When you experience opposition, how do you respond? What sort of thoughts control your mind and what sort of prayers do you pray? We can experience opposition in many different ways and from many sources. Whether it is coming from people around you, the situation and circumstances of life, the thoughts you tell yourself or the lies of the evil one, you will face opposition in your service of God's Kingdom. How do you respond?
In Acts 4, we see an example that can inform our response to opposition. After Peter and John were arrested for engaging in ministry at the temple, "they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them (Acts 4:23)." The opposition Peter and John experienced had the potential of actual physical consequences. We do not often experience opposition that would result in physical persecution, but to varying degrees, if we are serving Jesus, we will experience opposition to our work. Here is how Peter and John, along with their friends responded.
The Believers Pray for Boldness
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And 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, who 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? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for 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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31 ESV)
In the example of these early disciples, there are three key elements to their prayer that can inform our own response. But before that, we first learn that prayer is an important and necessary response. Do we even get to the point of praying when we experience opposition? When we stare at the face of a mountain standing in the way of what God has called us to do, do we get on your knees and pray? If not, let's begin there. Once we start praying, here are some key elements we should include in our prayers:
1. Praise God for His goodness (4:24-26)
The disciples prayer begins with praising God for who He is and what He has done. They address him as "sovereign Lord" and give him credit as the "one who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them." They are further amazed at those who have rejected God (4: 25b-26). Whenever we pray, it is important that we give acknowledgment to the God whom we are offering our prayers. We pray to the sovereign, creator God. The quality of His character should under-gird our prayers and we should praise Him for his goodness.
2. Acknowledge God's sovereign plan (4:27-28)
After honoring God for who He is, they thank God for His sovereign plan. Even in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they thank God that Herod and Pontius Pilate did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (4:27-28)." No matter what opposition we face, we can trust and believe that God has a plan and that He will work things out for our good and for His glory. When we pray, we can thank Him and express our trust in his sovereign plan.
3. Ask for strength (4:29-30)
When it comes time to petition God on behalf of their situation, they ask for strength. They ask that God would, "look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness (4:29)." Notice, there is no request for relief from the opposition or persecution itself. The request is for continued boldness. That doesn't mean we cannot ask God for relief. We see God's people do it often throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms. But that was not their primary request. Their request was that in the face of opposition, they would be bold.
Praying in the face of opposition
No matter what you are up against today, you can pray. Start there. Don't stop there, but do start there. And when you pray, learn from these early disciples. In response to their prayer, "the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (4:31)." God honored their prayer, and they were filled with boldness.
My hope is that we learn to pray like the early church. Praising God for His goodness, acknowledging his sovereign plan and then praying for strength and boldness to press on in our service to the King.