Passionate Prayer Avails Much
THE BIG IDEA: Many people are trapped in spiritual, mental or emotional prisons. But just as Peter found freedom from his physical prison through passionate prayer, people today can be set free too.
“If we ask and get no answer, it is because we have not learned to pray properly. Let every learner in the school of Christ therefore take the Master’s word in all simplicity: Everyone who asks, receives. Christ has good reasons for speaking so unconditionally. Be careful not to weaken the word with human wisdom.” (Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer).[i]
One of the most eminent features of the early church is that they prayed:
- Acts 1:14 – the church was birthed by ten days of passionate, seeking prayer
- Acts 3:1 – Peter and John were going to church for the purpose of prayer
- Acts 4:31 – they prayed for boldness to preach, and were filled with the Spirit
- Acts 6:4 – the apostles said they would focus on the #1 priority of prayer and the Word
- Acts 9:40 – Peter prayed and raised Dorcas from the dead
- Acts 10:9 – prayer opened the doors for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles
- Acts 13:3 – the church prayed and sent Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey
Peter experienced a supernatural deliverance from prison. The Lord set him free. Many people today find themselves in a spiritual, mental, or emotional prison and they can also find freedom in Christ.
Are you in a prison, bound by worries and fears? Are you in bondage to a physical addiction or compulsion? Are you bound by poor relationships or bad finances? Do you struggle with insecurities, loss or grief? Whatever prison you find yourself in today, you can find freedom in Christ.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and 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 constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:1-5).
Peter was having a terrible day. James had just been killed with the sword, and now Peter was taken into custody. When he was thrown into jail, he surely expected to be executed for his faith. Peter, James and John were the three closest disciples of Jesus. Now James was dead, and Peter was next on their hit list. But… the church prayed. Luke doesn’t tell us that the church casually threw out a thoughtless, half-hearted prayer, saying, “Oh God, please bless Peter, amen.” If that was all the church had done, that might have been the end of the line for Peter. But constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. What does it mean that the church prayed constantly for him? Let’s look at that verse in several other translations to get a better understanding of what was happening here:
- “But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.” (nlt).
- “All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church prayed for him most strenuously.” (msg).
- “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” (nasb).
- “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayerwas made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (kjv).
Constant prayer. Earnestly. Strenuously. Fervently. Without ceasing. No matter how you say it, the church prayed passionate, powerful prayers. God answered their prayers because they were passionate. Their prayers weren’t wishy-washy. “Here’s our prayer God. We’re tossing it up to You, but we don’t really expect anything to happen.” No! They said, “Lord, we believe that You are a prayer answering God. We believe You are who the Bible says You are. You created this universe, and if You had the power to create this whole universe and everything that exists, then you have the power to open the doors of that little prison.”
To say that you believe in the power of prayer doesn’t mean you deny that your problems are big. Your problems may be colossal, gigantic, enormous, immense, massive or tremendous, but God is bigger. “For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:3-5). It’s all about perspective. Relative to the Almighty God, your problems are small. The big problem you are facing is very real, but so is the power of God that can change your situation.
God’s Word boldly declares, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16b). The New Living Translation makes this truth more clear when it says, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.” (James 5:16b, nlt).
After reading that promise, some might say, “Well, now I know why my prayers aren’t being answered. It says that the prayers of a righteous person have great power. I am not a righteous person. I’m such a sinner; God would never answer my prayers.” Wait a minute. Are you a Christian? Is Jesus the Lord of your life? If so, then do you understand what happened the moment you trusted Christ as your Savior? Do you know about the great exchange that took place on the Cross nearly 2,000 years ago? When Jesus walked the earth, He lived a perfect, righteous life. Jesus never sinned. When He died on the Cross, He died as our substitute, in our place. This is perhaps one of the most profound and astounding truths of the Bible! “For God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In that very moment of time when you trusted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, every one of your sins past, present and future was taken from you and put on Jesus on the Cross. But then the Father took the amazing gift of the righteousness of Jesus and credited it to your account. You have now become the righteousness of God in Christ. You might not feel righteous, but we’re not talking about feelings here. If you’re a child of God, you are righteous!
Don’t think that you’re disqualified from having the Lord answer your prayers just because you struggle with sin. Everyone sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). I know this truth sounds too good to be true. You might even be thinking of the Scripture that says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66:18). The New Living Translation of this Scripture will help you to gain a better understanding of the principle the Psalmist is making here: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.” The very next verse sheds some more light on this truth: “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer.” (Psalm 66:19). What’s the point? When you sin, be quick to repent of that sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Just because you sinned doesn’t mean that God won’t hear your prayers. If you stumble and fall, then confess your sin to Him, and repent of it. You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and therefore, you can pray prayers that avail much.
Many people today are trapped in spiritual, mental and emotional prisons. But just as Peter found freedom from his physical prison through passionate prayer, people today can be set free, too. Let’s look at the story of Peter in prison and glean some principles from his experience to help us find freedom in our lives.
“And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” (Acts 12:6-11).
I find it amazing that Peter was able to sleep while he was in prison. James had just been executed, and Peter was next. He knew that it was game over, sayonara, hasta la vista baby. This was the end of the line for Peter, and what was he doing? He wasn’t sitting up worrying and fretting. No, he was sleeping! How could he do that, literally chained between two soldiers in the prison? How was he able to maintain his peace? Maybe Peter knew something that we often forget. He knew that even though he was in prison, God was still seated on the throne, and God was still in control. Because of that, he was able to rest peacefully. Lord, may we all have the same faith and confidence in You that Peter had!
Pastor Chris Jordan
[i] Andrew Murray, ibid.