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PRAYING TO GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, June 26, 2016

“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).


The Apostle Peter had been put in prison by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great. He “stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church” (v. 1). He killed James the brother of John with a sword. When he saw that this pleased the unbelieving Jews, he arrested Peter, and put him in prison. Peter was put in prison, doubtlessly to be executed as well. Herod placed four quaternions of soldiers in the prison to guard Peter. Each quaternion was a squad of four soldiers. There were four of the squads, equaling 16 soldiers. The four squads, of four men each, were rotated to keep constant watch over Peter in his prison cell. At all times two guards were chained to him in the cell, while two others stood guard outside the door of his prison cell. Peter was to be kept in this prison until after the Passover celebration, and then executed. There was no human possibility that he could escape.

“But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

We should notice four things in this text that will help us learn to pray as these early Christians did.

I. First, they were praying for something impossible to happen.

I mean there was no seeming way that their prayers could be answered. They were just a rag-tag little group of Jews who believed in Christ. They were greatly outnumbered by Herod’s soldiers.  There was no human way they could possibly get him loose.

I think it is good when Christians get into a situation like that. As long as we think we can do something, it is our tendency to depend on ourselves. So God often puts us in a place where we have no possibility of success. It is in times like that, when we are forced by circumstances to turn to God, that we see God move miraculously. Even though Peter’s situation was hopeless, they knew that God can do impossible things! So, they threw themselves on God in prayer,

“But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

Sometimes evangelistic work seems hopeless. The unconverted are all “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Nothing we say or do seems able to help them escape from the prison of sin. The Devil has them bound in spiritual chains, and they are no more able to escape than Peter was. What can we do? We can do exactly what these early Christians did!

“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

The thing they were praying for seemed impossible, but they prayed anyway.

II. Second, they prayed unto God.

The prayer that is answered in power is prayer “unto God.” The prayer that has power is the prayer that is prayed “unto God.”

Much of our so-called prayer is not “unto God.” For a prayer to be really poured out to God, there must be a definite and conscious approach to God when we pray. We must have a vital realization that God is really listening to us when we pray. Often our minds are so full of what we need that we are not focused on God Himself. Instead our minds wander here and there, and we are not focused on God Himself. There is no power in that kind of prayer because,

“He that cometh to God must believe that he is [that he exists], and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I like Paul Rader’s old gospel song,

Only believe, only believe,
All things are possible,
Only believe.

That little chorus says it all. We must truly believe in God. We must force our minds to focus on God. God is the source of all power. We must get ahold of God in prayer if we expect an answer.

Only believe, only believe,
All things are possible,
Only believe.

These early Christians in Acts twelve believed in God, and turned to God, and focused on God, in their prayers for Peter. And when we are seeking to have our lost friends and relatives saved from the prison house of Satan, we, too, must turn to God and focus our minds on Him – because He alone can answer our prayers and unleash His power, and bring our lost friends out of spiritual imprisonment.

III. Third, prayer was made without ceasing for Peter.

“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

The secret of their prayer is found in those words “without ceasing.” One of the modern translations has it “earnest,” “prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him.” But neither “without ceasing” or “earnestly” give the full force of the original Greek. The word literally means “stretched-out-edly.” It represents the praying person stretched out earnestly, with intense desire. “Intensity” is probably the best English word to use in translating it. That’s what Dr. Torrey said (R. A. Torrey, D.D., How to Pray, Whitaker House, 1983 reprint, p. 25).

“But prayer was made intensely of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

The same Greek word was used to speak of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where it is said,

“He prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Christ is our example in prayer, as in all things. In other words, the prayer that gets things from God is the prayer that we put our whole souls into, stretching out our prayers to God with intense and agonizing desire. Much of our modern prayer lacks those qualities. We put so little zeal and effort and earnestness into our prayers, we cannot expect God to put much earnestness and zeal into answering them. I like to hear a man or woman pour out their hearts zealously to God. Often those alone are the prayers that are answered.

IV. Fourth, the church prayed.

“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing [intensely] of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

There is great power in prayer when the whole church gathers intensely to pray for its needs. Jesus said,

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

We have a lot of prayer in our church, and that is good. But when the most zealous men and women gather just to pray, that is where the greatest power comes from God.

God will hear and answer those prayers, as He did for Peter in Acts 12. Shackles will be broken. Blind eyes will be made to see, lost people will be converted. Nothing is too hard for God. He sent an angel, opened the doors of the prison, and Peter was free! If we pray as they did many lost people will soon be freed by God from Satan’s grip, and will soon be converted. Pray alone. Pray together whenever possible. Pray with zeal! God will answer and we will soon see many conversions. May God help you in this effort. Many will turn from sin to Jesus and be born again. God answers prayer! Now let’s sing that chorus, and this service is over,

Only believe, only believe,
All things are possible,
Only believe.
   (“Only Believe” by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).


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(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Acts 12:1-18.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Only Believe” (by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).


THE OUTLINE OF

PRAYING TO GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).

(Acts 12:1)

I.    First, they were praying for something impossible to happen,
Ephesians 2:1.

II.  Second, they prayed unto God, Hebrews 11:6.

III. Third, prayer was made without ceasing for Peter, Luke 22:44.

IV. Fourth, the church prayed, Matthew 18:20.