"Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" (Acts 1.11), asked the two men who appeared to the apostles at the time the Lord ascended to heaven. The apostles were assured by them that He would certainly return, though the time was not disclosed. It was not for them to be "gazers" but "workers". They should "occupy" till He returned (Lk 19.13). They, therefore, went back to Jerusalem where they were to begin implementing the commission that had been given them, a commission which required the extension of their work in "Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1.8). But who will dare to work without first praying? Prayerless work is vain endeavour: the energy might as well have been spared. The apostles returned to Jerusalem and went to the upper room where they found a number continuing steadfastly in prayer. Both men and women were there, though we may be sure that appropriate godly order was observed. Thus they began.
There can be no greater safeguard against making mistakes than by giving one's self time to meditate, think, and ask God's guidance in prayer before Him. The apostles had a problem: it related to the replacement of Judas. A vacancy had occurred in the apostolate through his treachery. Who should fill his place? They could not read the heart of man and they did not want to elect another who might turn to be like or worse than Judas. They, therefore, gave themselves to prayer to Him who knew the hearts of all men, and, being guided by the Scriptures, they elected Matthias (Acts 1.26). Thus it was possible now for twelve men who had accompanied with the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh to present a risen Christ to the twelve tribes of Israel.
There are some who think that they made an error. The writer is persuaded that they did not do so. Never was it intended that Paul should be one of the twelve; he held an altogether unique place. Do you wonder that, in such an atmosphere of prayer, there was the triumphant Pentecostal blessing of three thousand souls (Acts 2.41)?
Like the Lord, the apostles had not only to do with the masses, but they came into contact with individuals who were in need also. They met a man lame from birth, and they knew that it was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate before the people that Christ Jesus was alive and that His name was still effective to "do cures" (Lk 13.32). The story is well known, though it may have been overlooked that this took place "at the hour of prayer". Peter and John were on their way to have dealings with God at the throne of grace, albeit in those transitional times they resorted to the temple for the purpose (Acts 3.1). If we, too, desire to see the lame walking, and leaping and praising God we must not neglect regularly visiting the temple "not made with hands" (Heb 9.11) and seek audience with the "most high" (Heb 7.1). It creates a healthy awareness of one's own weakness, but at the same time of the limitless resources that are in God.
It would go ill with God's servants were only success to bestrew their path. They are not greater than their Lord and they must expect to suffer with Him. So it came to pass. The lame man's benefactors were called to task before the Sanhedrin who, being greatly embarrassed by the undeniable sign-miracle and the favourable impression that it had made on the people, could only threaten them not to preach further. Thereupon they let them go (Acts 4.23). But men like Peter and John could not be expected to take notice of that threat: they had a commission from a higher power and that must be obeyed at all costs. But they dared not to do it with the arm of the flesh for that certainly would fail them. They, therefore, again gave themselves to prayer, seeking not deliverance from trouble and persecution but the ability to speak the word with all boldness (Acts 4.29). They were aware of the forceful pull of cowardice: they also felt the strong tug of duty. And for courage to do their duty they prayed (Acts 4.31). No wonder God answered by the shaking of the room, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and their speaking God's words with boldness. Such a prayer could never fail to be answered.
As the church grew so its problems increased and that relating to the daily administration to the widows is well known. In addressing it the apostles were careful not to be diverted from their own special line of things. They had been commissioned by the Lord and on no account could they allow temporal and material things to swamp their more important work of preaching the gospel. In speaking of the matter to the "multitude of them that believed" (Acts 4.32) they explained that they would continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word. Note the order; prayer was priority, for dealing with God must come before speaking for God. How often are we apt to forget this! But where this order is observed we may expect to read that "the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied" (Acts 6.7).
Some circumstances make it impossible to be alone with God in prayer: the stern necessity of standing before men defending the cause of the gospel is forced upon us. It was so with Stephen. But in the midst of it all, when the die had been cast and his life was forfeit he turned his eye to the Saviour and on His lips were those few words, a prayer in two parts, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", and "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts7.59-60). He fell asleep praying. It is not a bad thing if our last waking moments are occupied with prayer, but with Stephen it was his last living moment on earth. He must have known his Saviour to have turned so confidently to Him in such an extremity.
To be continued.