Prayers for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation
Scripture Passage for Daily Reflection
Acts 4:23-31 (NIV 2011, via www.biblegateway.com)
Thoughts for the Week
If you remember our reading from last week, Peter and John were headed to the temple at the time of prayer when the encountered a lame man - whom they healed. When the people saw this and were astonished, Peter began to speak to them about the kingdom of God, drawing from both recent experience and ancient scripture.
This all upset the religious teachers and they were commanded to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus. So last week, we prayed for the faith and courage to respond as Peter and John did on that day: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
What enabled these men to speak so courageously? Well, the easy, but true nonetheless, answer is that they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. A little more specifically and challenging to us - they were empowered by the same Holy Spirit promised to EVERY believer through faith and baptism.
But I think its also important to remember the first detail mentioned in that story was that they were headed to the temple to pray with other Jews and God-fearers (a term used to refer to Gentiles who worshipped God).
The call to be more missional is not a call to neglect the spiritual disciplines which have proven so valuable throughout history. Jesus was pretty harsh on religion, but he and his disciples still gathered with other believers to pray and study the scriptures.
In this week’s reading we see what happened when Peter and John were released from jail. They went back to the people (who were apparently gathered together) and told their story. What was the response of this young faith community? They began praying; praising God, quoting scripture and asking for continued boldness and miracles. It says that “after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
Obviously its important to again note the natural response of prayer showing a commitment to spiritual formation and relationship with God. However, I also want to comment on the mention of them being filled with the Holy Spirit. Throughout Acts, the gift of the Holy Spirit coming on those who received Jesus’ baptism - as opposed to John the Baptist’s baptism, which was a kind of preparation through repentance, waiting on the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit was a basic, fundamental aspect of the Body of Christ - so why is it that this obviously faithful gathering includes a reference to being filled with the Spirit?
There are different reasons this could be, but it seems to me that the answer isn’t one of identity but action. Receiving the Holy Spirit is a basic part of our identity as Christians; we are being continually formed into the image of Christ, by the Spirit of God at work within us. What’s being mentioned here in Acts 4 is something different than receiving an identity. And I think it also transcends the contemporary use of the phrase that refers to the “charismatic gifts” - though that may well have been part of what happened.
No, I think what we see here is a group of people encountering an example of the Kingdom of God at work, immediately responding to God in prayer and then experiencing the natural result - encouragement and sending by the Spirit of God. This is the very purpose of discipleship. We engage in the stories and activities of Jesus because we believe that in so doing we cultivate an environment where we are more prepared to be transformed. We can’t bring about the change being described - it is in a very real sense a filling of the Holy Spirit, not ourselves - but we can make room for the Holy Spirit, we can prepare ourselves to be more receptive, we can expect the transformation promised us.
As we pray for discipleship and spiritual formation this week, this is why. We are praying, studying, sharing, serving and collaborating not as ends in themselves, but for the purpose of transformation which propels us deeper into the active life on mission with God.
Prayer for Sunday, May 15
God Who Forms, we have you to thank for our very existence and every blessing that has come after. Thank you, Almighty God, for speaking the Word that ignited the universe. Thank you, Father, for walking in the garden, kneeling in the dust and breathing life into a being created in your own image. God we pray that you will continue teaching us what it means to be created in your image. We struggle to see because our eyes have been damaged by sin. Make us new, Lord. Repair our eyes, our hearts and minds, our world, our existence. You are the God Who Forms, and to you alone do we offer our prayers for transformation.
How long has it been since you stopped to consider the wonder of creation formed by God? Spend a few minutes noticing and then thanking God for the work of creation. Today, make a note of one or two areas of your life where you need the God Who Forms to work. If you are comfortable doing so, share these with your faith community or a friend.