In the book of Acts, we see a common sight – the church at prayer.
• Not a few disciples, but the whole community of believers praying together
• This was a unique sight, because in the Gospel we hardly read of the disciples gathering to pray.
• We saw Jesus praying alone, most of the time. And even when they supposed to be praying together as a group – in the garden of Gethsemane, they were sleeping.
But now, in the book of Acts, they were praying.
• Not just a few of them, but most of the believers, gathering together to pray.
• They have come to understand the need to pray. When they pray, God acts.
• How does God do His work, and manifest His power? When believers gather and pray.
It reminds me of a story I read.
KEEP THE ENGINE RUNNING
In a seminary mission’s class, Herbert Jackson told how, as a new missionary, he was assigned a car that would not start without a push. After pondering his problem, he devised a plan. He went to the school near his home, got permission to take some children out of class, and had them push his car off. As he made his rounds, he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He used this ingenious procedure for two years.
Ill health forced the Jackson family to leave, and a new missionary came to that station. When Jackson proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started, the new man began looking under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, "Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe the only trouble is this loose cable." He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and to Jackson’s astonishment, the engine roared to life. For two years needless trouble had become routine.
The power was there all the time. Only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting that power to work.
Relying upon human strength is tiring and difficult.
• You can still get by the two years, getting something done.
• When we make firm our connection with God, His power flows.
• We tap onto His power through prayer. We see the necessity of prayer.
And that’s what we see here - we see the power of prayer –
Peter had been placed in the custody of 16 soldiers, 4 squads of 4 men each.
• Four shifts to take turns guarding him. The guards ought to be more alert than the prisoners.
• He was bound with chains to 2 soldiers, one on either side of him.
• The double guard on him around the clock was to make doubly sure that he would not escape.
And then verse 10 says there were the first and second guards, and an iron gate.
• No work of man can stop the work of God.
• Man’s attempts or even the devil’s attempts, are all futile when it comes against the will of God.
• Rom 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
And so the church gathers to pray. The situation was critical.
• King Herod had already killed one of the church leaders James.
• And verse 3 says, “When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.”
• He wanted to make them happy, so Peter was next.
• Just imagine - two of the church’s foremost leaders – one was dead, the other likely to be killed - at such an early stage of their ministry.
It was a critical moment, but they had a window of opportunity.
• There was still some time – because it was during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Herod decided to deal with Peter after the Passover.
• The Feast lasted a week, so they might have about 7 days, more or less.
• This was their only chance they had to pray for God’s deliverance!
Brothers, we don’t always have the chance to pray.
• You see, in the case of James there was little or no time for prayer.
• James was hurriedly arrested and executed. He’s dead. Nothing much you can do.
But in Peter’s case the church had opportunity to pray.
• And this they did, most fervently and unceasingly.
• Through the night, probably, because when Peter went to the house, they were still praying.
• We don’t always have the OPPORTUNITY to pray.
• When there is still a chance for someone to be saved, to be healed, to be helped… we need to seize the chance we have to pray.
Seize every opportunity we have to pray.
One author said, “I’ve found that waiting is a great time to pray. Lots of people say they don’t like to wait. My suggestion is to not “just wait” but spend the time beneficially by praying. Give it a try. You can pray anywhere. You might think you have little time for prayer but if you use your waiting time you will have perhaps a lot of time!”
See how God respond to their prayer – it’s remarkable.
• Verse 6 tells it was “the night before Herod was to bring him to trial.”
• God sends an angel to deliver His servant, on the last night before the trial.
• God moved when it seemed humanly impossible to free Peter and he did it at the eleventh hour and he did it in a miraculous way.
We can be rest assured today, because our God can deal with our problems in ways beyond our comprehension.
• He uses ordinary means, and He uses extraordinary means.
• We cannot limit how God acts. He surprises us very often.
Sometimes we wonder – why not earlier?
• Why can’t God release Peter on the first night, and not the last night?
• It would save a lot of praying and a lot of time (the church might have prayed for the last 6 days and nights!)
• The waiting time stretches our faith. We learn to persevere, we learn to trust.
It was not because God has no plan, or that He did not know what to do.
He did it at the eleventh hour when the Israelites left Egypt.
• The people of Israel took a difficult journey out of Egypt, only to realise that the Red Sea was in front of them.
• God did not inform them early what He would do, and Pharaoh’s army was right behind.
• But at the critical moment, God said to Moses (Ex 14:15-16): “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.”
• God had a plan all along – He knows what He would do.
• Isn’t it good that God informs us early that there’s going to be a Red Sea?
God did it at the eleventh hour for Abraham.
• He asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac in a burnt offering.
• Abraham carried the wood, walked for 3 days, built an altar, arranged the wood on it, bound his son Isaac and laid him on top, and took the knife to slay his son. (Gen 22:9-11)
• And then the Lord stopped him. God has already prepared a ram.
• Abraham called the place, “The Lord Will Provide.”
• Isn’t it good that God informs him early that a ram has been provided?
It defeats the purpose, right?
• Faith needs to be stretched. Do you really trust Him?
• Would you be able to allow Him to do it His way, and in His time?
• In persevering and waiting, we grow stronger. Our faith in Him is deepened.
Finally, let’s close with this interesting observation:
The church was praying for Peter’s deliverance, praying that God would do something, but when God really did something, they were not expecting it.
• It looks odd, but isn’t that the way it is with us very often?
• We pray, but half-believing that it will ever come true.
• Sometimes we feel that it would be too ideal if things really happen the way I prayed it.
This is especially so when we see some past failures.
• The church has seen James killed. This might have dampened their faith in God.
• If James couldn’t be rescued, what hope is there for Peter?
• Man thinks that way. But we are called to put our faith in God, no matter what.
We need to have faith in God when we pray, and expect God to act.
We do not know how God acts each time, but we know He can be trusted.
• Here we God delivered Peter with a miracle, a very quiet one. In the night. No one was woken up, until the next morning.
• When Paul and Silas were in the Philippians jail, God sent something like an earthquake to unshackle all the prisoners. That was a loud and noisy one.
• Do not limit God, mentally, in the way He acts.
Acts 12:24 “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.”
• The persecution of Herod did not stop the church from growing.
• Imprisonments did not stop the preaching of the Gospel.
• Down through the centuries, no efforts of man can stop the church from growing.
• The church continued to grow because God was her Protector.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
God never leaves us nor forsakes us. Even martyrdom for Jesus Christ does not kill the soul, only the body. Herod killed James but James has been with the Lord all of these centuries since his martyrdom. And although Peter was spared at this time, he later died, as we all do. But when you belong to the Lord Jesus, you are promised eternal life.
Do you have him today? Come to him today. Make him your own personal Saviour and Lord. Ask him to save you right now.