When we think about prayer, we often define it as something we do alone. People pray in the morning…or before they go to bed…or as they drive…etc. We make time to be alone and pray. That’s a good thing. Jesus did say to go to your closet, shut the door and pray. He says that to religious priests who use public prayer as way to show off their spiritual clout.
But what about praying with others? Is that something we are encouraged to do? Does community and prayer go hand in hand?
Acts 12 is story about lots of trouble, much persecution, prison…and prayer as a community activity. Some might say it’s ‘Shaw Shank Redemption’ meets ‘Prison Break’ meets ‘Cheers’
The church has just been given the name ‘CHRISTIAN’ in Acts 11. They’ve been identified as people who follow Jesus, look like Jesus and live like Jesus. This of course gets them into trouble. So much so that King Herod decides to act violently upon them. The beginning of Acts 12 sees James (John’s brother) murdered and Peter put into Prison. During what was potentially Peter’s last night on earth, two things happen: the church was praying for him, and an Angel comes to him and basically gets him out of prison (perhaps this was not a coincidence). Peter is blown away by what just happened and goes to Mary’s home. Peter’s church community was gathered there. He knocks on the door; Rhoda answers it and is so shocked that she leaves Peter there and goes back to her company to tell her what happened. Peter keeps knocking, which means that Rhoda either never opened the door or she slammed it shut when running back to the crowd, and the rest of them finally see that he’s back.
This caused two ripple effects: the church was encouraged by God’s hand on the whole situation, and the soldiers who were supposed to be watching Peter got into some major trouble (death sentence).
This past Sunday, Brad Clarke did a wonderful job of teaching on this text. He pointed out two things from two different parts of the story.
“While Peter was in prison, the church prayed for him”
While Peter was in trouble I guess the church could’ve brainstormed on what to do, but the writer of Acts says that they prayed. They used their time, not to worry, not to scheme, not to draw a map on how to execute a prison break – they prayed!
Did they pray because they knew God would answer or because they knew he would hear them? Great question. Probably both. But here’s the thing, we never know that God will answer, or perhaps it would be better to say that we don’t know how God will answer, but we always know that he will listen. Now some might say that it’s not worth praying if he’s not going to answer. That’s not really fair is it. In a (healthy) relationship between a child and a parent, we don’t go to our parent because we know what they will say, but because we know that they will listen. In this story the church prayed because they knew that God was the only one to go to, and that he was and is the only one who can answer. The church’s power is not in it’s physical strength, but in its humility, its love, its compassion, and…its ability to pray.
In Psalm 116, David says, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” Even King David knew that more important than an answer was the compassionate and loving ear of a heavenly Father who listens to every thing we (say when we) pray.
Now let’s be honest, Peter getting out of prison is quite the miracle, quite the answer to a community who prayed their heart out. It’s an amazing story…one that can effect how we pray today.
Peter went home, “where many were gathered for prayer”
The church wasn’t scattered in their individual homes or cafes across their city – they were together, in one home, in community. The church knew that doing life together was not only better, it was how God intended for us to live.
Church isn’t just a gathering to sing songs, and listen to someone talk, but a community of people who care for each other, encourage each other, pray for one another, and make everyone feel like they’re home.
What we get from Acts 12 is a great story with drama, humour, fears and tears – about a community who prays, a community who stays up waiting for their brother to come home (even if they initially left him at the door) and a community who knows that the God they follow listens better than anyone else, and no matter the answer, they have him (God) and each other.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
small(er) groups questions:
Take some time to read Acts 12:1-19. What part(s) of the story simply intrigue you? What part(s) cause you to question?
Prayer – What’s more attractive, God listening or God answering?
What do you think about David’s words in Psalm 116, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.”?
How can prayer become your go to response? Something more than a last resort? What are some things you can do to see that happen?
The prayer we see in Acts 12 is communal. They were praying together? What does that say about community and our role in it?
Is there anything else you learn about the Early Church from this story in Acts 12? (anything goes here)
Brad said (using Jack Johnson and other things) that we are better together. Would you agree? Disagree? What can you say to that?