The Devoted Life
The church I serve has been focusing on the following spiritual habits as a way of helping our congregation grow in Christ –
I want to summarize this series by looking at a snapshot of the early church in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts provides us with many snapshots of the early church – who they were, what they were doing, where they were going, and so much more.
The Acts of the Holy Spirit
The full title of Acts is often rendered, The Acts of the Apostles. But many throughout church history remind us a more fitting title would be, The Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Consider these verses…
Acts 1:4-5 - On one occasion, while [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 4:31 - After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
There are many more verses I could cite, but you get the point. If the Holy Spirit was not breathing spiritual life into people, and then moving in and through them, there would be no Acts of the Apostles.
And the good news is this:
The same Holy Spirit who filled the hearts and minds of believers in New Testament times… and animated the early church… is the same Holy Spirit who lives in and through you. The Holy Spirit dwells in every single person who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus Christ.
That is what happened in the largest section of Acts 2, which comes right before our Scripture. The Holy Spirit came and filled the 120 followers of Jesus, which caused quite a stir in Jerusalem.
Peter then preached a mighty sermon to a great crowd of Jews from all over the world. He proclaimed the prophecies of the Old Testament had come to pass, and that the long-awaited Messiah had come.
This Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified on the cross, but whom God raised from the dead. And now this same Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand and God has poured out his Holy Spirit upon his people, as he promised he would.
As I said, it was a mighty sermon. And when the people heard that the crucified and risen Jesus was both Lord and Messiah, they cried out to Peter and the apostles, “What shall we do?” In other words, they were asking, “How do we respond? We don’t know what to do.” And Peter answered them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:38)
Then, in verse 41, right before our Scripture, we read what happened next,
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The existing Church of Jesus Christ grew from 120 to 3,120 – after one sermon. That was not because Peter was so eloquent. It was because the Holy Spirit is so good and powerful.
The Church was Born
What happened to all these new believers? These new followers of Jesus? Well, they were changed! They were no longer the same. The language of the New Testament says they were “born again.” They became new creatures in Christ. How could they possibly go back to old ways of living – old ways of believing.
But they needed to be guided. They needed others to travel this new path with them. Like my favorite movie series, The Lord of the Rings, they needed a fellowship.
And that is what they found.
A Picture of Christian Discipleship & Fellowship
Our Scripture provides for us a one-sentence summary of Christian discipleship and fellowship. Verse 42 says,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Let me draw your attention to the word, “devoted.” Devoted here means, “exerting great effort to persist in doing something… It indicates action that is continuous and habitual.” In other words, they were “all in.” This was not a casual interest. And it was not temporary.
And so, the question is: What were these new followers of Christ devoted to?
The Apostles’ Teaching
Our Scripture says, first of all, they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles. The apostles had spent a little over three years, “Learning Jesus.” Now, they were teaching these new believers the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, stories about the miracles he did, and more.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told the apostles…
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Well, they had been baptized and now the apostles were teaching them “to obey everything [he] had commanded [them].”
Secondly, they were also devoted to fellowship. My church used to have a Sunday School class called, koinonia. That is the Greek word for fellowship in this verse. It means participating and sharing with others in a common goal. One commentator said they shared with one another “in material goods as well as spiritual wealth.”
As the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, might have put it, they watched over one another in love. They were a learning, serving, caring, community. They had a common life.
Breaking of Bread
Third - they also broke bread together. And while that included table fellowship, it meant something more. It also included partaking in the Lord’s Supper together. “Remembering” is a key idea in Judaism. And these early Christians were Jewish.
They now, as a fellowship, remembered Jesus – who he was and what he had done on their behalf. They experienced his presence through his Holy Spirit. And together they remembered they would one day dine with him at a Great Banquet.
The last thing verse 42 tells us is they prayed. The Greek word for prayer in this verse means, “the prayers.” Thus, not only did they pray individually, but they also prayed together, corporately, as a new family of faith.
These prayers would have included their prayers at the Temple, because they still thought of themselves as Jewish. They did not think they were starting a new religion. They thought they were enjoying the fulness of their religion by following their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus.
And so, they were a learning, loving, caring, worshipping, praying fellowship.
