A Church on a Mission: Faithful Prayer

by | Mar 19, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 12:1-19

Through Jesus, God graciously invites us to come to him in the most intimate way, prayer. In our struggle for control we often abuse or misuse this gracious gift we have been given. Acts 12:1-19 teaches us about the power of earnest prayer, but not to change God or manipulate Him into giving us favor. Earnest prayer is the prayer that changes our own hearts and brings us in line with the Sovereign Will of our loving Father.

Transcript

What an amazing passage from from acts this morning uh I mean just reading that uh that this portion of of Acts 12 uh it has all the makings for a Hollywood Blockbuster all the all the drama all the suspense the the daring uh rescue or the miraculous rescue it’s got Heroes it’s got villains uh it’s got great uh that’s a great story but stripped down of all of that drama and all of the spin suspense this passage is primarily about prayer it’s primarily about prayer God’s people the church they prayed and God moved in a powerful powerful way you know some of us have a special gift for prayer it comes just naturally to us but some of us struggle with prayer for you know for various reasons maybe we just don’t think that we know how um maybe it’s just we just struggle to grasp but difference it really can make in the world maybe we’ve been disappointed many times by God our prayers haven’t been answered the way that we wanted them to to be answered or for the most theologically studious among us maybe you’ve come to think that God and his sovereignty has all things planned so there’s nothing that we can say or nothing we can do that’s really going to make any difference at all so so why pray at all no matter where you fall on that Spectrum we all have I think one thing in common you know God’s desire for us to commune with him in prayer to draw near to him as our Heavenly loving father to ask him for what we need to tell him how we’re feeling and doing in life to ask him to act in the world all of it gets wrapped up though in our need for control our need for control we all uh we all tend to see prayer as a place where we can assert our own power and authority to move the will of God in our own Direction in our own favor and so when our prayers are answered the way we want all is right in the world and we’re happy right but when our prayers are not answered in the way that we want we get discouraged we can get disillusioned but yet prayer is at the very heart of what it means to be an Anglican maybe uh and more ways than than other churches all churches pray I’m not saying that the the Anglican Church is any better but uh but one of our founding fathers Thomas kramner who at the time was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the the English Reformation he believed so strongly in the power of prayer uh that he believed If he if the whole he could get all of England praying together in biblical and historic ways that it would lead to the absolute conversion of all English people to Christ that was his conviction this is why he put together and developed the book of common prayer that we use a Liturgy of prayers that are that are biblically faithful and are consistent with the early church and how they prayed its ultimate said that anglicans believe what they pray that we believe what we pray because the idea is that that prayer book is so faithful to biblical truth and to Historic Christianity uh that that that it it says what we believe if you if you read the the prayers themselves and in his day it was it was so powerful because For the First Time people were able went to church whether they could even read or not uh they could actually pray or understand what was being prayed in their own language they could hear it they could understand it they could engage in it they could understand what the minister was saying or because it was a liturgy they could memorize the prayers on hearing them and they could enter in themselves into prayer before this the priest prayed in Latin no one understood what they were saying or at least the majority didn’t have any idea what they were saying and so prayer was something that was believed to be just for the special people you know those who were especially anointed by God who had that right not for everybody in the English Reformation in the book of of common prayer helped to change all of that but now here in the 21st century I think we have a different challenge as as anglicans when it comes to to prayer you know the Liturgy the book of common prayer uh it can become wrote and it can become lifeless can it one of the reasons why we tried periodically to change things up it’s why right now we’re using the Kenyan Eucharistic right because it changes it it makes us take the the words more seriously at understanding them but they can become just words that we say without any kind of personal reflection without any personal connection to them at all just some sort of Heartless piety that we offer to God out of some vain attempt to make God happy with us to please him but prayer is an Incredible Gift that God has given to us Jesus by his faithful obedience and by his death on the cross has assured us the right to call God our loving father we can cry out to him Abba Father we’re told we can come to him in the most intimate and personal way imaginable we can come to him in prayer and yet it’s a privilege and a right that we squander and often in our lives we find very little use for it but I believe that kramner was right the prayer is at the very heart of Revival and if we’re to be a people on mission for Jesus as we’ve been talking throughout this this series on on the book of Acts we must become a people of Prayer but not out of any sinful need for power and control or trying to dictate to God what must be done and what should be done but rather out of a heart to join God and His Sovereign will and plan for the Salvation of the world and that’s the kind of prayer that we see at work in Acts 12 verses 1 through 19 in our reading this morning prayer that was so aligned with God’s greater will for the Salvation of the world that when the prayer was answered God’s people couldn’t believe it was even true but before we jump into fully into acts 12 we need to recap just a a moment what came last week at the end of of acts 11. so if you’ll remember it was a beautiful moment of Revival that erupted an Antioch where Jews and Gentiles alike we’re hearing the gospel and we’re coming to Christ Barnabas was being filled with joy when he saw the grace of God that was at work and these people and these gentiles that God of is reaching yet back we’re told in Jerusalem now here in Acts 12 trouble was brewing you know the early church had already faced violent opposition from uh the religious authorities in Jerusalem and we read about that in the first few chapters of Acts they had been uh they had been dragged before the Sanhedrin that is the religious leaders and rulers in Jerusalem they had been arrested they had been beaten they had been persecuted they had in it all experienced uh they had also experienced God’s miraculous rescue through an angel who came and got them out of prison and told them to go right back out into the the courtyard and continue to share the gospel they’d experienced all that but now in Acts 12 their face they face trouble from a different Jewish power this time it’s the political power and the political Authority from King Herod that they face now this isn’t the same Herod from from Jesus’s birth this is his grandson uh and his grandson’s name was Herod Agrippa and Herod or gripper was not a popular King with the Jewish people he was appointed by the Roman Emperor he had been raised as a Roman fully and embraced all Roman life and he had part Edomite blood and so he wasn’t very popular with the people they didn’t really care for him that much and so it was at this time that this revival is happening uh in Antioch and the gospel is spreading now out to the Nations they’re hearing the gospel and they’re receiving Christ that Herod began violently attacking the church in Jerusalem you know I think we like to think of church growth as being some sort of consistent uh smooth and kind of calm Ascent to the top right uh but that’s not what the book of Acts shows us at all as soon as there’s Revival there’s persecution the church faces great opposition it’s difficult it’s hard and we’re told that Herod killed James the brother of John with the sword for those who can remember uh James and John were the sons of thunder that’s what Jesus nicknamed them the sons of thunder uh and and they were they were part of Jesus’s apostles his disciples at one time if you’ll remember in the gospels they desired that they would be uh that Jesus would hold them in the place of great honor and that they asked if one considered his left hand and one considered his right when he came into his kingdom but Jesus told them that they had no idea what they were really asking for they had no idea that that honor wasn’t his to Grant but he did assure them that they would drink from the same cup that he would drink and here we see the first part of that James was now killed for his faith and his service to Christ and and what Herod saw he saw in this that it pleased the Jews the people were pleased by what he had done with James and so we had Peter arrested also but since it was the Feast of unleavened bread and it was the time of Passover he threw Peter in prison I mean he wanted to wait to win the when Passover was over he could bring Peter out hold a kangaroo court find him guilty and then have him also executed in front of everybody

