Why The Church Needs to Pray Again

THE ASSAULT ON THE APOSTOLIC

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 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. 4 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.

Acts 12:1-4, NKJV

As Luke records the narrative of what the Holy Spirit was doing through the apostles and the first century Church, we see that they had been multiplying at a rapid rate even as persecution increased and a great famine swept across the land (Acts 11:27-30). It was at this time that Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great), king of Judea from ~AD 41-44, harasses them, kills the apostle James and seizes the apostle Peter for the sake of popularity with the Jews. Notice that Herod’s persecution against the church begins with harassment or vexation, which means “to weigh down, frustrate or annoy.” Has anyone else experienced how the enemy does this in our lives the more we seek to work together to advance the kingdom of God around us? Much like when Pharaoh appointed task masters to double the load of the growing Hebrew families in Egypt, this seems to be a common method the enemy uses to halt the multiplication of God’s people (Ex. 1). He doesn’t start with the obvious resistance, but instead he initiates his assault with more subtle tactics to distract us with unnecessary worries and fears. Consequently, if we allow our strength to be spent trying to carry all of these excess burdens, then we will have less strength to carry out our kingdom assignments which threaten his position. This has been the case throughout Scripture and Church history, still Jesus’ declaration stands: “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).”

I am convinced we are still seeing this assault on the apostolic today, as the enemy knows that his time is short (Rev. 12). More and more, we are seeing Christian leaders heavily pressured because they have taken stands for unpopular truth against the narrative of cultural trends. But by looking at this passage of Scripture in Acts 12, we can see a picture of how we are to respond to this kind of resistance as leaders and as a united body of believers.

Most would agree that 2020 has been full of global turbulence from the infamous pandemic, political warfare and economic struggles to the racial conflicts, riots and natural disasters. The stage is being set as evil leaders worldwide become more unified in their rage which will ultimately be revealed as rage against the Lord Himself, meanwhile, I know that the Lord is inviting us as His Church to be unified in the place of prayer and in the harvest fields across society like never before as the Spirit and the Bride begin to say come (Ps. 2; Rev. 22)!

Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.”

Psalm 2:1-3, NKJV

A PRAYING CHURCH

5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

Acts 12:5, NKJV

After Herod had imprisoned Peter, he had him bound with two separate chains between two soldiers while two others guarded the door. These four squads of soldiers kept him guarded all day and all night, rotating shifts every six hours. One man, sixteen soldiers. Think about how much threat that Peter had to of stirred up in Hell to warrant this much investment in taking him out. There have been very few men and women like this throughout history who have caused so much panic from the kingdom of darkness, moving Satan to fall like lighting from heaven (Luke 10:18). We desperately need more “troublers” in the Church today who boldly threaten the enemy’s plans by simply remaining faithful and obedient to the commands of Christ in the face of opposition (2 Kings 18:17). I believe the Lord is preparing these ones even now, and He’s using weak and broken people like Peter who were formerly full of fear and self-preservation, but they will rise up in boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit working in them to lay down their lives for the gospel (Acts 1:8; Rev. 12:11). He is preparing a people like Elijah, who was a man with a nature like ours, but he prayed earnestly, effectively, righteously and fervently and power was released (James 5:13-18).

The main point I want to make in this article is that their is a fundamental identity that must be reclaimed by the disciples of Christ in this hour, and it is that His Church should always be a praying Church. God has ordained that His authority be released as we come together in agreement with Him and with one another in prayer (Matt. 18:18-20). Intercession is His brilliant strategy for including the saints in His plans, renewing our faith, protecting our hearts from pride, drawing us into intimacy with Him, increasing our understanding, releasing His power, transforming us in love, leading us into unity, and preparing us for an eternal inheritance. He has forever named His house to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isa. 56:7; Matt. 21:13). That is our high calling, and we desperately need a Church who prays again.

6 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.

Acts 12:6, NKJV

Sometimes it is not until prayer becomes our only weapon that we understand it is our most powerful weapon. Prayer was the early church’s first response to every crisis, and here in Acts 12, we see another seemingly impossible situation for them, yet they still chose to pray. Peter, who not long ago was terrified during a storm while on a boat with His sleeping Savior, but now he himself had learned how to “sleep in the storm” (Matt. 8:23-27; Acts 12:6). Prayer trains us to be asleep to what Jesus is asleep to and awake to what He is awake to (Matt. 26:41; 1 Pet. 1:16). There are so many things happening in the earth right now that seem like a storm we need to worry about, but we need to remember that the wind and waves still know His name. There is a much more important story line going on that He is inviting us into right here and right now that begins in the place of prayer.

PRAYER THAT AVAILS MUCH

7 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. 8 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.”

Acts 12:7-8, NKJV

As the Church continued to pray, an angel was dispatched, light was released, chains were broken, and the apostolic leader was rescued. Peter was awoken and called into action. What would it look like in the Church today if we turned our unrelenting criticism of our leaders into unrelenting intercession? It’s not wrong to question leadership, but it’s always right to pray for our leadership. There are so many pastors and church leaders across our nation right now who are asleep and bound, and they need the church to be constant in prayer for them — for awakening, deliverance and guidance.

