While analyzing the structure of a prayer may seem like a mundane exercise for linguaphiles, it is anything but. Just as Linus reminded Charley Brown that good theology has a way of comforting, the structure of prayer we see in this passage can help to bring God’s Word powerfully into your life through prayer. Let’s take a look.
To understand why this prayer can form a good general outline for prayer, we must first remind ourselves of the context. Peter and John have just been interrogated, threatened and released by the same people that had Jesus crucified. This is a prayer for boldness in the face of legitimate threat. So this model can be a good model when something specific is on your mind.
In this instance, the prayer begins by addressing God as “Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” Immediately when these words are said, the people praying are reminded that the religious rulers are not, in the grand scale, in charge of anything. There is a God who created everything and that is the God to whom we pray.
So in your own prayer, think of something about God that interfaces with the situation that is on your mind. If your prayer is for healing, you might start out with a phrase like, “Father, you are the great physician. You created us and know our bodies better than we know ourselves.” If your prayer is for something having to do with sustenance in your life, you might start by saying, “Father, you created this world and everything in it. It is all yours to do with as you please.” You get the idea.
The next thing the praying believers did was bring God’s Word into their prayer. In this instance, they quoted Psalm 2. This is a messianic psalm which talks about how people think they can fight God and he just laughs. His purposes and his anointed one cannot be overthrown (You should read it. It’s a good one!)
In this step, you think about the Word of God and how various scriptures might interact with the situation about which you are praying. In the case of healing, you might say, “Your Son displayed your healing power on earth as he healed people throughout his ministry.” If you are struggling, you might say something like this, “You have said that a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3)
The Word of God is powerful and active. It brings comfort, guidance, power and peace to those who hear it and speak it with faith.
Notice that we are far into the prayer before we even get to what is on our mind specifically. By beginning with God’s nature and God’s Word, we draw ourselves toward the right frame of mind for a prayer grounded in faith. But now the prayer gets very specific. The people who threatened and killed Jesus (albeit by God’s plan of salvation) are now threatening Peter and John.
In this step you tell God what’s going on. Be specific and clear. Do you feel threatened and if so, by what? Do you feel overwhelmed and if so, by what? What, specifically, is the current situation and what, specifically, are your concerns?
Finally the believers pray. By calling to mind God’s nature and his Word along with presenting a specific situation, the believers pray for what a follower of Jesus would want to do in this situation: speak boldly while continuing to heal in Jesus’ name.
By the time your thoughts go through God’s nature, God’s Word and the specific situation, you will likely be ready to pray a prayer that connects you to God’s will. The disciples did not pray for deliverance, they prayed for courage. If a relationship is broken, by the time a believer gets through God’s nature, God’s Word and a clear description of the situation, the believer’s heart is ready to pray for reconciliation instead of vengeance, for healing instead of pain. If a serious illness is at hand, by the by the time a believer gets through God’s nature, God’s Word and a clear description of the situation, the believer’s heart is ready to pray for peace and the opportunity to glorify God along with, of course, healing.
I am not asserting that this model is prescriptive — it doesn’t direct us to pray this way. Jesus did that with the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, though, we have a good model for how to pray in response to specific situations. Try it for yourself. (And don’t worry about not knowing the references for the scriptures that you find meaningful. New Testament authors often did not cite references.)