that was this was a dire and seemingly impossible situation that Peter was in because Herod didn’t just uh chain him to one guard in prison the way it normally would have done that was the normal way of doing things Herod put four squads of soldiers to guard him Peter was too important as a political asset to Herod for his own power and his own authority Heritage had probably heard about that little Escape that had happened to the Sanhedrin right and he wasn’t about to let that happen on his guard he has the power and authority of Rome behind him and so in this hopeless and Powerless situation what did the church do

we’re told in verse 5 that they made Earnest prayer for Peter they made Earnest prayer for Peter that’s it

in the face of the greatest power and authority of the Known World the Roman Empire all they did was pray I mean how about some uh some some plan here maybe some daring and brave rescue operation that they begin planning uh maybe an attempt to bribe the guards to offer them money right so that they’ll I’m sure they were corrupt enough uh give them enough money and I’m sure they would have let him go something some kind of plan anything that could be done do something but no all they did was offer Earnest prayer

well what exactly is earnest prayer

the word earnest it means zealous intense determined constant I remember as a kid uh when there was a dire situation that needed prayer I remember I can remember my mom getting on the phone and calling everybody that she knew who were prayers and getting them to pray and I also remember being a little skeptical kid that uh what I wondered what does that mean the more people praying the more likely that God’s gonna answer and so then I thought what so the more popular people who know the most people that those are the ones that God’s most likely going to act in their lives I was a punk

but you know many big TV evangelists they’ve lived off this idea they’ve built fortunes and mansions off this idea send your prayer request and send your offering as well and we’ll make sure our whole network Millions around the world will be praying for you because the more people who pray the more likely God’s gonna move and he’s going to act and he’s going to do what you want him to do

