We all know what it is like. God puts the burden on your heart to share your faith with a certain person. After waiting for the right moment, you start to speak, and suddenly your mouth goes dry. Your mind blanks out. Your heart palpitates. You think, “What am I doing? Who do I think I am, actually trying to speak for God?” We all have experienced this sudden, acute sense of inadequacy.
Has the task of bringing the Gospel to your family, friends and neighbors seemed overwhelming at times? Do you feel spiritually weak and ineffective? You might be surprised to know that you are not the only one. No less a Christian than the great Apostle Peter struggled with this as well. His denial of Christ is legendary, but so are his accomplishments. How is it that the same Peter who could not muster up the courage to admit he was a disciple of Jesus before a complete stranger could, only days later, give one of the boldest messages in the history of the Church? He did it by the same power that set into motion the Early Church–and as a result, the world was never the same again.
The Early Church had a daunting task as believers sought to reach their culture and their world. Everywhere they went, they faced ridicule, harassment and persecution. They even were assaulted physically for their faith. They lived under the jurisdiction of the godless Roman Empire. Immorality and idolatry were rampant. The religious establishment, for all practical purposes, was corrupt. Yet within a period of about 30 years, the early Christians became known as “these who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, NKJV). They didn’t have the Internet, television, radio or even a printing press. But they made a difference, and the same power available to them is still available to us as believers today.
In Acts 12, we find a classic example of why the Early Church made such an impact. Here, we see early Christians faced with a very difficult situation and how they rallied using the secret weapon of prayer.
As the chapter begins, the wicked King Herod was harassing the Church and had executed James, the brother of John, who was the first apostle to be put to death. When Herod saw that this pleased the religious leaders, he decided to have Peter arrested. Things were looking bleak for the Church. A leader had just been executed, and it looked like another would be killed, too.
What did the Church do? The believers used their secret weapon. Though all other doors were closed, one remained open–the door of prayer, the door into the presence of God: “Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5, NKJV). We can find several important principles for effective prayer in this verse.
Their prayers were offered to God. That may seem obvious, but we need to remember that not all prayer is offered to God. A lot of people pray to a god they have created who is nothing more than a figment of their imagination. They are only praying to themselves. Prayer is not the answer; God is the answer. Prayer is the vehicle by which we reach God. We don’t need to be looking to prayer. We need to be looking to God through prayer.
They prayed with passion and persistence. The phrase “constant prayer” could be translated “earnest prayer” or “stretched outwardly.” Have you ever dropped your car keys in that little spot between the seat and the center console, and you stretch to reach for them? That is the idea here. The Early Church reached out to God. The believers put everything into it. Theirs was not a flippant, Lord-save-Peter-or-whatever kind of prayer. Theirs was a storm-the-throne-of-God kind of prayer. I am sure it was all the more fervent because James had been killed.
Not only did Christians pray with passion, but they also prayed with persistence. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, NKJV). Another way to translate that would be, “Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking.” In other words, don’t give up.
They prayed together. There is power in united prayer. 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). There is power in the prayers of people with the same God-given burden, sure of His will, in agreement with the Spirit of God and with each other.
When you are praying for the salvation of a loved one and you join with someone in prayer, it is a prayer that is according to the will of God. As 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (NIV). I can’t say that God will save every person you pray for, but we do know the heart of God in the matter. So when you’re praying for the salvation of someone, it’s good to pray about it with other Christians as well.
When you are reaching out to your friends and loved ones who don’t know the Lord, pray first. If you have brought to church or to a Crusade someone who has not given his or her life to Christ, be praying. And pray with other believers also.
It is worth noting that the first-century Christians did not out-debate the pagans. They out-lived them. They sought to reach people one by one. They prayed and preached and proclaimed the message of Christ–on the Cross, risen from the dead and ready to change lives. They backed up their message with actions to match. Instead of attempting to conquer paganism and dead religion by reacting blow for blow, the Christians of the first century out-prayed and out-lived the unbelievers.
Nowadays, it seems like the world is turning the Church upside down instead of the other way around. What has happened? I would suggest that we have drifted away from our dependence on God and have turned instead to the techniques and strategies of humanity. At a time when we should engage our culture with the one Truth that has any hope of transforming it, many among us have turned aside to fight the world on its own terms and with its own strategies.
As we look at the problems in our culture today, we need to recognize that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NIV). We need to use the weapons God has given us, and one of them is prayer.