If local authorities told your pastor to stop preaching the gospel, how would your congregation respond?
For Christians in some regions of the world, the question isn’t hypothetical. In Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen, believers face some of the most extreme persecution in the world. In parts of China, India, and Nigeria, churchgoers face harassment, threats, and sometimes violence.
In other parts of the world, including here in the Netherlands, Christians may not face such direct persecution, but we can still endure significant pressure, whether it’s undue criticism or outright ridicule.
How should we respond?
The Scriptures give us a model in Acts 4. The passage recounts how local rulers and religious leaders in Jerusalem instructed Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).
They trusted in the sovereignty of God in all things, and they believed in the power of prayer in all circumstances.
Peter said the apostles couldn’t obey this command. When he and John returned to the local believers and recounted the officials’ threats, the Christians’ response became a model for believers facing pressures to this day: they trusted in the sovereignty of God in all things, and they believed in the power of prayer in all circumstances.
Prayer to the Sovereign God
It’s notable that the Christians’ first response to serious threats was prayer, and their prayer started with praise. They began recounting three things about God: he creates, he speaks, and he controls all things.
Next, they remembered how God reveals himself: he has spoken through the mouth of his servant David (Acts 4:25). They viewed Scripture as God speaking through those inspired by him through his Holy Spirit.
They cited Psalm 2 and recognized the psalm being fulfilled in their own time. Pilate, Herod, the Romans, and the people of Israel were fully responsible for Jesus’s crucifixion. But in Acts 4:28, their prayer shows they also recognized something crucial about how God works: though many conspired to kill Jesus, God had appointed this to happen.
Here we see the early church confessing both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, doctrines taught throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Gen. 50:20; Acts 13:46, 48; 1 Thess. 4:1–5). A belief in God’s sovereignty doesn’t make us passive—it fuels our prayers. It gives real hope as we address our petitions to the God who has all power in heaven and on earth and will accomplish all his purposes.
Prayer to the God Who Sees
It’s only after lengthy praise to God that the believers started to pray for the Lord to act. In their first petition, they didn’t begin by asking God to judge their adversaries, but for him to “look upon their threats” (Acts 4:29).
A belief in God’s sovereignty doesn’t make us passive—it fuels our prayers.
Not long before, John and James had been quick to ask the Lord to send fire from heaven on people who didn’t want to receive Jesus—a request that led to a stern rebuke by the Lord. In Acts 4, they didn’t ask the Lord to take the threats away, but only that he would see the threats. “These threats are your business, Lord, but we must get on with the task of preaching.”
They prayed like this because of God’s sovereignty. The threat is God’s business, while the preaching and proclamation of the gospel is their task. They asked the Lord to grant them boldness for proclaiming the gospel, the Word of God.
They also asked that God would stretch out his hand to heal and to confirm the Word by signs and wonders in the name of his holy servant Jesus. The emphasis is not on human action or power but on expecting the Lord to do what pleases him.
Do we pray like this? Or do we tend to jump to our shopping lists of requests to God? Let’s begin by acknowledging who God is, let’s commit our cares into his hands, and then let’s ask for his grace and help for our Christian lives and ministries.
Results and Ripples
The threat is God’s business, while the preaching and proclamation of the gospel is our task.
What’s the outcome of the Acts 4 prayer? Three things happen in Acts 4:31: The place where they’re gathering was shaken—God confirms he is indeed the Creator of heaven and earth. They were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” As a result, they spoke the Word of God with boldness. And God even gave signs and wonders to confirm their preaching (Acts 5:12).
At the end of the book of Acts, we see the apostle Paul following the pattern set in Acts 4. Even under house arrest, Paul was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
And we continue the task today. The great need of the world continues to be to hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. Whatever pressures or threats we might face, these passages in Acts give us hope for ourselves, our children, and our churches.
Whether we’re in the Netherlands, Nigeria, New York, or Nebraska, let’s remember that this task can only be achieved in the power of the Holy Spirit. And may this lead us to praise God and pray to our sovereign Lord who sees and acts.
This article is published in cooperation with TGC Netherlands.