Early this summer, while preaching on the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, I came to preparing my conclusion and got a rather unexpected shock. Dr. Darrell L. Bock in The NIV Application Commentary, Luke rather in passing made the connection between the widow's persistence and the “wearing down” of the unrighteous judge, and the praying of Peter and the church in Acts 4:23-31. He wrote: “Do we as the church community 'wear God down' with such a request for vindication?”
Now at that point I did not exactly start putting on boxing gloves, but I did get into my mental defense stance. “Of course we do NOT wear God down! That would not even be a polite thing to do!” From personal experience, the very word “vindication” did not have a very good ring to it. Besides, this passage is teaching vindication at the end of the age! Then I got all the material I could muster from my shelves on both passages and did a rather extensive study and then a lot of serious meditation on just what Bock had suggested. Some of that meditation revolved around the fact that I have never been one to accept things that seem exegetically shallow like the Prayer of Jabez popularized several years ago by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, and at first this had all the earmarks of that sort of stuff. But the more I dealt with the two texts over several weeks, the more it really made sense. In both the Luke and the Acts passages, something is being asked to be done in the present, in the now, and not in some far-off time and place.
In the passage in Acts, the apostles and the church community are not praying for God to take away the persecution and suffering. They are simply praying that they might keep on with the work of God and that the preaching of the Gospel might bear fruit. A close reading seems to be saying that they are not even asking for signs and wonders, but rather that while all that is going on, they might be faithful to keep going on with the real work. It really does seem to be a clear request for God to show proof and to vindicate His own work to all those around through them and their ministry.
Now let me apply this to all of us in pastoral work. The truth that really struck me was this:
If the work we are doing really is God's work and not our own pet hobby trade, then why should we not pray earnestly that the God of our work would vindicate what we do as being His work since in reality it is His work?
Now if you are like I am, you feel a little awkward and strange doing that for your own work. I would do it in a flash for another pastor, another work—but my own work---is that not like tooting my own horn? When that thought came to my mind, immediately it was struck down with this thought: “My child, My servant, you are supposed to be tooting My horn all the time!” That was both a convicting and a comforting response. When I pray, I am asking that God's horn will sound loud and clear through me!
Maybe what is missing in our personal prayer time, in our pastoral praying on Sunday mornings, and in our church prayer groups is this outward expression to our Lord God that He show His great power and give wonderful proofs both to us His people and the watching world that He is with His dear people regardless whether they are meeting together in mega church situations with many hundreds or in small, rural outposts with only a hand-full.
“Oh Lord, we will continue to show proofs of our love to You! Continue to show proofs of Your presence in our ministries, both to us and those who are lost around us, so the light of the gospel may shine forth from us to Your glory and praise!”