It was 25 years ago. I was beginning my doctoral studies program at Dallas Theological Seminary and had just gotten the syllabus for my first class entitled “Pastoral Ministry and the Book of Acts.” I had been out of school for six years and was a bit worried about embarking upon this highest level of academics, so I was pretty anxious as I opened the information packet to learn the course requirements.
The first major paper was to write an analysis of the role of prayer in the 1st century church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles. I remember thinking, “Really? Prayer in the book of Acts? This professor thinks I’m going to write 15-20 pages, just about prayer?” It simply did not seem like a very great assignment to me. I was disappointed.
It is not like I did not recall that there were people praying in the book of Acts. But as I began to list all the incidents of prayer in the book, I began to see why the assignment was given. Over my years of reading Acts, I had failed to appreciate how significantly these early Christians didn’t do practically anything without praying about it.
To describe it with a single sentence: Prayer was their regular immediate impulse, not their last resort. The study made an impression upon me I would never forget.
Is prayer your first impulse when confronted by the challenges of life? For me, I think it truly was when I was told in 1996 that my oldest son had cancer. More recently, it was my first impulse on that day when another son cut ¾ through his arm with a chainsaw. But most days and on most occasions, my first inclination as an American male is to try to do something to fix it!
What I need to fix rather is the wrong notion that prayer is not doing something. That is what this series and these devotional readings are about – learning from people who understood rightly how dependent they were upon God … as we are also … it just does not always seem that way.
Prayer is the #1 thing that everyone agrees upon is the best activity that can actually succeed in changing the circumstances of life – personally, or corporately as a church family. But it is also the #1 thing that most gets cut, dropped, avoided, forgotten, and otherwise marginalized from the busyness of life. How about we change that?
Another major benefit from reading through the Acts of the Apostles is the timely way it speaks culturally to us as Christians today. These 1st Century followers of Christ lived in a very secular society where faith was ridiculed, if not also so disdained as to engender hostility and persecution. There is much to make us believe we are increasingly living in a culture that is attitudinally more like the 1st Century than at any other time over the past two millennia.
How do we live as God’s people who are a minority in the broader culture? Luke – the same fellow who wrote the Gospel account of that name – helps us see through his eyes and pen how the founding fathers of our faith negotiated these complexities. There are many applications to inform our lives in this modern era.
So, welcome aboard … this is going to be a great summer.
(Tomorrow will feature some background information about Luke and the book of The Acts of the Apostles, and then Monday will begin the first devotional accompanying the 50 sections of readings over a 10-week period.)