the mission was to be to Judea and Samaria (Act 1:8). As Phillip and other believers began to preach the gospel, Peter and John “prayed for the believing Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15). The man whom God would use to continue the mission throughout the Gentile world would be identified as one is praying (Acts 9:11). When the church Antioch sent out the first missionaries (Paul and Barnabas), they commissioned them by “fasting and praying” (Acts 13:3). As they continued on the mission, in every city churches were planted and elders were appointed “with prayer and fasting, committing them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).
Prayer played a vital role in the mission of the early church. Prayer was instrumental in the selection of an apostle, the commendation of deacons, the commissioning of missionaries, and establishing of elders in all the churches planted. The missional fulfillment of Acts 1:8 was saturated in prayer, whether it was the believers in the upper room at Pentecost, Peter and John with the Samaritans, Cornelius praying, the assimilation and commissioning of Paul, and the future generation of leaders in the Gentile world.
The implications of missional prayer cannot be overstated. If we are going to embrace the mission of God, then we cannot neglect prayer to God. Prayer is not an inner discipline divorced from the outworking of the mission; prayer is the inhalation of God’s heart that is exhaled in the mission of God’s people.