Greg Laurie - What Happens When Christians Pray Together
I heard a story about three men that were hiking through a forest and they came to a large raging river, so they decided to pray. Always a good idea, 'cause they needed to get over the river. So the first man prayed, "Lord, I pray that you will give me the strength to cross the river". Boom, suddenly, he has bulging biceps and strong legs, and he dives in and starts swimming across it. It took him about six hours. He almost drowned twice, but he got to the other side. So the two guys are watchin' this, and the second guy says, "Lord, I pray that you will give me the strength and the tools to cross the river". He too had bulging biceps and strong legs but also a boat, so he got in that little rowboat and made his way across. It took him about three hours, and it capsized twice, but he made it. So the third guy said, "Lord, I pray that you'll give me the strength and the tools and the intelligence to cross the river," and, poof, suddenly, he became a woman. She consulted the map, walked a few feet up the riverbank and walked over the bridge.
So it comes down to this: there's a right and there's a wrong way to pray. Maybe I'm talking to somebody right now that is in a very difficult situation. You don't see any way out of your situation, or you have a great need that only God can provide, or maybe you're facing an uncertain future, and it seems as though you can't fix it. It's just a big mess, your life. Well, here's what you need to know: things can change when you pray. One thing that will stand out on this story we're gonna read in a few moments is prayer can dramatically change situations, people, and even the very course of nature. It's been said, when you're swept off your feet, it's time to get on your knees. Listen, prayer can change things, but most of all, prayer changes you because there are times in life where God will allow hardship or a time of great need or perhaps even a tragedy so he can reveal himself to you so you will learn to call upon him, so he can put his glory on display.
See, really, when I pray, I'm acknowledging that I'm weak. I'm acknowledging I need help, and a lot of people don't like to do this, especially men. Why is it that men don't think they need help? Simple answer, because they're stupid, hah. Remember my story I just told you in the beginning? Listen, who was the strongest man who ever lived? Don't say Superman. He's not real. You might say, "Well, Samson". He was strong, for sure, but he was not the strongest man who ever lived. The strongest man who ever lived was Jesus Christ. He had unlimited strength, he was omnipotent, all-powerful, but, yet we read story after story in the gospels of Jesus praying, Jesus staying up in the late hours of night and praying, and if Jesus, the strongest man who ever lived, needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray?
So here before us, in Acts chapter 12, is the story of the power of prayer. The early church was facing a very difficult set of problems, and so they realized the only way around it or through it was with the help of God. So what is happening now in the church of the first century is a new wave of persecution has come against them. This is not the first wave. It's just another wave. That first wave of persecution came when Stephen, that courageous young man full of faith, was put to death for following Jesus Christ and proclaiming the gospel to the religious leaders, but then God infiltrated, God intervened, and God turned around the chief persecutor of the church, who was known as Saul of Tarsus. Now, he was the apostle Paul.
So when Saul was doing this dirty work and attacking the church, they started to spread out, but now they're gonna spread out even more because God has spoken to Simon Peter and told him that he and the church were to take the gospel, not just to fellow Jews but to the Gentiles and this encounter with a Roman centurion Cornelius, and it was a whole new movement in the church. If you're driving a stick-shift car, you just went from first to second gear. You're picking up momentum. The church is on the move, and it's a good reminder, rather, that God wants a church to infiltrate, not to isolate. The commission of the church is not to wait for the world to show up. The Great Commission to the church is "to go into all the world and preach the gospel". Jesus did not say the whole world should go to church, but he did say the church should go to the whole world. So now the church is moving quickly. They're reaching even more people, both Jew and Gentile, and the devil is not happy.
Listen, Satan hates God, and he hates those that follow God, but if there's one thing that Satan really hates, it's evangelism because, when we evangelize... and if you don't know what that word means, it means sharing your faith. When we tell others about Jesus, we are invading enemy territory, and when we have the privilege of leading others to Christ, that's taking captives from Satan, and he's not gonna take that lying down, as evidenced in the story before us because Satan works through a powerful king named Herod, who begins a horrible time of persecution against the church.
Let's read about it, Acts chapter 12. I'm gonna read verses 1 to 5: "Now, about that time here, Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some of the church. He killed James, the brother of John, with a sword, and because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now, this was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. And so, when he had arrested him and put him in prison, he delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison," but underline this verse, "but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church".
Okay, so James has been killed. Peter has been arrested. It's almost certain that Peter will also be executed. So what did the church do? We read here in Acts 12, the church organized a protest and stormed Herod's palace. No, actually, we don't read that, but we do read the church organized a boycott of all products made in Rome. No, they didn't do that either. Instead, the church unleashed their secret weapon, and it's our secret weapon as well, and I'm talking about prayer. I love verse 5 of Acts 12, "constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church". Though all other doors were closed, one door remained open, the door of prayer, the door into the presence of God. The way through to Peter was the one through God, but let's be honest, a lot of times, prayer is our last resort.
