People Who Pray – The Early Church (Part 1)

A devoted church, is a praying church.  In this series, we’ll explore what Jesus said, what the early church did, and how we, the church, can become more devoted

What JESUS said about prayer…

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.  Before giving them a prayer model, he made two comments.  First, there is no need to pray in public places to be heard by those around them.  God hears our prayers in the secret of our hearts.  Second, make sure you don’t use “empty phrases”.  In other words, simple and short is always better than wordy and long.  After all, the “Father knows what you need before you ask him.”[i]  Jesus continued His teaching by giving his disciples a prayer model.  The model we all know well:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”[ii]

This model is all about praying for God’s will to be accomplished while his followers are taken care of.  The key here is “[God’s] will be done.”  Something else to note is that there are no singular pronouns in the prayer.  The prayer doesn’t start with “My Father” or “His Father”, it starts with “Our Father”.  The model includes God’s will for all of us together as one Church body.  Jesus was teaching how the Church needs to be devoted to prayer.

What the EARLY CHURCH did…

The early Church was devoted to prayer.[iii]  This is not only seen in scripture, but also in other early documents like The Didache – a document referring to the teaching of the twelve Apostles.  This first/second century document states that a Christian should say the Lord’s prayer three times daily.[iv]

By the fourth century, tradition called for a Christian to pray seven times daily.  This seemed to differ based on whether a Christian was home or not.  Without question, however, a Christian should pray at rising, during the lighting of the evening candle, at bed time, and midnight.[v]

As Christianity developed, scripted prayers became a common way to help a Christians engage in prayer.  Many main-line denominations continue to use prayer books and scripted prayers today.

What EARLY PENTECOSTALS did…

For early Pentecostals, prayer was one of the most significant activities.  To pray, meant to open themselves to what the Spirit is doing among them.  Being a denomination that was built on the activity of the Spirit, prayer became a major aspect of Pentecostal spirituality.

As a part of their spiritual life, early Pentecostals prayed in the Spirit.  Steven Jack Land[vi] suggests that there are three ways early Pentecostals did this:

1) With words known to others – letting the Spirit guide their words as they prayed

2) With no words – groaning, crying and laughing in response to what the Spirit was doing.

3) With words unknown to others – praying in tongues.  Using a prayer language to speak to God.

Praying in the Spirit was also a part of the believer’s daily walk with God.  Alice Garrigus[vii], the Pentecostal pioneer of Newfoundland, was praying when she read The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.[viii]  She wrote,  “…often on my knees, eyes blinded with tears praying fervently, ‘O God, if there be such an experience, won’t you bring me into it?'”[ix]

It’s safe to say early Pentecostals relied on prayer.  It wasn’t only a significant part of the church service, but also the heart of the believer.  They were devoted to it!

What the CHURCH TODAY needs to do…

As we explore what those before us did, it’s important for us to ask: “are we devoted to prayer in this generation? Do we use the Lord’s prayer as our prayer model? Is prayer the center of our lives?”  If we want to see God move, then we must first pray for God’s will to be accomplished; and second, pray for God to supply our needs and the needs of others along the way.

Let’s commit to a private prayer life and to a praying Church – a Church who prioritizes prayer, meets regularly to pray, and realizes that prayer always precedes something beautiful.  If your church holds weekly prayer meetings or pre-service prayer times, attending these, might be a great way to start placing prayer as a priority.

Will we be devoted people who pray?

 


[i] Matthew 6:5-8, ESV.

[ii] Matthew 6:9-13, ESV.

[iii] Acts 2:42, ESV.

[iv] Maxwell Standiforth, trans., Early Christian Writings: the Apostolic Fathers (penguin Classics) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1968), 231.

[v] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967), 272.

[vi] Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010), 166-172.

[vii] About Garrigus (http://www.heritage.nf.ca/society/pentecostal.html), Writings by Garrigus (http://www.mun.ca/rels/pent/).

[viii] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2010)

[ix]Alice B. Garrigus, “Walking In The King’s Highway” Chapter 4, Memorial University, http://www.mun.ca/rels/pent/texts/king/king4.html (accessed January 4, 2013).

Andrew lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with his wife, Deidre, and two children (Rae and Pierson), where he is the Lead Pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church. He is a graduate of both Memorial University (BBA) and Tyndale Seminary (MTS). His passion is to help people become true disciples of Jesus.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.