This past week, in a message I entitled, Stronger than Prison Bars, I looked at Peter’s miraculous escape from what we might call today a maximum security prison. His circumstances certainly qualified as a “dead-end.” Literally, he would have been executed the following morning had God not intervened on his behalf.
If you read Acts chapter 12 you can’t help but notice the connection between Peter’s incredible getaway and its association with the church’s prayers. Acts 12:5 ESV says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” For me, the key word in this verse is “but…” It represents the decisive reason for the positive outcome. Now, although we know that God’s will is ultimately determined by His sovereignty, the Bible is clear that He is affected and moved by the prayers of His people. In Jeremiah 33:3 KJV God himself urges us to pray to him when he says, “Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Well, the believers in the Early Church clearly decided to call on God and the results were phenomenal. Even though they prayed with an obvious lack of faith (see Acts 12:14,15), their perseverance and sincerity more than made up for their unbelief. I find this candid description of their spiritual duplicity strangely comforting.
Clearly Luke is allowing us to see the Early Church as it really was and not as our idealized or romanticized assumption would lead us to believe. Here we do not see the Early Church as a bunch of super faith-filled heroes and heroines. Instead we see them as real human being who wrestled with the same kind of muddled, half-believing, faith-one-minute-and-doubt-the-next-minute struggle that most of us face. In reality, they were people very much like ourselves.
But with that said, their prayers still allowed them to participate in something truly extraordinary. Their “earnest” prayers were heard and God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, what about you? Do you believe that prayer with just a little faith in a big God can still yield great result? I hope so! Jesus told us in Matthew 7:7 NLT “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
In the famous Christian allegory, Pilgrims Progress, there is a point when Christian receives his armor. One of the weapons he receives is called, “All prayer.” The author of this famous allegory, John Bunyon, undoubtedly had Ephesians 6:18 in mind when he drew this analogy. “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with ALL PRAYER and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Christian was actually given this weapon so that if every other weapon failed, it could still keep him in good safety. Later in the book, Christian actually uses his weapon of “ALL PRAYER,” to prevail against the fiends which attack him in the Valley of the Shadow. It says that when “He poured out his soul in fervent prayer; they fell back and came no further.”
In our lives today all of us are facing fiends of various kinds. Fear fiends, financial fiends, failure fiends, frustration fiends, fatigue fiends, family fiends. Even so, I believe that if we will follow the example of the Early Church and begin to use the ultimate weapon of “All prayer,” our problems will begin to “fall back and come no further” as well.
I hope you will take to heart the story of Peter’s release from prison and remember that when every other gate is shut and locked, the gate to heaven is always wide open. All we have to do is take advantage of that open gate through prayer.