Prayer is not an excuse for inaction, but rather it prepares us to move with Him. We see from this passage that it took a moment before Peter realized that what was happening was actually a reality (Acts 12:9-11). Prevailing prayer unleashes the power of Christ to pull down wicked strongholds, remove demonic principalities and open prison doors that no man can open, making the unseen seen on earth as it is in heaven (2 Cor. 10:3-6; Daniel 10:12-13; Rev. 3:7-8; Luke 11:2).

11 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 12:11, NKJV

Once Peter returned to the house where the believers had been, Luke writes that “many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:12). Secret prayer and fasting from an individual is remarkably powerful all on it’s own, but there is something uniquely effective when many gather together to seek Him. I am so grateful for one-on-one time with my wife, but I am also very grateful for the times we spend together with our whole family. Each relational experience and persepective is special and should never replace the other.

Another very relatable fact from this story is that we see the weakness of the people praying, who didn’t immediately believe that it was actually Peter at the door (Acts 12:13-16). Now we don’t know the actual content of their prayers, but we do see how the Lord still moved in power to rescue Peter even through their short-sighted faith. It’s not the height of our reach that gets His attention, but the authenticity of our reach. Their prayer gathering wasn’t filled with perfect people praying perfect prayers with the right language and protocol. They were weak men and women surrounded by fear, but they didn’t quit praying. They had to learn to rely on the Spirit to help them in their weakness, “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). This is prayer that avails or accomplishes much.

27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:27-28, NKJV

The scene from Acts 12 concludes with king Herod being struck down by the Lord because he did not give glory to God. I believe these prayers played a large part in this removal of ungodly authority, to work all things for good to those who love God and to make a way for as many as possible to be saved in all Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Tim. 2:1-4, NKJV

FILLING THE BOWLS OF HEAVEN

8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8, NKJV

I do realize that as believers, many of us do not need to be convinced that we ought to pray, but we do need to be infused with fresh faith for today as we see why we ought to pray (Luke 18). In his vision while on the island of Patmos, the apostle John is describing what he is seeing around the throne of God in Heaven, and he points out how the twenty-four elders are each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense. These elders, who most likely represent the humans who have been given governmental authority in Heaven, are seen bowing in worship and singing spontaneous songs with their harps while holding bowls, which are full with “the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8-9). These “throne room” scenes give us great insight into the activity of the governmental center of the universe and how much He values our participation through worship and prayer. When we worship the Lord, we are agreeing with who He is. When we pray, we are agreeing with what He has promised to do. Because worship and prayer are about agreement, what better way to speak in unity from our heart with one another than through the harmonious rhymes, rhythms and tunes of a song. He desires that we all may be one as He is one (John 17:20-26).

Have you ever stopped to think that your prayers of faith are memorialized before God? He has given the human race such nobility and dignity in that our humble petitions are heard outside of space and time, appealing before the highest court in all of existence. Our persistent requests are not in vain. They have eternal impact. You may have forgotten some of the prayers you prayed five years ago, but He remembers. So I urge you Christians, keep filling the bowls! Never stop contending for His truth, His power, His love, His justice and righteousness in the place of prayer! Remember who you are talking to and ask of Him. We know that prayer in and of itself is not the solution, but we pray because we know that Jesus Christ is the only solution. Let’s pray again, Church.

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.

Acts 10:1-4, NKJV

7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:7-8, NKJV

6 “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.” 7 “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.

Psalm 2:6-8, NKJV

RESPONSE QUESTIONS:

  • Why does the Church need to pray again?
  • How can I grow in prayer in my own life?
  • How can I be a catalyst for prayer in my church? In my city?

Reflections of God

 

And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. (Gen. 1:16-18)

About a month ago, many people in our nation took time to observe a rare phenomenon in the sky known as a solar eclipse, which hasn’t occurred across our nation in totality in nearly a hundred years. The mass attention that this event produced had almost everyone seeking to catch glimpse of the wonder, buying special glasses, and singing Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. To some, this was just a neat astronomical occurrence with no special implications, and to others, it had direct spiritual significance. Much like the tetrad of blood moons that came to America a few years ago, it was a wonder in the heavens that many students of the Bible connected to the prophecy of Joel that was quoted by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost which included that “the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day” (Acts 2:20; Joel 2:31). Now we know that this prophecy is far more reaching than what we have seen in America, but regardless of how we might feel about the event, one can’t deny that it caught our attention as a nation.

I’m no astronomer or a doomsday predictor, but I am a Christian who loves the Lord, loves His Word, and loves people. I never want to be ignorant of the times in which I have been given the opportunity to live. I feel we should always live with an urgency and a watchfulness with what the Lord is doing in the earth, and rather than sit back and just wait for the rapture, I believe He wants His Church to actively partner with Him in this hour of history. We still have a mission to complete.

