I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately. What it is and what it isn’t. What it should be.
If you’ve ever doubted the power of prayer, read the 12th Chapter of Acts. The apostle Peter is put in prison by King Herod and is scheduled to be executed the next day. That night an angel appears to Peter and the chains on his hands fall off. The angel tells him to pull himself together and follow.
The angel leads Peter out of the maze of prison corridors all the way to a great iron gate which leads to the outside. The gate swings open with no human aid. Not unlike the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. (Don’t forget, these were the days of “unleavened bread” or Passover. It was the same time of year that Jesus had been crucified. The parallel could not have been lost on Peter.)
Peter realizes he is free.
Peter isn’t sure if this is really happening or just a dream. But when he has walked a little way through the streets, he realizes God has sent an angel to deliver him from prison and Herod’s grasp.
As he walked “he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.”
The little fledgling church had been gathered together praying. We don’t know what their prayers were, but they certainly were effective. So effective that it was hard for the people to believe the results at first. When Rhoda, who answered Peter’s knock at the door, told everyone Peter was at the door, they didn’t believe it. She stood her ground and they decided it must be “his angel.” But Peter kept banging away at the door. They finally went to see what was going on and were absolutely astonished that he was actually standing in front of them.
There are several ideas here that really stand out to me.
First: The church, or rather the community of believers, was gathered together in prayer. They were united in their efforts. They were praying together. They weren’t all in their separate little worlds praying. They were together.
There is strength in unity. There is spiritual power in the united prayers of a church body. Sure, we should pray when we are by ourselves, but there are times when we must unite as a church to pray about important issues.
As I mentioned, the Bible doesn’t tell us how the people were praying at Mary’s house. But just put yourself in their shoes–or sandals rather. Your church leader, Peter is in prison and scheduled to be executed. You have seen the wonders of the last few months and feel encouraged by the growth of the church. But James has just been executed and now it looks like Peter is next. How would you pray in such a situation? What would you pray for?
When I face challenging situations, it’s interesting to look back and see how my prayers evolved during the process. Often I start out dealing with my fear and asking for some specific solution. The turning point usually comes when I realize there is absolutely nothing I can do humanly to solve the problem. Then there is a peace that comes when I totally resign myself to God’s will. That’s when the answer usually comes shining through.
However the church was praying that night at Mary’s house, I think they must have realized there was nothing they could do humanly to save Peter. They turned wholeheartedly to God for help. This is how we must pray as well. When we are praying individually and when we are praying collectively at church.
Second: Don’t be surprised if God answers your prayer in a way that goes beyond your expectations. Don’t limit what God can do for you or for a situation you and your church are praying about.
The “church” was praying but could not at first believe that Peter was free. It was beyond their human expectations. Don’t decide ahead of time what the answer to your prayers may or may not be. Be receptive to God’s infinite possibilities.
Third: Even if we do have limited expectations, this cannot stop God from doing His will.
Fourth: If you are Peter and have been delivered from the dungeons of life, keep knocking until they come and let you in. It is important to bear witness to the church how God has saved you.
What can your church do?
What issues does your church need to pray about as a united body? This kind of prayer is not just for solving your own individual problems. There’s a time and a place for that of course. What good can your church do in the world by joining in prayer?
Don’t put any limitations on what your church can pray for or what the results may be.
Several years ago, I wrote the following poem about the importance of prayer in church and the result of such prayer.
xxxxxxxxPrayer in Church: Parousia
xxxxxxxDear God, Bless each one in this place.
xxxxxxxWe come to praise you face to face.
xxxxxxxWe walk together hand in hand
xxxxxxxAnd thereby reach the Promised Land.
xxxxxxxThe way of Life is narrow, straight;
xxxxxxxIt leads us upward to the Gate.
xxxxxxxWe enter in and praise Your name,
xxxxxxxWith humble hearts, Your truth proclaim.
xxxxxxxChrist clothed in glory now appears
xxxxxxxThe same today–throughout the years.
xxxxxxxWe reach to touch the “garment’s hem,”
xxxxxxxBut feel instead we’re touched by him.
xxxxxxxThrough Christ’s pure love our hearts are healed,
xxxxxxxThe Word made flesh, the Truth revealed.
xxxxxxxThis light of Life the world must find;
xxxxxxxOur goal: To live for all mankind.
God bless you all.