If there has ever been a time that the church needs to pray, then that time is right now. As a matter of fact, the church can’t afford not to pray. The sinful condition of this world that we’re living in should compel the church to get on her knees. The church must realize that prayers can’t be answered unless they are prayed. It’s through prayer that the church has made it this far, yet church prayer meetings have less people than a convenient store at 3:00 in the morning. In other words there empty. If the church wants to have knowledge of God’s will, agreement with His designs, enjoyment of His presence, and conformity to His image, then prayer must flow from lips of the church.
Prayer is key in the church’s relationship with God. Prayer is how the church communicates with a Holy and Divine God. Prayer is how God has chosen to hear the petitions of the church and prayer is how the church makes her petitions known to God. If the church is the bride of Christ, then communication through prayer must exist. Without prayer the church has no way of communicating her needs to God, and the church has no way of knowing what God wants her to do. The absence of prayer makes it difficult for the church to function and operate. Oh, but what a difference there is when the church prays.
The scriptures are filled with many examples that can help today’s church be what God wants it to be, and it is in our text that we find a church that prays. The book of Acts is a continuation of the gospel of Luke. In this book, Dr. Luke gives us an account of the beginning and history of the early church. After the preaching of the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, the church began to grow and spread rapidly. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, therefore making it unpopular among the Jews. Because Christianity wasn’t accepted by most, the church began facing persecution not only by the Gentiles, but from the Jews as well. It was during this time that Saul, before his conversion, reeked havoc upon the early church. Church leaders were beginning to become victims of these persecutions, and Stephen became one of the first to die for his faith.
As we take a closer look into our text, we find the church still in the midst of persecution and crisis. King Herod Agrippa, who came from a line of evil rulers, had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. The church leaders became targets for persecutors, and when Herod saw that the murder of James pleased the Jews he then came after Peter. You know Peter, the one who was fishing in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called him to be a fisher of men. Peter, who’s faith allowed him to walk on water until he took his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, who claimed Jesus to be the Christ, the son of the living God. This is the same Peter Herod had arrested, and when Peter was arrested he was put into prison and guarded by 16 soldiers. King Herod possibly heard of Peter and the other apostles divine escape from prison before, therefore he wanted to make sure that Peter wouldn’t go anywhere this time. But how many of you know that God’s power can’t be limited?
Peter was detained during the Passover celebration. How ironic, when the Jews were celebrating how God delivered them from Egypt, Peter, the church leader, was imprisoned and shackled. Peter’s stay in prison wasn’t intended to be long, because the next day after the Passover was ended, Herod was going to have Peter publicly executed. James had just been killed and with Peter’s arrest the church knew that they had to do something. Things were getting out of hand, and it was more than the church could handle alone. What should the church do when satan attacks? How does the church respond in the time of crisis? Here we see the church responded to their crisis by praying.
Verse 5 says, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” The first thing we must observe is when the church prays it must pray without ceasing. When the church prayed for Peter, it wasn’t a short sweet prayer, but they prayed continuously, earnestly, and fervently. They prayed with sincerity, seriousness, energy, and passion. They extended themselves in prayer; I mean they prayed the walls down.
In football, when the visiting team goes for it on fourth down, the home fans exert so much energy in trying to break the concentration of the visitors so that they can’t convert and make the first down. It was fourth down for satan and he using King Herod to try to make the first down by having Peter executed. But, just like the home fans at the football game, the church exerted in their praying.
How can we expect circumstances to change if our prayers don’t make any noise? I’m not talking about raising our voices when we pray, but when the church extends itself in prayer, and prays earnestly to God, those prayers make noise in heaven. When the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt and cried out for help, the Bible says that their cry came up unto God. And when our prayers come up unto God, when our prayers make noise God responds.
So, the church must pray without ceasing. When church is under a serious attack by satan, 5 minute prayer meetings won’t work, sentence prayers are not going to get it. The church has to be sincere in its prayers, put forth much effort, and willingly pray as long as it takes to hear from heaven.
The next thing we see is when the church prays it must be specific. In the latter part of verse 5 it says that the church prayed unto God for him. When the church gathered to pray, they didn’t ask anybody if they had a prayer request, they already knew why they were praying and who they were praying for. Peter was in trouble, it was his deliverance they were praying for, Peter’s name was lifted up; Peter’s situation was lifted up, they were specific with their petition to God. I’m not saying that there something wrong with prayer request, but there are times that the church should know what needs to be prayed for.
