Jack Miller once said in a letter to a missionary in Uganda, “the book of Acts is the story of the acts of Christ done in history in response to the constant corporate prayer by the leaders of the church.” One clear example of this is the response of the apostles in Acts 5:41. After being imprisoned, released and commissioned by an angel to preach the word in the temple, arrested again, and beaten, the apostles leave the council “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
Acts 5:41 is a perplexing verse. It is counter-cultural – counter-human, even – to such a degree that its surprise lingers in the mind long after reading. How could they say this? I think the answer is in the prayer of Acts 4:29. There they pray for boldness to keep on speaking God’s word despite the threats and punishments from the authorities. Acts 5:41 would not happen apart from Acts 4:29.
The corporate prayers of the early church prepared them for bold witness in their generation. Acts 5:41 would not have happened apart from Acts 4:29. Prayer prepares us to persevere when we are punished for our witness. We need something more than our will-power or self-inspired defiance. We need a power from above to give us the backbone of steel fashioned from the message of the gospel. We have good news, and there is not a force in this world – political or otherwise – that can silence the mouths of God’s church. We are a prophetic voice calling out to the world to repent and believe the gospel. We are messengers of the King.
Do our prayers reflect it? Or are we satisfied with moderate lives in a very immoderate society? Where is the boldness of our generation for Christ?
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to know the cost. To follow Jesus where he leads is not an easy task. It is filled with joy, no doubt, but also of hardship. Paul’s recollection of his trials proves that the mission of Jesus is not easy. He speaks of his Christian life in defense of his ministry to the Corinthians,
“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
Paul was involved in more ministry than most of us will ever see, but the point is the same: If we are to serve Christ, we will suffer with Christ. There is no way to follow Jesus in this world and come out unscathed. But there is no way to follow Jesus in this wolrd and not receive the eternal award awaiting us in heaven, and joy in this life. There is no path that the Lord Jesus will not ask you to walk. This life is about him, not about you or me. When we see that Jesus is the point of everything we become willing to go anywhere, do anything, and take any risk for his glory.
To prepare for such a daunting task we must be together in prayer. Corporate prayer is the key to rejoicing in suffering. We do not live in an agreeable world. We live in a world that despises Christ. We live in a world in rebellion against Christ. Sin has ruined mankind, and without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit there is no hope for the world. War will be constant, strife will be ever present, pain and suffering will be commonplace. Only the message of the gospel with the power of Christ gives any hope to this dying world.
When we see the way the world treated our Lord, we see a glimpse of how they likely will treat us as well. But to be treated so is not a sign of God’s abandonment. It is a sign of God’s involvement. When we start praying for boldness in the face of danger, we will start rejoicing in suffering for the sheer amazement that we are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.