We'll try to work it out some other way: "Oh, I'll figure it out, I'll resolve this," but we can't. "Oh, well, now all we could do is pray". That's the first thing you should've done, the first thing. Paul says in Philippians 4, "Don't worry about anything. Pray about everything, and the peace of God that passes all human understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus". What are you facing right now? Pray about it. I love what the Bible tells us about Mary when she was askin' about the amazing birth of Jesus that would happen through her, and the Lord told her, "With God, nothing is impossible". So let's see if we can identify some takeaway truths for all of us to learn about prayer as modeled by the early church, the church that turned the world upside down.
If you're taking notes, here's point number one: the prayer that has power is the prayer that is offered to God. The prayer that has power is the prayer that is offered to God. Verse 5, "constant prayer was offered to God". You might say, "Wait, well, isn't all prayer offered to God"? Well, no, not necessarily. Jesus told the story about the Pharisees who loved to stand on the street corners and give long, eloquent prayers. Why? To impress people. Here's the real objective of prayer: it's to get our will in alignment with God. Jesus said in John 15, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask for yourself what you will, and it shall be done for you".
If you were to go back to the original Greek and translate that, it would go along these lines, Jesus speaking, "If you maintain a living communion with me, and my word is at home in you, you can ask at once for yourself whatever your heart desires, and it will be yours". Oh, I like that promise, but don't miss the condition. Yes, the promise says, "ask at once for yourself whatever your heart desires," but if you're maintaining a living communion with Jesus, and his Word is at home in you, you're gonna start praying for what God wants you to have. So the objective of prayer is not to get God to do what I want him to do. It's to get me to do what God wants to do.
Number two, they prayed with passion and persistence. They prayed with passion and persistence. Again, look at verse 5, "constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church". Constant prayer. This phrase "constant prayer" could be translated "earnest prayer," or they were stretching out in prayer. Have you ever had something just beyond your reach? You know, maybe you're under your couch, and you're trying to reach something that's a little too far. That's the way they were praying. They were just reaching out to heaven, like, "Lord, hear our prayer right now". Another way this could be translated is "They prayed with agony". It's a word that speaks of intense desire. By the way, it's the same word to describe the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22, verse 44, when it says, "He prayed more earnestly". This was not some ho-hum, "Oh, Lord, just, save Peter, amen". This was "Oh, God, Lord, hear our prayer. Lord, don't let Peter be put to death".
Maybe they stepped this prayer up more after James died. Did they pray for James when he was in prison? I think they probably did, but probably not with the same intensity that they had now as they were praying for Peter because these were dire circumstances, and they were desperate. They're crying out to God. You know, I think sometimes much of our prayer has no power in it because there's no heart in it, and if we're not gonna put any heart in praying our prayer, do we expect God to put heart in answering our prayer? I love this passionate prayer, "constant prayer was offered for him by the church," and it was constant, not just one prayer.
You know, sometimes we give up too easily. We pray for something that doesn't happen. We say, "Well, it must not be God's will". "Lord, I pray that my son will walk with you. Oh, he's not walking with you. Well, I guess that's the will of God for him to not walk with God". Or "I prefer something else, Lord, I need your provision," and you don't receive it. "Well, I guess God isn't gonna give it to me". Or you're sick, and you pray for the Lord to heal you, and you're not healed. "Oh, I guess God doesn't wanna heal me". Well, maybe that's true. God doesn't heal everyone. God does not always answer our prayers the way that we pray them, but, listen, when you're praying for a son or a daughter to come to the Lord, you know you're praying according to the will of God because Scripture tells us, "God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance".
Now, I mentioned my mother in my last message and the life she lived, and I wanna tell you, my mom did commit herself to the Lord toward the end of her life. I prayed for her for over 30 years. Thirty years, that's a long time, but the Lord heard those prayers, and she finally came around toward the end of her life and committed her life to Jesus Christ. So don't give up praying for your mom and dad or your son and daughter or your husband or wife or anyone you know that is not right with the Lord. Keep praying, keep asking Jesus. He said, "Ask, and it shall be given, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and the door will be open". So they're praying, "Oh, God, intervene. Oh, God, hear our prayer".
Point number three, they prayed together. They prayed together. Again, verse 5, "constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church". You remember, the title of this message is "What Happens When Christians Pray Together"? What happens when Christians pray together? A lot. There's power in united prayer. Jesus said, "If any two of you shall agree on earth, touching, anything that they shall ask, it will be done for them of my Father who is in heaven". That's in Matthew 18:19. Now, when he says, "agree on earth, touching," it means two believers, not just an agreement in general but two believers with the same God-given burden, serve his will, aligned with the Spirit of God, praying together. So pray with other Christians. The Bible says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ".