or maybe Earnest prayer doesn’t mean maybe it means quality of your prayer maybe it’s not the quantity right maybe if it’s not quantity maybe it’s the quality of the prayer itself meaning if your prayers are good enough if you believe enough meaning if you have enough Faith or if you have the right kind of Faith then God’s going to answer your prayers then your prayers will be answered this is another falsity that the the church that many churches and leaders have propagated and mainly for their own benefit hype it’s called the hyper Faith movement you just have to believe enough that it’s going to come and it’ll come true and what it does is it just feeds a hard desire and our longing for control it appeals to the sinful nature in US we want to believe that we want to believe that if we can just do it right then the outcome will happen the way that we want it to happen so if Earnest prayer doesn’t have anything to do with quality or quantity what’s it all about well it’s all wrapped up in an attitude of the prayer and the one who’s praying and we’ll get back to that in just a moment but keeping through this narrative so the church was earnestly praying for Peter who was caught in this political power grab and game uh with with King Herod but on the night before we’re told uh that Herod planned on bringing Peter out of the the for the kangaroo court and the eventual inevitable execution uh we’re told in verse 6 that Peter was sleeping Between Two Soldiers bound with two chains and centuries before the door were guarding the prison did you catch that on the Night Before Peter was to be tried and executed he was sleeping

now Gracie will tell you that I can sleep through almost anything rarely do I have any problems falling asleep at night uh I can uh I can count on one hand the times in my 45 years of life that I had trouble uh sleeping because I was worried about something it’s just not my nature it doesn’t come naturally but I can promise you that if I was in Peter’s situation and I knew that that next day I was about to be taken out uh into this kangaroo court and I was inevitably going to be executed uh I would have had uh I would have been thinking over things over and over again in my mind how can I get out of this what can I do is there anything I can say I would have been racked with worry and fear begging God to rescue me but Peter wasn’t worried he wasn’t begging God to spare him at least not then Peter’s life had been so transformed by the hope that he had in Christ and in eternal life that he was absolutely defiant of even death itself it didn’t worry him at least not enough to not sleep it was just like Paul you said who came to understand through the gospel that to live is Christ and to die is game Peter seems to really have been able to to grasp that he knew that kind of Peace in his own life Peter was so deeply sleeping in fact that when the angel of the Lord came to him and Shone the light into his dark cell Peter still didn’t wake up angel had to actually strike Peter on his side to get him to wake up kind of like when Gracie strikes me when I’m snoring a bit too much right to roll over I think we can do with what that’s like but but even then Peter wasn’t sure even then Peter’s not really sure this is actually happening

he wasn’t sure until he was actually out of the prison and the angel had left him through the chains falling off addressing himself to to passing all of those guards along the way to opening uh of the Iron Gate of its own accord I love that right like the the gate opening of its own accord um what a fun idea uh he still didn’t recognize what was really going on here he still didn’t realize it he didn’t realize until he was outside and he said now I’m sure the Lord has sent his Angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all the Jewish people and what they were expecting Peter wasn’t praying Peter wasn’t begging the Lord for his own life and yet God rescued him but what about the people who had been praying earnestly for Peter well the servant girl Rhoda we’re told went uh went to the door when Peter came and knocked at it and he she recognized Peter’s voice and so she was so filled with joy that she ran back to tell the others without opening the door for Peter and this time the door didn’t open on its own accord so he didn’t have that power himself so he was left out there this fugitive right any moment they’re going to hear hear about it and gonna come looking for him and he’s stuck outside while Rhoden ran away because she was so filled with joy when she told the others that it was Peter number one they thought that she was out of her mind they thought she was out of her mind number two they even thought that it must have been an angel who was just appearing as Peter in other words they didn’t believe that it could be true they were praying but they were not actually expected that God was going to answer their prayers not in the way that he did we can’t link this to the the the causation of this to uh their prayers were full of faith and they expected and they believed and they had no doubt therefore Peter was saved and rescued

and here’s what we get an idea of what Earnest prayer is really all about they were praying for Peter but they weren’t praying in such a way that was according to their own desires or according to their own preferred outcome they weren’t dictating to God what should happen trying to control everything no they were praying that God’s will would be done on Earth as it is in heaven now I don’t know if that’s exactly how they were praying but but it’s what leads me to believe it if they were praying and they were still shocked that it actually happened and that that Peter was there they weren’t praying expectedly without doubt it’s clear from this passage that there was they were they were not so fixed on what the outcome should be that when uh

