Summary: Acts reminds us that we also need to be praying with others to see Godï¿½s power at work.
Herb Miller (who was a pastor and now ministry consultant) tells the story of a nightclub opening on Main Street in a small town. Upon hearing the news, the only church in that town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members of the church asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. Being a small town it didnï¿½t take long before the club owner heard about what the church had done and he decided to sue the church, which in turn denied responsibility for the destruction of the club. They went to court and after hearing both sides, the judge said, ï¿½It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner apparently believes in prayer, while the church does not.ï¿½
Do we really believe in prayer? Does prayer change anything? This is an interesting question which has received much attention over the years, particularly in the medical field. Scientific studies have been conducted to see if prayer works. In a recent study on prayer patients were divided into three groups, the first group did not receive prayer at all, the second group received prayer and was made aware they were being prayed for, and the last group received prayer and was not made aware they were being prayed for. What do you think the results of the test were? Which group did best? [Take a poll]. Surprisingly the group which wasnï¿½t prayed for at all did the best, leading researchers to conclude prayer doesnï¿½t make a difference, and might even be harmful.
This is interesting because when we read the Bible, it is resoundingly clear that prayer does make a difference. Jesus said,
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Mt. 7:7).ï¿½
ï¿½If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (Jn 15:7).ï¿½
Thatï¿½s the issue isnï¿½t it? We read one thing in the Bible but perhaps our experience isnï¿½t always like the book of Acts, or the scientific community seems to ï¿½proveï¿½ the opposite.
Praying in Community/Praying with Others
I think most of us here believe prayer makes a difference not only because we believe the Bible to be true, but because we have seen the results ourselves. God does respond to his childrenï¿½s requests. In fact Jesus was clear that we should have a personal prayer time, and he modeled it for us too. Jesus encouraged us to pray in seclusion as a way of focusing on our relationship with God. We need time to pray alone because it allows us to concentrate on God, to avoid distractions, and to wait upon the Lord.
Let me push the bubble a little more. Does it make a difference if we pray with others versus just praying by ourselves?
Now letï¿½s look in the book of Acts and see what happened when the Christian prayed together.
ï¿½ Letï¿½s begin with Acts 1:14. After Jesusï¿½ resurrection, his disciples, ï¿½they [disciples] all joined constantly in prayer, along with the women including Jesusï¿½ mother Mary and his brothers.ï¿½ Result: It was shortly afterward the Holy Spirit came powerfully on the disciples.
ï¿½ After the disciples received Godï¿½s Spirit, as the first Christ followers began gathering it says this (Acts 2:42), ï¿½They devoted themselves to the apostlesï¿½ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.ï¿½ Prayer here was one of several things but the result of all of these working together was, (vs. 47) ï¿½the Lord added daily those who were being saved.ï¿½
ï¿½ A couple of chapters later in Acts 4:24 the Apostles Peter and John were released from prison and we read, ï¿½When they [the disciples] heard this [the release of Peter and John], they raised their voices together in prayer to God.ï¿½ And for the next several verses it records the prayer they prayed together. What were the results of this prayer meeting? Skip down to verse 31. It says the place they were meeting shook, they were filled once again with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.
ï¿½ In our passage today from Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The result? Peter was released miraculously from jail before his imminent death.
ï¿½ In 13:2 ï¿½While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.ï¿½ The next chapters are the result of their first mission trip to the modern nation of Cyprus and Turkey, which was very successful.