Prayer in the Early Church – What Were They Praying for and What Can We Learn from Them?

What can we learn from how the early church prayed? We can learn so much! As I have gone back through Acts and the Epistles I have looked for some common threads and themes that come up over and over again. Here is what I found.

The early church prayed together regularly. We see it in the narratives of Acts. Prayer comes up dozens of times in Acts. We see the regularity in Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

We see it all over Paul’s instruction – not just that he instructs the Christians in the first century to pray in a lot of verses (which he does) but that he also instructs them to pray with great regularity:

  • Romans 12:12 – be faithful in prayer
  • Eph 6:18 – ” “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. “
  • Col 4:2 – “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
  • 1 Thess 5:17 – pray continually

God really wants his people to be in constant prayer, together. These instructions aren’t written for individuals but for churches. He is instructing them to pray together. We read this as individuals making individual application and we largely miss the point.

There are also common threads in regard to what you find them praying for. This can be summed up in three categories

1 – Bold proclamation

  • The prayer at the end of Acts 4
  • 2 Thess 3:1 – prayer request for bold gospel proclamation
  • Eph 6:19 – prayers for bold gospel proclamation
  • Col 4:3-4 – prayers for bold, clear proclomation

2 – Praying from great difficulty

  • Acts 4 – prayers following persecution
  • Acts 12:5 – prayers for Peter when he was in jail
  • Acts 16:25 – Paul and Silas in jail, they are singing and praying

3 – Praying for leadership, particularly at times of transition

  • Acts 1:24 – the replacement of Judas
  • Acts 14:23 – the appointment of elders

We can learn a lot from watching and listening to the early church pray. Our churches need to be in prayer for more often than they are. Meaningful revival always starts with prayer. We shouldn’t forget that. We must be in prayer regularly as a church body for our leadership, for our bold proclamation and for direction in difficult times.

3 Responses to Prayer in the Early Church – What Were They Praying for and What Can We Learn from Them?

  1. Mark says:

    It also means praying for specific things, people, and events. The cofC with its unwritten prohibition on written prayers had men and boys going up to pray who had to just remember the list and wing it. Also, there are many people in churches who do not know how to get a prayer request into the right hands. I never remember hearing anyone ask openly for prayer requests. That might have led to strange requests and put the one praying in a bad position if a woman spoke up. However, couple that fear with entire sermons on what will hinder your prayers and the “vain repetition” dislike which was used to bash the Catholics from the pulpit and anyone else with a written prayer and it is no wonder that churches merely say a generic prayer with little meaning.

  2. Ed Dodds says:

    Don’t be censoring the signs and wonders 😉

    29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

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