A few thoughts on the apostles’ commitment to “the word of God and prayer” in Acts 6:4.
My first mentor was a young man of 28. I was a younger man of 23. His name is Larry and during one sermon he related a story of teaching a group of young adults on a retreat. Larry was talking about what it means to know God and after that sermon there was a Q&A session that brought this first question: “I am quite interested in knowing God as you speak of him, but I don’t want to do all that ‘read your bible and pray’ stuff.” To which Larry replied something like, “Well, I Have no magic formula, but whatever path I would suggest would certainly begin with the two things you apparently want to avoid.” Perhaps it just felt too unsophisticated, too Sunday-schoolish. Who knows?
But in first century Jerusalem, at the front end of establishing the church, the very first apostles of Jesus made a decision to not get involved with a serious pastoral situation in this budding ministry and rather stick to what they considered the priority of their calling: teaching the word and praying. Perhaps to some of you the choice of those two elements might appear obvious, and I would certainly agree regarding the “word” priority. But what about the “prayer” priority? Over the past 20 years or so I have worked with leaders and leadership teams. And an early question I ask these leaders and teams is: “How much time does your team devote to corporate prayer (both intercessory and listening)?” I was certainly not trying to lay some kind of guilt trip on these leaders, but I was convinced both by the scriptures and practice later in my ministry that this was indeed essential to leading the flock of God. It took me a long time to learn this practice, and I have a way to go, but it was this very scripture in Acts that made me focus on this prayer practice (In fact, a short study of Acts chapters 1-16 is an amazing apologetic for prayer and especially corporate prayer.
Nobody would question the apostles’ focus on the ministry of the word in Acts 6, but prayer? How did they think about prayer? Besides the recorded prayers we have in the scriptures I am guessing the apostles took an approach to corporate prayer that looked something like the following:
*a commitment to be together at regular times of the day, perhaps coordinating with the temple prayer times
*a recitation of a psalm as a lead-in to prayer. Perhaps they sang the psalm
*an intercessory segment related to the immediate needs of the community
*an explicit acknowledgement of the ownership and authority of Jesus and his determination to guide and build the church
*presenting themselves to God with an understanding of the past
*listening for the input of the Spirit regarding present challenges and dilemmas
*pursuing Jesus for his input regarding his intentions for the future
*a concluding time of worship and thanksgiving
These are the things the apostles undoubtedly prayed for and sought after as they came together. And they are the things leadership teams should focus on in their corporate listening prayer–the past, present and future reality of Jesus giving input to his main governing leaders in particular.
The reason they deliberately did not wait on tables was precisely because this kind of prayer would easily occupy their time in a priority kind of way.