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Prayer: The Partnership of Prayer (Text: Acts 12:1-5, 7, 12-17, NKJV)
The most dramatic New Testament story concerning partnership and prayer is recorded for us in the 12th chapter of Acts. Here King Herod, representing the subtle, fearful, and overwhelming power of the devil, is pictured in opposition to a church or a fellowship at prayer. This is to remind us that whenever Satan comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him (Isaiah 59:19).
The enemy's single purpose in every age is to silence the voice of the gospel, but God's mighty answer is always the working power of prayer. As we read and study this account, let us learn the principles that determine victory over every attempt of Satan to defeat the redemptive purposes of God.
Notice three important features about this prayer meeting:
The People at Prayer
"[Peter] ... came to the house of Mary ... where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12:12).
As we have seen already, Satan had done his best to incarcerate Peter the evangelist and to silence the message of life in the city of Jerusalem. God's response was to draw together a simple group of men and women to pray. Three classes of people were present at that prayer meeting:
There was the Mary Class. It was at "... the house of Mary the mother of John ... where many were gathered together praying" (12:12). Mary represents the influential people, for it appears she was a woman of comparative wealth and influence. She had a roomy house which acted as a meeting place for members of the church in Jerusalem.
Thank God for the Marys of church history, and the Marys of today, who make their homes available for Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship. From reading the New Testament, it is evident that the home held a place of importance in the growth of the Christian church.
The gathering of God's people still takes place in private homes in countries where there is an absence of religious liberty; people simply are not allowed to rent or utilize a public building for religious purposes.
But look again: there was the Rhoda Class. "... as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer" (Acts 12:13). Rhoda, whose name means "rose," represents the insignificant people. Without question, she was a familiar servant who answered the door. What a fragrance her name and life have given the Christian church throughout the centuries! From this we learn that while God certainly uses influential people, He never despises insignificant people. The prayers of Rhoda were just as effective and acceptable as those of Mary.
Observe once again that there was the Many Class. "... The "many" represents the inconspicuous people. These are the unnamed common people who hear Jesus gladly, respond to His message, and become the members of His Body. Since the beginning of the church, the majority of its members have been comprised of the Many Class, and this is how it will be to the end of time, when Christ returns to receive His own.
The world puts labels on the Body of Christ. It sees believers as part of the Mary Class, the Rhoda Class, the Many Class; but with God "... there is no respect of persons ..." (Romans 2:11). He sees them without distinction of class, race, or sex: just people at prayer. Thank God, anyone can pray who knows the cleansing of the precious blood, the renewing of the Holy Spirit, and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
Do you known anything of this partnership in prayer?
The Purpose in Prayer
"... many were gathered together praying" (12:12).
Luke's account here impresses us with two aspects of prayer. First, there was unity in prayer -- "... many were gathered together praying" (12:12), any differences that might have separated people from one another were now completely lost in the unity of the purpose of prayer.
This is, undoubtedly, the first secret of prevailing prayer. Jesus declared "... that if two [people] agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by [His] Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:19). The psalmist reminds us that it is good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity, for there God pours out the precious oil of His Spirit and distills the dew of His blessing (Psalms 133).
Significantly enough, when the disciples gathered together to pray unitedly for the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost it is recorded that "... they were all [of] one accord ..." (Acts 2:1).
There was urgency in prayer: "... constant prayer was offered to God ... by the church" (Acts 12:5). Such praying was fervent and intense.
This is the second secret of prevailing prayer. It is the prayer of self-denial -- the prayer that spells death to anything that would interfere with the finding and fulfilling of God's purpose. When people gather to pray with this sense of urgency they are also prepared to go through with God, cost what it will. This is Calvary praying and, therefore, victorious praying. When people pray like this something is bound to happen.
The Power of Prayer
"... the iron gate ... opened ... of its own accord ..." (Acts 12:10).
Remember that Peter had been cast into prison. James had been beheaded with the sword. As a result, Christians were apprehensive as to what would happen to Peter and, more importantly, what would happen to the gospel witness in Jerusalem and beyond. So they prayed unceasingly.
God has so ordered it that miracles on earth are always the outcome of prayer. This case was no exception. The power of God was revealed in two ways.
There was an unusual demonstration of power. When Rhoda reported that Peter was standing outside the door they thought she was beside herself (Acts 12:15). How human! Everyone in that room imagined that Peter would be arraigned the next day before the magistrate, receive a stern warning, and then be released, in answer to their prevailing prayers. But God always works far above all that we could ever ask or think, so that men might wonder and worship. His divine demonstration of power transcends the preconceived ideas of faithful prayer warriors!
There was an undeniable demonstration of power. "... Peter stood before the gate" (Acts 12:14). However unusual was the answer, it was undeniable. Everyone in that fellowship knew that prayer was a force, and that God's answer was miraculous in its outworking.
History is replete with illustrations of how God has demonstrated His power in answer to prayer. Let me cite one striking parallel of the miracle-working power of God.
Sundar Singh was a missionary on the Tibetan border. On one occasion, by order of the chief lama of a certain Tibetan community, Singh was thrown into a dry well and the lid securely locked. His crime? Preaching the gospel in the marketplace.
Dr. F. F. Bruce tells the story this way: "Here he was left to die, like many others before him, whose bones and rotting flesh lay at the bottom of the well. On the third night, when he had been crying to God in prayer, he heard someone unlocking the lid of the well and removing it, and then a voice spoke, telling him to take hold of the rope which was being lowered.
"He did so, and was glad to find a loop at the bottom of the rope in which he could place his foot, for his right arm had been injured before he was thrown down. He was then drawn up, the lid ... replaced and locked, and when he looked around to thank his rescuer he could find no trace of him. The fresh air revived him, and his injured arm felt whole again.
"When morning came he returned to the city where he had been arrested and resumed preaching. News was brought to the lama that the man who had been thrown into the execution well for preaching had been liberated and was preaching again. Sundar Singh was brought before him, questioned, and he told the story of his release. The lama had declared that someone must have gotten hold of the key and let him out, but when the search was made for the key it was found attached to the lama's own belt!"1
When God hears prayer the answer is both unusual and undeniable!
Partnership in prayer involves people at prayer, purpose in prayer, and then power in prayer. Are you involved in this glorious partnership? God is looking for recruits. Will you look up into His face and say, "Here am I, Lord; use me"?
1. F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956, p. 250. Quoted from The Sadhu by B. H. Streeter and A. J. Appasamy [London, 1921], pp. 30ff.
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