Summary: A look at what really happens when believers get down on their knees and pray.

When The Church Prays

Acts 12:1-19

A Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock that was placed on the supply closet in the church. She had been told the combination, but she couldn’t quite remember it. Exasperated, she went to the pastor’s study to ask for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers, he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally, he admitted that he could not remember the combination either. Then, the pastor folded his hands and looked serenely to the heavens. His mouths moved silently. Then, he looked back at the lock, quickly entered the numbers, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. “Pastor, I can’t believe you prayed and God gave you the combination,” she said. “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on a piece of paper taped to the ceiling.”

You know, as a church, we sometimes don’t know what to make of prayer. We read about prayer in the Bible and we see that it did miraculous things. We hear about people all around the world who are saved out of grave circumstances by prayer. We hear about those who are miraculously healed of diseases and they attribute the cure to prayer. Then, we pray our prayers in church and nothing seems to happen. So, what is the problem? Is powerful prayer over and done with? Were miracles and wondrous happenings something for a past time and not today? I thank the Lord that this is not the case. Prayer is still as powerful and effective as it has ever been.

We have been talking about prayer for the last few weeks, and we will continue to do so today. First, we talked about the importance of getting your torch lit everyday in your prayer closet. Then, once we have that daily time with God, we get out of a rut by praying prayers of confession, adoration, thanksgiving, seeking, and sitting in silence. Now, once we have this basis of prayer down and we are in daily communication with the Father, it will free us to know the will of God. Then, we can come together as a body of believers and pray God’s will. What will happen when a group of people in everyday contact with God come together to pray God’s will? This morning, we are going to take a look at what happens when the church prays. If you have your Bible, turn with me to Acts 12:1-19 or you can follow along on your sermon notes.

1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. 9Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." 12When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" 15"You’re out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." 16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place. 18In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Great things happened when this group of believers prayed, and it can still happen today. This morning, we are going to take a look at four blessings that are opened up to a church that has people who go to the Lord on a daily basis and then come together to pray. Let’s ask the Lord to bless our time.

Blessing #1: Deliverance from Worldly Strongholds.

Native hunters in the jungles of Africa have a clever

way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two; hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the jungle, and wait.

Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips his hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won’t come out; it’s too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger he is in.

While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters simply stroll in and capture the monkey by throwing a net over him. As long as the monkey keeps his fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. That delicious orange becomes a deadly trap.

We have many oranges in our society that have people trapped. They seem all well and good, but they are leading down the path to death. What are these oranges? They are things like alcoholism, drugs, pornography, and the like. People grab a hold of these things and then cannot let go. If anyone can help these people, it should be the church, but more times than not we choose to condemn these people instead of pray for them.

When Peter was bound up in jail, he was set free by the church. They didn’t win a lawsuit. They didn’t stage a massive breakout plan. They went to the Lord in prayer and Peter was set free. The chains just fell off of his wrists. Now, we may not have people around us who are bound up unlawfully in jail, but we all know people who are bound up by the worldly strongholds of alcohol, drugs, sexual sins, and the like. This morning, I am proclaiming that if God can break the physical chains that were on Peter, he can break the emotional and spiritual chains that are binding up so many people. How do we do it? We as a church must come together and earnestly pray. Churches that pray can break chains, whether they be shackles, addictions, or habits. Nothing of this world has any power that is close to God’s power and might. So, when we tap into that power of prayer as a church, there is no stronghold that cannot be broken.

Blessing #2: Holy Guidance and Direction

There was a professor of philosophy at USC who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn’t exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation. At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, “If there is anyone here, who still believes in Jesus, Stand up!” In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, “Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and yet He can’t do it.” And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students thought that God couldn’t exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up.

Well, a few years ago there was a freshman that happened to enroll. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about his professor. He was required to take the class for his major, and he was afraid. But for three months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said, or what the class thought. Nothing they said could ever shatter his faith . . . he hoped.

Finally, the day came. The professor said, “If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!” The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, “You FOOL!!! If God existed, he would keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!” He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man, and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man, who had stood, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and shared his faith in Jesus for the next half-hour. 300 students stayed and listened as he told of God’s love for them and of His power through Jesus.

Now, if God cared enough to guide the path of this little piece of chalk, don’t you think He cares enough to guide our steps and light our paths? When we get into that place where we don’t know what to do or where to go, we need to trust that God will show us the way that is perfect and true. When Peter was being rescued, God sent and angel to show Him the way. God may or may not send you an angel, but He will always show you the way to go if you let Him. When you have the church pray for you when you have a big decision to make, you will be surprised at how all of the circumstances fall into place to show you the way. You will receive guidance and direction that is far more and far better than you could have ever gotten from yourself.

Blessing #3: Supernatural Power

I read about a small Oklahoma town that had two churches and one distillery. Members of both churches complained that the distillery was giving the community a bad imagine. And, to make matters worse, the owner of the distillery was an outspoken atheist. He didn’t believe in God one bit. The church people had tried unsuccessfully for years to shut down the distillery, so finally they decided to hold a joint Saturday night prayer meeting. They were going to ask God to intervene and settle the matter.

