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The Jerusalem congregation -- the first church -- is not only the mother Christian church, it is God¬ís model. God not only gives instructions for the building of the church. He makes sure that we have a pattern to go by.
Giving a pattern has always been part of God¬ís unique plan. To Moses He said, "Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount." Later Solomon built a temple according to God¬ís design. In the New Testament Jesus became the pattern. He is Tabernacle, Temple, Example -- and more, our Saviour and Lord.
Then came the time for God¬ís prize exhibit on earth -- the church that Jesus said He would build. How would He build it? What would it look like? Where would it be? Where can we find answers? In the Book of Acts, in God¬ís Holy Book, we not only see that church, we can actually see Christ building it.
In chapter 1 the Builder goes to heaven, but before that we see Him putting together this new church -- His most stupendous miracle on earth. He is following a plan all His own -- a new plan. And when He ascended to heaven, He did not take the plan with Him; He left it here for us.
Moreover, He even left us a model -- a full-size model, not a mini-model -- in the famous upper room. It is in plain view: about 120 members, all praying together in a prayer meeting! Every member was present. Here is the crowning miracle of all Christ¬ís earthly miracles -- His new wonder in the world, the last thing He did on earth before He ascended to heaven.
In Acts the Lord Jesus gave us not only a model, but also a blueprint for building. This is what we need to see and study. How we build up a church depends on how we read the blueprint. Here we have the "Book of the Church," the ecclesia, the assembly, the congregation. I must learn with Jesus how to build His assembly so that it turns out to be like His model. How is this to be done?
The model and the blueprint correspond. Our Lord builds a praying congregation in Jerusalem. His plan calls for a praying congregation to be the new vehicle for everything He has in mind. And it calls for us to be so much a part of such a congregation that we can never be the same again.
The plan calls for that Jerusalem praying congregation to dominate the Book of Acts and to determine the course of the church.
Why does the prayer meeting have such priority? Why was it the first thing Jesus established when He built His church? When He left for heaven, why did He leave a praying congregation behind? Why was every member present there, involved in "prayer and supplication"? What motivated all the new members -- by the thousands -- to become prayer meeting members, and to do so at once? How could they raise and uphold this kind of a standard for every member? To ask such questions is to ask God for some of His greatest secrets for our congregations.
Our Lord did not hide these secrets. They are written plainly in the blueprint He left so that we could work together with Him in building churches according to His plans. How exciting that we can be workers together with God!
And what a fellowship in the building! He is always the Master Builder -- but He works in and with and through and for us, and always according to His Word. By His Holy Spirit He does it all from heaven. He watches over the blueprint of His Word ever so closely. Let us make sure we work according to His Word, too, as He did!
It is very revealing and rewarding to note how many different assembly meetings are described in Acts. Look at some of them.
Chapter 1 is full. In chapter 2 we see the whole Jerusalem assembly on fire with its own kind of powerful action all day long. Then, in chapter 3, more assembly action and preaching hits us with full force, and moves us right into chapter 4 with further high explosives from the same congregation. In chapter 5 we find ourselves in a very different kind of atmosphere, full of the awe of God and power of the rarest kind on earth.
Suddenly we attend two funerals, of a husband and a wife, all within the space of a few hours, and all of this in the midst of God¬ís assembled people.
These are but a few highlights. In chapter 6 we see yet another kind of assembly action, and we can read on and on and find ourselves still in the glorious action of the risen Christ at work in building His Jerusalem congregation. Thank God for the tremendous potential of one small congregation of about 120 members!
The most important and strategic of all the assemblies recorded are the prayer meetings. Like powerful munitions, they appear at the most crucial times and win the day.
So powerful are they that the whole forward thrust of the church comes from them, as the thrust of a jumbo plane comes from its jets. Even before the day of the Jerusalem congregation the disciples had learned something about this. For the Lord had enjoined them to "pray...the Lord of the harvest, that He will send [thrust] forth labourers into His harvest" (Luke 10:2).
Of all the many assemblies the most power-packed are the prayer meetings. When the chips are down, when the battle is joined at the very gates of hell, the prayer meetings rise to the call of duty and take over. Like a mighty army of God, the church marches forward on its knees -- on its witnessing feet, too, but its method is to take ground first on its knees, in prayer.
Observe a few examples. In chapter 1 the 120-member prayer meeting in the upper room is pregnant with "prayer and supplication," waiting to be delivered. Pentecost would celebrate a birth.
If we want to see how much power a great prayer meeting can unloose and set in motion, look into chapter 4. Notice that the original prayer meeting (chapter 1) did not weaken or thin out; the membership increased to many thousands! The prayer meeting increased as part of the "increase" (Acts 6:7). What a blueprint for our day when "church growth" is such a popular subject!
