15 Sep 2023

What Happens When We Pray the Bible: The Early Church Prays the Psalms

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Church, Exegesis, Mission, Prayer, Psalms, Salvation
The Way prayed the Psalms

The Bible is loaded with prayers. There are 150 of them in the Psalms (151 in the Greek Septuagint). It is difficult to find a section of the Story of God without the prayers of the saints. We find them in Genesis, the Prophets, the Epistles and even in the Revelation of John. The Psalter (i.e. Book of Psalms) has been the “prayer book” of disciples of Jesus because Jesus himself was devoted to praying the Psalter. The Way was immersed in the Temple worship in Book of Acts, which was saturated with the Psalms. Something akin to producing “wonder” happens when we cultivate the discipline of praying the Bible. We find one great example with the Way in Acts 4.

THE SETTING: Saving a Cripple & Fall Out

Luke lingers long, a full chapter and half, on the salvation of the lame/crippled man (Acts 3.1-4.22). The saved man is a microcosm of what genuine salvation looks like. A crippled man (the kind of person Jesus speaks of in his Jubilee message in Lk 4.18-19) has been “rescued,” he has been “saved” (4.9; Gk, σέσωσται) from shackles of death and decay operating in God’s world. The “Jubilee” message and mission of the resurrected Messiah Jesus has saved this man (Peter stresses the resurrection of Jesus’s body, 3.15,26; 4.2, 10).

This caused trouble with the Sadducees (4.2), whom Luke has already told the readers do not believe in the resurrection of the body (Lk 20.27). So Peter, John and the Saved Man, are hauled before the court. They are locked up overnight. They are castigated and threatened to not speak of this again. But released (Acts 4.21).

Peter and John go find the disciples (we are not told what happened to the Saved Man). Peter and John relate what the Sanhedrin had said. They had been forbidden to preach the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, with the implication that next time more than a night in jail awaits them.


Luke tells us that “they all together” (4.23) blended their voices in prayer. All men and women (since males and females are included in Acts 2.17-18). When they prayed, they prayed the Bible (Hebrew Bible/OT). They cry out to the “Sovereign Lord” who has “made heaven and earth and the sea.” Already to the first century listener of Acts the words of the Bible are ringing in our ears, the Psalms. The Psalms of Ascents which every Jew knew and could recite in their sleep.

God the Creator is, for Israel, an extremely comforting thought. Such Psalms, familiar to Jesus and the Way, as the Songs of Ascent directly link the notion of the Creator to God’s protection and presence. Psalm 121 links the idea of God as Creator directly to protection.

My help comes from Yahweh,
who made the heaven and earth.”

Yahweh is the Maker of Heaven and Earth which means he “watches over you” and he “keeps” Israel (6x)! See Ps 124. Yahweh promises the exiled Israelites that “he who created you” … “Israel’s creator” is the King. This means, again, presence and protection. So “when you pass through the waters … they will not sweep over you … When you walk through the fire you will not be burned.” (Isaiah 43.2).

Because the Creator owns Israel and is with them (Isaiah 43). The Gathered Saints in Acts 4.25ff call out to that Creator God because they are about to walk through the fire!


And it is fire. So they pray the Psalms. In fact it is Psalm 2 they utter in unison to heaven. The renewed people of God find themselves in the Scriptures of old. The grasp who they are in, and with, the Story of the Hebrew Bible. They pray Psalm 2 (they probably prayed the entire prayer but Luke quotes only verses 1 and 2). Their Hebrew Bible is the source of prayer. It is the source of what to pray. It is the source of understanding what is happening “now” and what we are to do “now.” This is the real authority of Scripture in that it shapes and molds who we are and what we do in the here and the now.

Why did the nations/gentiles rage,
and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
and the rulers have gathered together
against the Lord and against his Messiah

(Acts 4.25-26, citing Psalm 2.1 from the LXX)

The nations (Romans) and the peoples (Sadducees/Chief Priests) in the persons of Herod and Pilate have both attacked God’s anointed, the holy servant Jesus … AND his followers.


When these disciples prayed the Bible, what did they pray for. First the disciples are not surprised that they are attacked. They knew they would be because it was in their prayer text in the Psalms. If the nations raged against the Lord and his Anointed then we will surely not be exempt. And this was genuine opposition from the Powers that Be. This is not someone taking an ad out in the paper or taking away school prayer or calling us names. This is a direct challenge to the Messiah Jesus and the resurrection.

Second. When they prayed the Hebrew Bible they confessed that the Scripture was true. They pray the psalm back to the One who gave it and then tell the Sovereign Lord, it is true (4.27). They confess that the holy servant/child Jesus was handed over. But this too, took place because the Bible was true. This very Scripture, that they found themselves in, states clearly the powers will make war against the anointed.

Third. In light of the promised presence and protection of the Creator and the truth of the Scriptures they do NOT pray for the removal of the persecution. They did not pray as I likely would have. They did not pray for deliverance from the challenge at hand. Instead they prayed for the power to be BOLD in the face of those who oppose the Lord and his resurrected Messiah.

So now Master, look on their threats; and grant that we, your servants, may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing” (4.29-30).

They prayed for boldness. Removal of the threat lessens the chance to bear witness. They would be witnesses to the new creation salvation that has broken in through King Jesus and his resurrection. They would be witnesses to that renewed world.

Suddenly the place they are gathered is shaking and rocking back and forth with wind (pneuma/spirit). God showed up (in my mind it is reminiscent of Psalm 29 where God’s people are praying and the storm/wind shows up and shakes and quakes the whole house).

Two things resulted from the prayer:

1) They did speak with boldness in the face of the powers that be

2) They were united in mission in the face of threats and this unity manifested itself in “nobody said they owned their property” (4.32).

Praying the Bible, especially the Psalms can result in some radical stuff in the life of God’s people. Wonders await in praying the Psalms with the early Way.


  1. 2023/09/17 – Luke 11: Prayer, Perseverance, Beelzebul, Returning Spirit, Blessedness, Jonah’s Sign, Body’s Light, & Pharisees Denounced  | Committed To Truth

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