In the New Testament book of Acts, we find a bleak scenario in which James, one of the leaders of the early church, was arrested by King Herod and put to death. Then Peter was arrested, and it looked as though he would be executed.
But this is what the church did after Peter’s arrest: “Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5 NKJV).
The church didn’t organize a boycott or picket the palace. Instead, they prayed. In the days in which we’re living, I think the church has lost sight of some of the most important things. When we look at the ways things are going in our nation and wonder what we should do, I say that we should pray about it. Let’s pray about the problems we’re facing.
God gave his prescription for revival, or for the healing of a nation, when He said, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV).
This is our secret weapon as the church, and we don’t use it enough. We need to pray more often. We need to bring our needs before the Lord more often. That is what the first-century church did.
Important Prayer Principles
Let’s notice some important principles about their prayers. Going back to verse 5 of Acts 12, we see that first of all, their prayers were offered to God. “Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “Isn’t all prayer offered to God?”
Not necessarily. Sometimes when we pray, our minds are occupied with thoughts of what we want or what we need, and we think very little of whom we’re addressing. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He began, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9 NKJV).
Before we offer a word of petition, we should contemplate God, think about Him, praise Him and worship Him. As a result, it changes what we pray for. Prayer is not getting our will in Heaven; it’s getting God’s will on earth. So before we begin asking God for something, we need to first align ourselves with His will.
And how do we know God’s will? We find it in God’s Word, the Bible. The more we read it, the more we learn about God, the better we’ll be able to know what His will is and how to pray in a given situation. When we learn about God’s nature and character, then our prayers will be to Him.
The second principle we find in Acts 12:5 is that the early church prayed without stopping. “Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” The original language indicates that they prayed with agony.
The reason many of our prayers have no power in them is because there’s no heart in them. If we put so little heart into our prayers, then we cannot expect God to put much heart into answering them. If we flippantly say, “Lord, save the world. Amen,” we’re not putting any heart into our prayers. Let’s think about what we’re asking for.
The third principle we see is that the early church prayed together. And when Christians get together and pray, things will happen. There’s no question about it. It’s good to join forces with other believers.
Jesus said, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19 NKJV). Let’s not misunderstand. Jesus wasn’t saying that if we dream up whatever we think is a great idea and get someone to agree with us about it, then we will receive what we ask.
Rather, Jesus was saying that if two people get their wills in alignment with God’s will, agree together in that area, and keep praying about it, they can see results.
That is why we need to pray with our Christian friends. That is why we need to call them and say, “Let’s pray about this together. Let’s bring it before the Lord.”
This is one reason we need to be involved in church. If you want to grow spiritually, then you must be part of a congregation of believers. It isn’t optional. Some people hop around to different churches, going to one church one week and to another the next. That doesn’t work.
Christians need to lock into a group of other believers, build relationships and friendships, and be a productive part of that body. God has a place for you. And if you are not involved in a church on a regular basis, then I would venture to say that you are spiritually floundering.
Just as we must eat, drink and breathe to physically live, we must read the Bible, pray and be involved in a church to spiritually live. We never outgrow these things. Yet there are Christians who know better but still neglect these essentials.
Somehow they think, “I have been a Christian for this long, so I don’t need to read the Bible anymore. I don’t need to pray as often. I don’t need to still go to church.”
Oh yes, they do. And if they neglect those things, I promise they will have a spiritual breakdown. It won’t necessarily happen tomorrow. It won’t necessarily happen next week. But they will grow weaker and weaker spiritually and more and more vulnerable until they fall.
Interestingly, even when the early church joined forces and constantly brought their prayers before God, He didn’t answer them immediately. Sometimes when God doesn’t answer our prayers as quickly as we would like Him to, we think that He’s letting us down. But we need to understand that God’s delays are not necessarily denials.
At the end of Acts 12, we read that God struck King Herod down, and he died. Thus, the chapter ends with Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing.
So don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. Keep praying. Be persistent, and watch what God will do.