Prayer needs to be more than just a general request, specific prayer can really make things happen. When you go to McDonalds you don’t just ask for a hamburger, but you tell them you want a Big Mac or Quarter-pounder, because you know what you want. When we go before God, we should know what we want to pray for, God already knows, but do you? The more specific we become in prayer the more we will be able to identify an answer to prayer when it comes. If the church prays vaguely it will see vaguely. God already knows what we are going to pray about. He already knows the specifics but, He wants us to be specific because it helps us focus, and helps us hear Him better as He leads us deeper in prayer. Being specific helps us to not get in a prayer rut or be repetitious. There are many benefits to being specific in prayer, and the church saw how God moved when they specifically prayed for Peter.
We also see here in our text, when the church prays God hears and answers prayers. Verse 6&7 says, “And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. 7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.” The church had been praying for Peter that night, and one would imagine that his deliverance was something they had been specifically praying for. Their earnest and fervent petitions made noise in heaven and God not only heard them, but he answered their prayers when He sent an angel to lead Peter out of the prison.
Remember, there were a total of 16 soldiers charged to keep watch over Peter, but when God answers prayers, satan has to release his grip on you. He has to release his grip on your situation, he has to let go and let God do what He wants to do. The church’s prayers were being answered when the angel gently tapped Peter on his side to awaken him. The church’s prayers were being answered, when Peter’s chains fell off. The church’s prayers were being answered when the angel told Peter to get dressed and to put on his shoes. The church’s prayers were being answered as Peter passed the first and second guard post and while he thought he was dreaming. The church’s prayers were being answered when the iron gate that led to the city opened before Peter and the angel.
Today, the church’s prayers are answered when sinners come to Christ. The church’s prayers are answered when marriages are made whole. The church’s prayers are answered when pew warmers become active. God is still answering the church’s prayers today. If the church wants to witness answered prayers, then the church must pray, and most importantly it must pray in God’s will. Nothing lies outside of the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God.
Finally, as I get ready to close, sit down and be happy all by myself. When the church prays it must expect God to work in His own way. When Peter thought about what had just happen to him, he decided to go to Mary’s house, the mother of John Mark. Mary’s house was obviously one place that some of the church met, and it was at this time that they were gathered to pray. It was at Mary’s house that petitions were sent up on Peter’s behalf. When Peter arrived at the house he knocked on the door, and a servant girl name Rhoda came to answer the door. But when she recognized it was Peter, she became so excited that she forgot to open the door.
When she told the others who was at the door, they didn’t believe her and called her crazy. She knew she wasn’t crazy, she knew that it was Peter who they had been praying for. Our faith has to be strong even when those around us faith isn’t. Meanwhile Peter was still outside knocking and when the door was finally opened they saw for themselves that it was Peter. They were so amazed that they became noisy in their rejoicing, so much so that Peter had to quiet them down as he told them what had happened. I believe the church was praying for Peter’s deliverance, they just expected it to come in another way. Maybe they thought that Herod would let Peter go, or perhaps they believed that the jury would find Peter innocent. The church was expecting God to answer their prayers one way, but God did it His way. When the church prays we have to know that God will work in His own way and in His own time.
When we limit God in how He does things, then we limit the manifestation of God’s power in our lives. In the eyes of the church, it didn’t take long for God to answer their prayers. But sometimes God answers weeks, months, and years later. He’ll answer when He wants to. If we expect God to work in His own way, then we will believe that Peter is knocking at the door. When the church expects God to work in His own way, then we will realize that spiritual growth has to take place before we grow in numbers. When the church expects God to work in His own way, then we will understand that sometimes the answer is no. Thank God that He works in His own way and not ours.
On this night, the church witnessed and experienced the power of prayer. Prayer is the church’s lifeline to God. The church is better off when it prays, and the church can move mountains when it petitions God. When the church prays, this doesn’t mean that we pray only when we meet on Sundays and prayer meetings on Wednesday, but as members of the body of Christ we have to pray for the church when we’re away from the church body as well. When the church prays, it doesn’t matter if we’re in the house of the Lord, or meeting at the home of a member. When the church prays, it doesn’t matter if we’re gathered in the parking lot, or out praying in the mission fields.
But wherever the church prays, it must pray without ceasing, when the church prays it must be specific, when the church prays God hears and answers prayer, and when the church prays it has to expect God to work in His own way. Are you a praying church? Do you pray when satan attacks and do you pray when there seems to be a calm? Do you pray for church members, and do you pray for those outside of the church?
When the church prays lives will be changed. When the church prays, sinners will come running, asking what must I do to be saved? When the church prays drug attics are released from their addictions. When the church prays, that wayward child begins to act right. When the church prays, the sick are healed. When the church prays, the government will treat people right. When the church prays, prayer will be placed back in school. When the church prays, we will stop stumbling and fumbling. When the church prays, backsliders will return to God. When the church prays, the truth will be preached from the pulpit. When church prays, we will read and study our bibles more. When the church prays, we will forgive one another. When the church prays, the church will hear from heaven. When the church prays, blessings will come down. When the church prays, power will come down...