Why do we feel a prayer meeting must always be a little side activity? Think of the prayer meetings that generated the mighty revivals in our nation¬ís history. Think of the "American Pentecost" of 1857-58 when the nation became a nation of prayer. Think of the famous Jayne¬ís Music Hall prayer meeting in Philadelphia where thousands gathered for prayer every noon, giving birth to revivals in churches all over that area. Think of the powerful prayer meetings which generated the movement of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Speaking on Acts 1:14, Dr. A. T. Pierson once said, "There never has been a revival but by such united supplicatory praying, and no revival has ever continued beyond the continuation of that same praying."
Most churches are said to fail because they do not generate their own power. This is also true of the individual Christian. Prayer is the generator. The great London preacher Charles Spurgeon once took some people down to his Metropolitan Tabernacle basement to show them his "power plant." There, on their knees, were about three hundred people praying for the service!
In chapter 12 we see the Jerusalem church still praying at the same high upper-room level. Once again the battle is joined. Peter, their powerful leader, is to be executed. Why did they not call on just a few -- the "prayer warriors, those in the church who really know how to pray and lay hold on God"? Because they all knew how! "Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" (verse 5). There was an all-night prayer meeting in Mary¬ís house, where "many were gathered together praying" (verse 12). And Peter was delivered from prison and death by an angel!
That is not all. The angel also delivered Herod to death. But the prayer victory was even more far-reaching than that: "the word of God grew and multiplied" (verse 24).
No wonder the golden-mouthed Chrysostom once said, "God can refuse nothing to a praying congregation!"
Where Have We Failed?
It seems that not only have we been ailing and failing -- we have fallen.
First, our vision of the church has declined. This is primary. In practical language, our members place a low priority on strong and faithful assembling, though this is what the Lord really has in mind for His plan. People can miss meetings without any twinge of conscience. The Book of Hebrews flashes the danger signals, and this is one of them: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (10:25).
Today we not only see the signs of His coming; we can actually "see the day approaching." We should be assembling more faithfully, not less. God¬ís word here is a very earnest word.
Second, with that decline in assembling the prayer meeting has also suffered. Instead of the prayer meeting being a concern for the entire assembly, it has often dwindled to the care of the few. It is generally considered to be an adjunct to the otherwise busy round. This condition has now become so general that it is dreadfully specific -- totally unlike the Jerusalem congregation!
Third, the Great Commission has also suffered and been weakened in this decline. The result is that we are heavy on the "Go ye" of the gospel but we are failing on other facets of it -- without even seeming to be aware of it. The Great Commission includes many commissions -- not just one. It is a command with many commandments. We need to see it whole.
We must "repair the breaches." God remedies spiritual ills by revival and renewal. Renewal comes at the point of the fall. God¬ís call to repentance always brings us back to beginnings.
The blueprint shows that the Great Commission with all its varied commissions, like so much building material, was meant for the church God was building in Jerusalem. They will all be "fitly framed together...for an habitation of God through the Spirit." The church is the new abode of His glory, His new method for fulfilling His commissions -- and the only creation having all the dimensions needed for worldwide evangelization. When we study the Book of Acts, we see God¬ís methods for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Why A Prayer Meeting First?
Because there is nothing in His church that does not depend on prayer! Its new abundant life, love, unity, purity, power, constant renewal, warfare, world evangelization, leaders, unending advance without defeat -- all depend on praying.
If God is going to do it, it has to be by prayer. There is no other way! John Wesley recognized this when he said, "All God¬ís works are done in believing prayer."
How did Jesus build every member of the Jerusalem congregation into the prayer meeting? The blueprint ties this action in with His Great Commission. He at once made prayer a total assembly action. But though the blueprint (The Acts) makes things so plain, we appear not to have seen it. Or else we do not know how to read it. Or have ignored it. Today we have a double standard for our members. We have prayer meeting members, and another kind.
The Jerusalem congregation was not like this. All of them turned full circle from the Mount of Olives and headed right back to Jerusalem to form the first New Testament church prayer meeting in that upper room. Why? The blueprint makes it very plain: because Jesus commanded it! (See Acts 1:2,4,12-14.) He "charged" them (a military term of command), and they went.
They obeyed because they loved Jesus. He had said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments [plural]." And this was one of His commandments, one of the commissions of the Great Commission. "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me," Jesus said. Obedience quickens our pace to the prayer meeting. And it is the test of our love. I cannot say I love Jesus if I do not love His prayer meeting!
In Acts 1 we see all the leaders in that prayer meeting, showing the way for other members. Today we have church leaders who never even darken the door of the prayer meeting! Unfortunately, many of our members are strong on the "missions" part of the Great Commission but do not sense the other facets or know the Bible basis and sanction for the congregational prayer meeting and its relation to missions.
The command for the church to pray is as much a part of the Great Commission as the command to "Go [with the gospel]...and teach all nations." It derives from the same blueprint. The Great Commission is built into His congregation organically and prayer is the very lifeline of His new creation, the church. Prayer fellowship was the first form He gave to His new assembly in Jerusalem.
Dwight L. Moody once said, "Behind every work of God you will always find some kneeling form." The kneeling form in Jerusalem was the praying congregation -- the prayer meeting.
"Lord, teach us to pray."