So if you have a burden right now, you have a problem right now, call up a Christian friend and say, "Will you pray for me and with me"? Get a bunch of Christians together and say, "Could we all pray together about this thing? And I would like to pray for whatever problems you're facing as well". There's power in united prayer. So these believers are praying together. Let's see how God answered their prayer.
Go back to Acts chapter 12, verse 6, and I'm reading now from the New Living Translation. "The night before Peter was gonna be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and the angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, 'Get up quickly.' And the chains fell off his wrists, and then the angel said, 'Get dressed and put on your sandals.'"
Sounds like a parent trying to get their kid ready for school: "Wake up, wake up, put on your clothes. Let's go," right? "'Put on your sandals, and now put on your coat and follow me,' the angel ordered. And Peter left the cell, following the angel, and all this time, he thought it was some kind of vision. He didn't realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and the second guard posts and came to an iron gate leading to the city, and it opened to them by itself".
It's interesting; that comes from a root word in the Greek that's translated "automatic". So it's like the supermarket. You come up, and the door opens on its own. So now, the door is opened all by itself, and they passed through. They're walking down the street, and the angel suddenly leaves Peter, and Peter came to his senses, and he said, "It's really true. The Lord has sent his angel, and he has saved me from Herod and from the Jewish leaders and what they had planned to do". I love this. When did this happen? Notice verse 6, "The night before Peter was placed on trial". Now, this was some fake trial in a kangaroo court. He was gonna be convicted and executed immediately, so right before the trial, why didn't the Lord answer this prayer a little bit earlier? Well, sometimes the Lord allows these things so we will really realize that it's him that got us through it.
So let's pull the camera back and see the big picture. Look at how things changed because a passionate, powerful prayer. In the beginning, we see a seemingly all-powerful king Herod, wreaking havoc on the church. Herod had the power of government, the power of the sword, and the threat of prison, but the Christians, they had the power of prayer. The story ends in Acts 12, with the great King Herod giving a speech that was met by adulation from the people. They began to chant the words, "It's a voice of a god and not of a man".
You know, it's interesting. The ancient historian Josephus, commenting on the same event, says that Herod was dressed from head to toe in silver, so it was probably some kind of a reflective silver cloth he was wearing or thread that caused the sun to reflect off of him. He was shining like the sun, so here's Herod, head to toe in silver, shining in front of the people, gives a great speech. "Oh, you're a god". He's like, "Thank you very much. Thank you very much". And God judged him, and the Bible tells them, "He died, and worms ate him". So I don't know if that was immediate and he was stricken by worms, or if a few days later, they realize after he had died, that he was infested by worms.
I don't know, it's pretty gross, but, wow, look at this story and how it turned around. At the beginning of the chapter, Herod is on the rampage, arresting and persecuting church leaders. At the end, he is struck down, and he dies. That chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing. It closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing. Listen to this. It's not over till it's over, so I don't know what you're goin' through right now, and you say, "This is it. There's no way out". Well, pray. Call out to God. "Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church". And death came, by the way; little footnote: those guards that were in charge of keeping Peter in prison were all executed by King Herod.
How sad. I'm sure they heard the gospel from Peter. I hope they believed in Jesus Christ 'cause you know what? Death is gonna come to every man and every woman. It'll come to the famous. It will come to the unknown. It will come to the rich. It will come to the poor. Doesn't matter if you ride a Harley or a Vespa or drive a Ferrari or a Prius. Everyone eventually will stand before their maker. I was talking to an older gentleman the other day. I was with a friend. We were havin' a cup of coffee, and we're at this little table, and this old dude is lookin' for a place to sit, and he says, "Can I sit here at your table"? We said, "Sure, sit down".
Well, he had an amazing life. He had actually been a little boy during World War II, and he had seen the Nazis invade. He was from the Netherlands, and he told us a bunch of stories about his life and what he did for a living, and so forth. Then he asked me, "Well, what do you do for a living"? I said, "Well, I'm a pastor". He was a little surprised. And so he started asking questions, why God allows suffering, why does this happen, why does that happen? And, so I got to the subject of Jesus, and this man happened to be an engineer. And I said, "You know, I know it's hard to believe some of the miracles you read about in the Bible," 'cause he said, "It's hard for me to believe these miracles".
I said, "You're an engineer. You know what it takes to build something, and when you look at this world, you realize that God has created it, God has built it, but sin has entered the human race," but then I told him, "and that's why Jesus came". I said, "Sir, do you know why Jesus came to this earth"? He looked at me for a moment. He says, "No, I don't". I said, "He came to die for our sin because we've broken God's commandments. We've fallen short of his glory, but Jesus died for us and rose again from the dead, and this is what we all need to know. We don't have to be afraid to die if Christ is living in our heart". And is he living in your life right now? Remember how Peter was on the outside of this little prayer meeting, knocking? Picking up on that analogy, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and I knock, and if you'll hear my voice and open the door, I will come in," right now.