Result #1: Favor
What was the result? They grew and matured in their faith. They served others. They gave to others as they had need. The lived joy-filled lives. They lived praise-filled lives. They worshipped.
Verse 47 tells us they enjoyed the favor of all the people who watched their lives. Persecution would soon follow, but for this season, they enjoyed peace and favor.
Result #2: God Produces
What was the result of that favor? Verse 47 tells us the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. These believers were faithful to God’s call in their lives and God produced fruit through them for the sake of his Kingdom.
This is a picture of the church in its purest form. And this is still how it works today. God calls us to be faithful and God will do the heavy lifting. God will bring forth the growth.
Christ himself promised to build his church and declared that not even the gates of hell would prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) That was not just a promise for the first century church. It is as true for us today as it was for them.
And the Holy Spirit was not just living, moving, and ministering through the first century church. The Spirit is just as alive and powerful for us today as then.
And the truth of the Gospel was not just true for the first-century church. It is just as true and transforming today as it was for them.
The United Methodist Church’s mission statement is: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Like those who came before us, we too can make disciples of Jesus Christ as we faithfully…
As we faithfully put these spiritual habits into practice, we can have confidence God will add to our number daily those who are being saved. And that will lead to the transformation of the world for the sake of God’s Glory and Kingdom.
The Primacy of Prayer and Scripture
Surely, for a life of growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing can take the place of reading God’s Word and spending time in original, heartfelt prayer. Let me go on record as having said that right at the beginning. And I believe that with all my heart.
But following closely, at least for me, are the prayers, reflections, sermons, hymns, meditations, journals, and letters of saints who have walked oft and closely with the Lord…those who were saturated in his Word and who practiced his presence each day – all day – in every sphere of their lives. Such people minister to my soul in deep and profound ways.
Therefore, I unapologetically sponge off of others during my devotional time each morning and evening. This doesn’t mean I don’t read Scripture for myself. I do. And this doesn’t mean I don’t lift to the Lord my own prayers. I do that as well. But I have found that my Scripture-reading and prayer life is greatly blessed and enhanced by reading the God-centered, Scripture-directed thoughts, reflections, meditations, and prayers of others.
Launching Off Points
My prayer and thought-life are expanded well beyond my personal limitations when I read such devotional resources. In fact, I often find myself stopping in mid-sentence of someone else’s prayer… so I may lift up my own prayer to the Lord. So too, sometimes when I read a verse or two of Scripture in a meditation, I can’t help but pause and pray that text back to God. Such is how the Holy Spirit uses these resources in my life.
It would be the height of arrogance and folly not to take advantage of other pilgrims of the Way – wiser and godlier saints, the fellowship of the burning heart – those who have gone before us as well as those who travel with us today. I have been immeasurably edified by the Holy Spirit through their written testimonies of God’s power and grace.
For example, if I hadn’t used other devotional resources this morning, I would have missed out on the following…
“…Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“…Jesus Christ said, ‘When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth.’ O God, grant that what I give may be given without self-congratulation, and without thought of praise or reward.”
“…Jesus Christ said, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ O God, give me grace so to live this day that, whatever else I lose, I may not lose my soul.”
“…Every morning I vow to love thee more fervently, to serve thee more sincerely, to be more devoted in my life, to be wholly thine; Yet I soon stumble, backslide, and have to soon confess my weakness, misery and sin. But I bless thee that the finished work of Jesus needs no addition from my doings, that his oblation is sufficient satisfaction for my sins.”
Beyond My Own Self-Interests
These thoughts have lifted my soul and led me to think and pray about quite a few things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise thought and prayed about. Such resources help move me from the tunnel-vision of my own limited, self-centered short-sightedness. They help me stay away from an exclusively "laundry-list prayer life" (i.e., a superficial “give-me-this-and-give-me-that” prayer list).
The last thing I would mention is that using such resources keeps my devotional time fresh. Without such tools, my prayer life could quickly grow stale, rote, and lifeless. But in and through his Word and prayer, as well as these other resources, God draws me closer to himself and enables me to become more like the man God created, redeemed, and called me to be. And that’s worth everything.
On that note, I wrote a "prayer journal" of my own that you may find helpful to you in your own prayer life. You can learn more about it and purchase it by clicking here. You can also see a few examples of what you'll find in the prayer journal by clicking here.
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