And When You Pray
Text: Acts 12
Proposition: When you pray be constant in it, earnest and surrendered to the will of God in faith, believing that Jesus is able to overcome all.
Introduction: Let’s talk about prayer, let’s talk about the way that we as people who are part spirit are designed to relate to our Creator, for God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. It doesn’t require great intellect or intense spiritual discipline to be able to speak to God, just as it doesn’t take great strength or vocabulary to use a phone. You hold it and you speak into it believing that the person on the other end is who they say they are and that they can hear and understand you. Prayer hinges on a faith in God the Father that believes that Jesus is the door through which we are to come to Him. As that door swings open prayer becomes the means for us to speak directly to Jesus, to speak with God the Father, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, sometimes even speaking without words but with the groans and expressions of our soul. Perhaps at times you are like me, when my desire to pray is weak within me, when I don’t see the answer I had hoped for and there doesn’t seem to be any change. The enemies of Sin, Satan and the System seem to be more victorious in spite of what I pray and I grow in unbelief about prayer. It’s like a person who has lost belief in the role of food. They aren’t getting more muscular, their job doesn’t get easier, food doesn’t seem to make any difference at all. So they eat quit eating. You know the outcome, they get weaker and weaker and then get to the point where unless they are fed intravenously they will die. They were designed to eat, their unbelief in what they are designed to do does not affect their world, it affects them. This morning let’s talk about prayer, let’s look at an extraordinary situation that is unlike any we have ever experienced except for the fact that it’s wrapped up in the very same aspects of prayer we are in. Have a look at Acts 12.
I. Prayer Invites Us to Live By Faith When All the Evidence Says Not To.
The chapter begins by describing Herod, he’s the grandson of the king Herod referred to in the birth of Christ. This Herod, Herod Agrippa, was born about 10BC and though he wasn’t a Jew he sought to politically align himself with them. It’s why he has James arrested and put to death by the sword, meaning decapitated. James, one of the sons of Zebedee, he was the James that is referred to so many times when Peter, James and John walked with Jesus. Next to Peter, James was one of the key apostles and now he has been put to death. Seeing the reaction from the Jewish community and especially from it’s leadership of Scribes and Pharisees, Herod Agrippa has Peter arrested and intends the same the outcome. If you were in Jerusalem in those days and were a Christian likely you would think that things are going from bad to worse. It was the week of Unleavened Bread that lead up to the Passover, so Herod wants to wait until this is finished before he proceeds with Peter’s execution. In the midst of one of the darkest times for the church the world all around it is celebrating. How many times in your life has the plan of God seemed absolutely obscure, in fact it seemed like there was no plan, just crisis? You pray and the crisis only gets worse. The conclusion that we come to is that prayer doesn’t matter because God doesn’t care. Faith says exactly the opposite, because God cares prayer matters, it is like the life line that ties the man fallen overboard to the ship that can save him. It’s like the molecule of water that does the exact opposite of every other molecule when it experiences extreme cold. Water expands when it freezes, breaking all the rules as it does so. Prayer is like that, it can crack open the grip of Satan, it can push back the darkness of sin it can bring life against all the rules. Prayer invites us to live by faith when all the evidence says not to.
II. Prayer Invites Us To Love When There Only Seems to be Room For Fear.
The thing abut fear is that it constantly seeks to wrap itself in the cloak of certainty. Fear tries to convince us that there is no hope, fear bolsters itself in great shows of strength and irreversible ruin. Fear looks like 16 Roman soldiers guarding one bow legged apostle. Fear looks like steel chains around skinny wrists, iron gates and the gloom of darkness with more enemy you can’t even see. Have a look at verse 5, “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” That word ‘constant’ is the Greek word ‘ektene’, other translations render it, ‘fervently’, ‘without ceasing’, ‘earnestly’. It is a picture of a person ‘stretched out in prayer’ whether that is physically stretched out or metaphorically stretched out. It implies a crying out to God because you know there is no other hope, it implies a persistent belief in the goodness of God despite our inability to peer into His sovereignty. It implies a surrender to God, to His will which ever way He chooses to bring the outcome and it implies a worship of God that is steadfast on the truth of the goodness of His character, resolutely. It’s prayer without ceasing to believe, prayer fervent in our surrender, constant in our hope, earnest in our doctrine, trusting in our position in Christ despite all fears. In short all these add up to what love is, to what loving God means even when fear tries to push us in the opposite direction. Prayer invites us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, strength and mind and to others as ourselves. That’s what the church had been doing for days as Peter remained chained to two Roman guards. It’s what they were doing Saturday night, hours before Herod was going to drag him before the people of Jerusalem to execute him publicly.
There’s something about the timing of God that we only seem to appreciate after the fact. It’s at the last hour, when no hope seems possible, against all odds that God chooses to act on Peter’s behalf through the emissary of an angel. The only thing we can say with certainty is that God is never late, never in error, never without design. It was late at night when the angel woke Peter, like in an alternate reality the guards were oblivious to the reality of the angel and the reality of Peter being released from them. Two things are worth noting here. 1. Peter was sleeping so soundly it took effort to rouse him, implying a deep confidence in God, in the Lord Jesus despite any outcome. 2. The inability of the guards to see the reality of the angelic being, to know it’s presence and mission would cost them their very lives. Spiritual blindness is terminal.
The angel leads Peter out, past guards standing at attention, up to great iron gates that swing open all on their own, ‘automatos’ is the Greek word… guess what English word we derive from that. Peter thinks this is all a vision, it seems surreal until suddenly the angel who was one minute right there in front of him vanishes and there he is standing alone on a street in Jerusalem in the middle of the night. While the people are all still praying a new reality has occurred and Peter stands amazed in the presence of the love of the God who delivers.
III. Prayer Kindles Hope When Logic Seeks To Dismiss It.
Peter makes his way to the home of John Marks mother. She is a wealthy woman, her home is gated for protection, large enough for many to gather, open to all. Peter knocks on the gate and a servant girl named Rhoda answers it. She hears Peter saying that it’s him, to open the door and let him in but the news is simply too amazing. Rhoda has to tell someone what she’s just discovered, Peter is here, he’s standing right outside the gate, prayer works, God is really good. I think that Rhoda’s response is as over the top as the disciple’s response is under the top. They don’t believe her, after all Peter is in prison, Herod is too powerful and the reality is that we can do nothing. The thing that is beautiful here is that Rhoda’s hope and joy, which are based on the truth, can’t be snuffed out by the logic of the disciples. Prayer, the very prayer they had been engaged in for days is meant to kindle hope and to kindle it into a blaze for the glory of God. When they finally do risk believing her, they find Peter standing at the gate and it says they are amazed. Amazement is nothing more than hope in full bloom. It’s what prayer seeks to kindle in us, to create a faith that risks belief despite the odds, despite the fear, despite the chains and gates. Some gates God opens automatically, other gates He waits for us to open because we believed. In both cases hope is kindled, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in His word, hope in His victorious cross, hope in His expanding and revealed kingdom and hope in His great love for us. Prayer kindles hope when logic seeks to dismiss it, prayer invites love when there seems to be only room for fear and prayer invites us to live by faith when all the evidence says not to… prayer enables faith, hope and love.
Prayer it’s what God has designed you to do, by it you will know the Saviour of your souls, by it you can withstand the schemes of Satan and by it make your way through the fog of sin. Pray, fervently, without ceasing, constantly, earnestly. It’s food, it’s our daily bread.