The church folks gathered on Saturday night and there was a horrible thunderstorm raging outside. During the prayer meeting and to the delight of the church members, lightening hit that old brewery and it burned to the ground. The next morning the sermons in both churches were on the power of prayer.

Shortly thereafter, the insurance adjusters informed the distillery owner that they were not going to pay for the damages because the fire was an act of God and that was an exclusion in the policy. The distillery owner was furious because he had heard about the prayer meeting, and he sued both churches claiming that they had conspired with God to destroy his business. But, in their defense statement, the churches denied that they had anything to do with the cause of the fire. The presiding judge opened the trial with theses words: “ I find one thing in this cause most perplexing. We have a situation here where the plaintiff, an atheist, is professing his belief in the power of prayer, and the defendants, all faithful church members are denying the very same power.”

So, which is it church? Do we believe in the power of prayer or don’t we? The people in this church had every reason to believe in prayer. They had just seen God do the miraculous. He had answered their earnest prayers. And yet, when the times got tough, they denied that very same power they were praising just days earlier. We must make up our minds as to whether we believe in the power of prayer or not because it will set the course of our whole prayer life as a church.

The group of believers that were praying for Peter did not have a whole lot of faith. After all, they were surprised to see Peter at their door. But, they had enough faith to pray big and allow God to surprise them. So many times, we are disappointed because we have not had a prayer answered. Then, we begin to think that prayer does not work, so we pray smaller, and smaller, and smaller. We must never allow an unanswered prayer to get us down. Unanswered prayers only come when we are praying for something against God’s will, and they are only unanswered when He already has something far better in store for us. We need to be encouraged by this to more earnestly seek after God. Then, we will know His will for us, and we will never be disappointed by unanswered prayer.

Blessing #4: Commonplace Miracles

Louise Redden, a poorly dressed lady with a look of defeat on her face, walked into a grocery store. She approached the owner of the store in a most humble manner and asked if he would let her charge a few groceries. She softly explained that her husband was very ill and unable to work, they had seven children and they needed food. John Longhouse, the grocer, scoffed at her and requested that she leave his store. Visualizing the family needs, she said, “Please, sir! I will bring you the money just as soon as I can.” John told her he could not give her credit, as she did not have a charge account at his store. Standing beside the counter was a customer who overheard the conversation between the two. The customer walked forward and told the grocerman that he would stand good for whatever she needed for her family. The grocerman said in a very reluctant voice, “Do you have a grocery list?” Louise replied, “Yes sir.” “O.K.” he said. “Put your grocery list on the scales and whatever your grocery list weighs, I will give you that amount in groceries.” Louise hesitated a moment with a bowed head, then she reached into her purse and took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. She then laid the piece of paper on the scale carefully with her head still bowed. The eyes of the grocerman and the customer showed amazement when the scales went down and stayed down. The grocerman staring at the scales, turned slowly to the customer and said begrudgingly, “I can’t believe it.” The customer smiled and the grocerman started putting the groceries on the other side of the scales. The scale did not balance so he continued to put more and more groceries on them until the scales would hold no more. The grocerman stood there in utter disgust. Finally, he grabbed the piece of paper from the scales and looked at it with greater amazement. It was not a grocery list. It was a prayer which said: “Dear Lord, you know my needs and I am leaving this in your hands.” The grocerman gave her the groceries that he had gathered and placed on the scales and stood in stunned silence. Louise thanked him and left the store. The customer handed a fifty-dollar bill to John as he said, "It was worth every penny of it."

Prayer is still powerful, and prayer can still bring about commonplace miracles. This event with the groceries was brought about by the prayers of one righteous woman. What can the prayers of a whole group of righteous people do? We read in our story today of the many little miracles that happened for Peter while he was in prison. The chains were broken. He was led past the guards. Peter got to see and speak to an angel. The gate opened by itself. This is all from the church praying in earnest. It can still happen today. When the church sets its mind on earnest prayer, we will see miracles on a daily basis.

I’m telling you this morning church, that if we are serious about pray in our personal lives and in the life of the church, we are going to accomplish great things. We will see strongholds broken. We will receive holy guidance and direction. We will have power that is beyond our own, and we will see miracles become commonplace again. We will have a mighty army on our side. I want to close with one more story to illustrate this point. You see, not too many years ago, a missionary and his family were forced to camp outside on a hill in a hostile country. They were carrying money, and they were fearful that thieves might rob them. After spending time in prayer, they finally fell asleep. Several months later, a man that had been injured was taken to the mission hospital where the missionary worked. The missionary saw the man looking at him, so he approached the man. The man told the missionary that he had spotted him on the hillside the night he camped out. He told him he had planned to rob him until he saw the family had soldiers guarding them. The man said to him, “We intended to rob you, but we were afraid of the twenty-seven soldiers.” When the missionary returned to his homeland, he shared this story with his church. One of the members responded, “We had a prayer meeting that night, and I took roll. There were exactly twenty-seven of us present.” That is the kind of prayer I am talking about. When the church earnestly prays, there is nothing in this world that can defeat us, and I ask you this morning, “How many soldiers do we have?” Let’s pray.