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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1258

May 22, 2016 Acts 4:23-31

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“Prayer in Times of Trouble”


  • Times of Trouble


I want to begin this message with the second part of the sermon title “Times of Trouble”. I have little doubt that we would agree that America has been steadily growing toward times of trouble. We might mark that beginning with no longer honoring the Sabbath when we first started allowing everything to be open on Sunday. We might mark the date of the elimination of prayer in schools as another significant move to trouble. We might note the attempt to wipe clean all references to the Ten Commandments in public buildings. There could be other markers that we might site, but what we have come to realize today is a nation and society that no longer sees itself as a Christian nation. Even the president, a position one would never imagine could utter this, said we are no longer a Christian nation. What we once understood about America, from its foundation, was the melting pot ideology that all people are invited to come live in a Christian nation and you are free to practice whatever religion you might bring, under the freedom of a Christian nation. What the president probably had in mind was that the melting pot has boiled out the Christian base as the key ingredient in the pot. If you take out the main ingredient, then the mixture in the pot is no longer what it once was. Chicken soup without chicken is just water and vegetables. What has happened in America is that various systems or voices of power have sought to drive God out of the conversation. Because God is no longer in the conversation, America is no longer America. It is nothing but hot water and a few veggies. Everything has changed.


All is not lost. Christianity is still a powerful faith tradition in this country and Jesus reminds us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. But there is enough evidence of damage done within the church and much more outside the church. The anti-gospel philosophies of tolerance and equality and political correctness and the like have destroyed the cultural awareness of “Christian nation”. Those who oppose any of these ideologies are label as bigots, intolerant, or flat out haters.


All is not lost. There have always been problems in our country because there has always been sin in the human person. The world has always been opposed to the kingdom of God. What is different is that our nation began with Judeo-Christian principles and at this point in our history there has seldom, if ever, been as deep a push against those very foundations. Once we had built a nation on the Rock; now we are trying to build a different nation, one built on sand – sometimes it feels like quicksand.


The deepest confusion of the nation today stems directly from the forgotten base of Christian faith. Confusion over sex and morality. Confusion over what it takes to show love. Confusion over integrity and character. What we have heard over the last decade is the obsession with sexual confusion. Whether we are talking about fornication, adultery, sexual immorality, same sex sex, or identity confusion, it all stems from a basic lack of belief in biblical teachings about men and women. God created us male and female. If God had created us with other variations the Bible would have reflected that. But what the Bible does say is that sin has infected us from birth. We all have sexual issues we must see to overcome and confess. Every single person on this earth has to deal with the brokenness of the human condition. But what we have failed to equate is that the same God who enables us to conquer the sins of the flesh like lust can also help us conquer same sex attraction or identity confusion. But, you see, sin and redemption are no longer in the political mindset or the social conscientious. Everyone is considered “born this way” or that way and thus the world seeks to forve us to accept everyone as they are without hope for redemption.



  • One Powerful Discipline


But there is always hope! We know it because we know the God of hope. Redemption is possible for nations and peoples and all the sins that have so deeply twisted our lives. I know it sounds easy for me to say we need to start with prayer, but we also know that all the problems in the world seem insurmountable. What can we do? Pray. That is often all we can do, but not always all we can do. One of our biggest disciplines is prayer. We might even think of prayer as a weapon, but it should not be viewed as a weapon used out of violence or hatred, but from love. Even a prayer for justice against an evil doer is a prayer of love for the victim of the evil person and that the evil person might realize their sin and repent. But certainly prayer should be understood as a great discipline of the church. There are many ways and topics for which we might pray, I’ve just selected a few for our consideration this morning.


  • Prayer for Boldness (Acts 4:24-30)


Our scripture for today is our first stop.

24And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”


In the face of opposition the disciples pray for boldness in speaking God's word. That is precisely our task today, to speak the gospel message with boldness. We are called to speak the Truth with boldness. That boldness has lost momentum over the years, perhaps, and with the lies of the world making great headway in the consciousness of people, the truth needs to be expressed and heard. With the media building a worldly view of all things, the church needs to be more of a voice in the wilderness proclaiming the truth to all who will listen.


  • Prayer for Protection (Psalm 59)

When we speak truth to power in boldness, there will be need for another prayer, that of protection. Look at Psalm 59 as one example.


Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; 2 deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. 3For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men -stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord, 4for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Awake, come to meet me, and see! 5You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah

The Psalmist prays for deliverance and protection in verse 1, then for God to act in verses 4-5, Deliver me and protect me. Verses 4-5 include prayer for God to wake up and see what is going on. He is praying for protection on the one hand and for God to act on the other. Rouse yourself! In the end the prayer turns to confidence in God's strength to protect and love.

16But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.


We are not called to throw ourselves under the bus, but to prepare for and act with confidence that God's love will overcome all the problems we see in the world. Part of our prayer is to praise God for his protection and his steadfast love.


  • Prayer for Justice (Psalm 37:1-13)


Another topic for prayer is justice. We certainly need justice in this world. When some politicians appear to be above the law, we need justice. When judges seek to create laws on their own, we need justice. When fairness and common sense appear to be lacking in the simplest forms, we need justice. Justice is God's work. Justice will set things right again.


Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. 6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 8Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. 10In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. 12The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, 13but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.

How might we practice justice? Look into the prayer, verse 1 – fret not, 3 – trust in the Lord, 4 – delight yourselves in the Lord, commit to God, trust him, and in verse 6 God will bring righteousness and justice. Other commands follow: be still, wait, and then we see a very familiar word, “the meek shall inherit the earth”(Mat. 5:5). Justice will come, maybe not today or tomorrow, we do not know when, but it will come. The Lord’s day is coming.



  • Prayer for Enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)


One of the hardest ideas about prayer comes from Jesus,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


How can we love enemies and pray for them? Paul's phrase for enemies is “enemies of the cross” (Philippians 3:17-21). The opposition we might receive are also those who oppose Jesus. Jesus prayed for his enemies even as he hung on the cross. “Forgive them.” Can we do anything less? It is difficult for us, because our first tendency is to pray for vengeance, or worse, take vengeance ourselves. But the world that opposes Jesus and his followers needs Jesus as well. We pray for enemies so that they might come to receive Jesus.


  • Prayer for “Thy Kingdom Come” (Matthew 6:9-13)


I've included a final prayer from the Lord's prayer,

9Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


We face trouble times, just as our parents did and their parents before them, and just as the first believers in Jesus faced in the gospels and Acts. What we share with all of them is the desire that God's kingdom would fully rule on the earth. This is the truth that is shared with all the prayers above: boldness, protection, justice, enemies – when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, all our prayers will be answered and all justice will be complete.


Let’s ask ourselves if we really believe in the power of prayer. Prayer in times of trouble is prayer that sometimes drives us to our knees. That is when we get really serious about prayer. Trouble leads us to pray more in earnest so that prayer is not just a passing thought of “Lord, find me a good parking spot.” We know that those who oppose Christ are often more passionate and adhere more stringently to their falsehood than we do to the gospel. Some people are moved more by the lies of the world than we are by the truth of Jesus Christ. There are a multitude of ways we might go about transforming a nation and the troubles of our time, but any strategy will only be effective if it is saturated in prayer. Let us be, at the very least, as bold in prayer and proclamation as those who oppose the gospel are in spreading their falsehood.