Summary: Lean how prayer works and pray.
How many people have appliances or software at home you don’t use, because you don’t know how they work? I know some people with VCRs, and they don’t know how to program their VCR to record a certain channel at a later time. Others have software programs on their computer that they never use or even open. I know some men who don’t know how to use the stove and oven in their home, even if their life depended on it. Thank God for fast food restaurants and take out menus.
Not knowing how something works can be a hindrance to using it. Maybe a thick instruction manual overwhelms some. Or the fear of doing damage and creating more work discourage others. The benefits don’t seem to outweigh the efforts.
I’ve come to discover that some people are hindered from praying for the same reasons. They don’t pray because they really don’t know how prayer work. Or maybe they do not see the benefits outweighing the efforts.
Over the last two months, we’ve studied the Bible to discover what prayer is, why we pray, for whom we pray, for what we pray and how to pray. In this final message on prayer, we will look at how prayer works. Our text is Acts 12:1-19.
Now before we look at this text to answer the question of how prayer works, I want to explore two other reasons why people don’t pray.
First, people don’t pray because prayer doesn’t always result in the fulfillment of our expectation. This past week, many prayed for the release and safety of the South Korean hostage. Sadly, the captors executed Kim Sun-il.
We read in verse 2 of this morning’s passage, “[King Herod] had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” There is every reason to believe that the church earnestly prayed for James, but in God’s plan, James was not rescued but was executed.
We need to also remember that God allowed His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be executed. By Christ’s sacrifice, the sins of mankind are paid for. God revealed this in the Bible so that we can respond by receiving Christ as our payment. God knows what He’s doing. The difficulty is that God doesn’t always reveal what He’s doing. And when our expectation is not met, we can become disappointed, which can discourage us from praying.
Second, people don’t pray because they may not see God-size needs in their lives or the lives of those they know. Some people don’t see God-size needs in their lives because they don’t attempt God-size goals in life. Seeking comfort and ease is their goal in life. Others don’t see God-size needs in their lives because they are overconfident. They think they can do life alone. And many don’t see God-size needs in other people’s lives, because they are too self-centered to reach out to other people.
In Acts 12:3 and 4, the Church saw a God-size need. They knew that if God didn’t intervene, Peter would end up like James, executed. So the Church prayed. Seeing the God-size need led them to pray.
Finally, there are people who do not pray because they do not know how prayer works. We will look at how prayer works. We will not leave here with a diagram or an operation manual of how prayer works. Instead, we will try to answer two questions about this morning’s narrative to get a better understanding of how prayer works.
The first question is: “Would Peter have been rescued without the prayer of believers?
Many Christians have such a high view of God’s control or a low view of mankind’s responsibility that they pray half-heartedly. They believe God’s plan is set in concrete and prayer is just going through the motion of religion. That’s unfortunate.
When we gather for prayer on Wednesday nights, I sometimes wonder what motivates the same people to come. Is it the food we serve afterward? Is it the fellowship? Is it the comfort of routine? Is it the pressure to be spiritual?
Or do they believe that God answers prayer? Do they believe that their prayers can make a difference? Do they understand that private prayer has its place and corporate prayer also? Why do Clifford and Susan drive an hour and a half to pray with others in this church on Wednesdays?
The Bible makes clear that personal prayer times are important. But we also see the examples for corporate prayer from the beginning of the Christian Church in the books of Acts, chapter 1, and then throughout the writings of the New Testament. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Colossians, the Thessalonians, he wrote about not how he had prayed for them, but how “we,” Paul and other believers, had prayed for them.