that when

when Peter showed up they were all expecting him their Earnest prayers were prayers of Faith though there were absolutely prayers of Faith prayers of humble submission to God’s Sovereign will prayers that ask God’s will for his kingdom to be done God didn’t spare James but he spared Peter why did he loved Peter more than he loved James no we know that’s not true was it because of the the quality or the quantity of the church’s prayers that were being offered or Peter’s prayers or James’s prayers no God allowed James to be killed and he rescued Peter and he did it according to his Sovereign will his plan for the Salvation of the world you know one of the most I think misused and most abused passages in the scripture is the Gospel reading that now we read from Matthew 21. where Jesus said and whatever you ask in prayer you will receive if you have faith this verse has been again used and abused by so many ministers to tell you that if you believe enough and you have enough faith enough if you don’t doubt at all then you’ll receive everything that you ask for in prayer but that’s not the context of this passage as Jesus was was telling it at all Jesus found that fig tree they found that it wasn’t bearing any fruit and so he said May no fruit come from you ever again and the disciples were so transfixed and and so consumed with how he had the power to do that that that kind of thing uh that but they missed what was really happened this real life Parable that it was work right in front of them Israel was called to bear fruit fruit that was in keeping with repentance fruit of the mission the fruit that they were to be a blessing to the Nations the fruit was was that were the Gentiles coming to know God as their loving Creator but they had stopped bearing fruit and were just now concerned about themselves and their own conservation and their own protection the faithful prayer that Jesus was calling them to the kind that will will always receive answers for is prayer that’s offered in faith but not our own faith it’s prayer that’s in Trust of God and his plan for the Salvation of the world it’s why Jesus when he taught them how to pray said pray like this our father who art in heaven Hallowed be your name meaning may your name be considered Holy by all the world May everyone consider you holy your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven meaning this may we be at peace with your will may we be at peace with your plan for the Salvation of the world and only then does Jesus teach us to pray give us this day our daily bread give us the things that we really need we’re welcome to ask for them and to pray for them but not outside of God’s greater Sovereign will and plan for the Salvation of the world friends Earnest prayer the kind that we’re graciously invited to offer to God are prayers of faith and trust in God’s goodness and in his gracious will and trusting in that as C.S Lewis said about prayer I’m sure you’ve heard it before I pray not to change God but I pray that God would change me meaning that in prayer God it changes our hearts and prayer he brings our hearts in line with his he brings our hearts and Minds in line with his Sovereign will and that’s what brings peace that’s what brings Joy that we can accept Whatever May Come

as we continue to live in the mission of the Gospel as we’ve been looking at and acts may the Lord make us a people of earnest prayer not seeking to control God to direct him to act in our favor but to change us to give us his heart to let us ask him

for our daily bread but to trust that whatever he has in store be it death or life be it Revival or persecution he is good and his plan for our lives and the salvation of the world that it’s perfect you know I want to with every fiber in my being tell you to pray and believe that you will and you will receive anything that your heart desires because that sells I want to tell you to pray and believe and nothing bad is going to ever happen for to you

but that’s just an appeal to our own will to our own desire and lust for control I want to tell you to pray and you’ll be released from prison like Peter was released from prison and it’s true actually but the prison you’ll be be released from isn’t necessarily the prison

with bahar’s physical bars you will be released from the prison of your own lust for control and the fear and the worry that come with it it’ll be released to the joy and peace of God and the son Jesus Christ and knowing that no matter what happens

his plan is good that he is good whether it be death or life whether it be Revival or persecution whatever he has in store will be good and right for us and for his plan for the world let us pray

Heavenly Father thank you for this amazing gift that you’ve given us to pray that we can come to you because of our Savior Jesus Christ that we have the right to cry out to you I have a father that you love us because we’re your children we’re your sons and daughters

thank you for that amazing amazing invitation that we have

that we pray that you would free us from the bondage of needing to control

we’re trying to manipulate you treating yous like you’re some kind of magician the right incantation or the the right attitude of our own Hearts will will guarantee the outcome that we want

or teach us to pray and to trust and pray for your will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven to trust you Lord as that becomes our prayer may you pour out your peace and your joy and our hearts may we experience life like Peter who who had no fear of death itself because he knew the Peace of trusting in your good and perfect will for his life and for this world

give us that kind of peace that kind of Prayer Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen

 

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