In Acts 1:14, Luke gives us this summary report about Jesus’s disciples after his ascension into heaven: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” He gives a similar summary account of the wider community of Spirit-filled believers in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
The first generation of believers was marked by a devotion to prayer. They learned this devotion from the Lord Jesus himself. Jesus was devoted to prayer. The Gospels report his consistent and constant practice of prayer. Luke’s Gospel, in particular highlights Jesus’s praying life: When Jesus was baptized, he was praying (Luke 3:21); before he appointed the 12 disciples, he spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12); when he was transfigured on the mountain, he was praying (Luke 9:29); on the night he was betrayed and arrested, he withdrew and knelt down and prayed (Luke 22:41). Luke reports that Jesus frequently withdrew to desolate places to pray (Luke 5:16).
Yes, Jesus trained the Twelve to be his witnesses and preach the word, but he also trained them to be devoted to prayer. In Acts 6, when administrative concerns put demands on their time, they resolved: “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). First prayer, then the ministry of the word.
This devotion to prayer not only marked the apostles and the first community of believers in Jerusalem. We see the same devotion in Paul’s letters to Gentile churches. Paul testifies at the beginning of his letter to the Colossians, “we have not ceased to pray for you” (Col 1:9) and he exhorts them at the end of his letter, “Continue steadfastly in prayer” or “devote yourselves to prayer” (Col 4:2). Devotion to prayer is commanded.
Acts 2:42 is not simply a description of what marked the early church. It’s a prescription of what should mark every church. Every church should be devoted to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. This fourfold devotion is like the four legs of a chair. A steady chair needs four solid legs of equal length. If one of the legs is too short, the chair wobbles. In the same way, when the church’s devotion to one of these four priorities wanes, the church wobbles.
For many of us, prayer is the short leg on the chair. If Luke were reporting on our church or our families, would he write, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14)? Personally, the beginning of the lockdown back in March motivated my devotion to prayer, but I’ve lost momentum in recent weeks. I’m working to recover my devotion to prayer. How’s your devotion to prayer? Some of us continue to meet online via Zoom for prayer in the mornings at 8:00 AM. You should join us. Here’s the link. You can also join the Friday evening prayer meeting, which meets at the church and online at 7:00 PM.
A balanced devotion to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers is vital because this fourfold devotion is centred on Christ and sustained by the Spirit. When our devotion wavers, we lose sight of Christ and begin to walk out of step with the Spirit. Let’s heed that Apostles' exhortation: “devote yourselves to prayer” (Colossians 4:2) and let us spur one another on in our devotion to prayer.