As I prayed about all of this, I believe the Lord highlighted something to me that I shared with our church: He is looking for reflections of Himself like never before. Why would He highlight this? Out of the entirety of His creation, humanity alone was purposed to bear His image. From the few verses referenced above, we see how God specifically set in place the sun and the moon to rule over the night as well as the day. I believe this can also be understood as a picture of Christ and His Church. The greater light governs the day, but it’s the reflection of that light from the moon that governs the night. Now more than ever, the world needs reflections of the “Son” in places where He’s not already shining.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)

Just as we have borne the image of the man of the dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:49)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:29)

John the Baptist was an example of one of these reflections. The Scriptures say, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:5-8). Jesus called him a burning and shining lamp who went ahead of Him, before His face, to prepare the way (Jn. 5:35; Matt. 11:10). Now before Jesus returns again, He is building up a glorious Church who will go before His face and prepare the way. Every Christian is called and commissioned to be a reflection of Jesus Christ. Reflections don’t have to be popular, educated, talented or wealthy, just willing to get into right alignment.

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Cor. 3:16-18)

So as the Church, how do we turn the tide in our nation? How do we “raise the water level” and release the tides of revival? It’s not the position of the sun, but the position of the moon that determines the tide. Though the sun is much greater in size and has a gravitational force that is far stronger, it is actually the “lesser light” that God has ordained to have more of an affect on the tide. He has decided that the amount of water and light from Him that world experiences can actually be determined by our alignment with Him.

In Ezekiel 47, the prophet describes a vision where he was shown the new temple in Jerusalem and water flowing from it bringing life, healing and abundant provision wherever it went. This vision can be paralleled with other prophetic visions found in Scripture such as Zechariah 14:8 and Revelation 22:1. Jesus said, “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him as spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). He also said later on that, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (Jn. 7:37-38). Isaiah and Paul declared that the light of God’s glory would come out of dark times and dark places, to rest upon His people, pointing others to Jesus.

Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Jn. 7:39)

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isa. 60:1-3)

For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

The flowing water can represent the gospel message of Jesus and the outpouring of His Spirit that began in Jerusalem, but was commissioned to go out into the ends of the earth to bring life, healing and fruitfulness. The light can represent the glory of Jesus as well as His gospel that conquers darkness and leads the path to everlasting life. To be a reflection of Jesus Christ is to make Him stand out through our life so much that others can genuinely experience Him, His living water, and His glorious light.

Being a reflection doesn’t mean be a replica. God doesn’t want robots that all look and sound exactly the same, but rather unique reflections that show the beauty of God through our own original design. We all possess our own assortment of talents and traits that become fully alive and seen when the light of Christ is reflecting off of us. This doesn’t mean that we are any less valuable and beautiful before Christ, but through His redemption, our truest selves are fully known.

Being a reflection doesn’t mean be a representative. Representatives act and speak on behalf of someone whose presence they used to be in. Reflections act and speak on behalf of someone whose presence they never left. By keeping a lifestyle of unceasing communion with Jesus through His Spirit, we will carry such a distinct boldness that others can’t help but recognize that He is with us.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (Acts 4:13-14)

I don’t want to just use His name like the sons of Sceva, but I want to look like His name (Acts 19:11-20). Beyond the legal implications of becoming a new creation and having Christ dwell in our hearts through faith, God wants to increase His glory upon our life. As we turn to the Lord, walk with Him, and live a repentant lifestyle, we are giving Him access to make who we are in the flesh look like who we are in the spirit, a new creation made in His image. Oh how I want to be like my Father when I grow up!

As the earth experiences crisis and confusion of all shapes and sizes, my challenge question for the Church, including myself, is this: Where are the reflections of God? Where are those who are in such alignment with Him that they affect the tide in their homes, churches and cities? Where are those who are bearing witness to His light, resounding His message and revealing His character? He is looking for reflections of Himself like never before.

“But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” Then there was peace in the land for forty years. (Judges 5:31)

And again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

 

The Stigma of Faithfulness

“I  am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” (2 Peter 3:1-3, ESV)

If you’ve been following Christ for any length of time, then there is no doubt you have experienced some form of resistance that has tempted you to draw back and turn away from His leadership. You may have been mocked, cut off, ignored, or pressured to quit by those you love, but you are not alone. Looking at the examples of many before us, we can be sure that from the moment we begin to pursue a wholehearted life of faithfulness to God, we will also begin to carry a stigma or mark of disapproval from those who aren’t pursuing the same thing.

“After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.” (2 Chronicles 32:1, ESV)

After king Hezekiah of Judah “did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God,” he was immediately faced with ungodly resistance (2 Chr. 31:20). The Assyrian enemies of that time aimed to not only conquer the people of God, but they sought to terrorize them into forsaking all trust in God. They would stand outside the city shouting, “Who among all the gods of those nations that my fathers devoted to destruction was able to deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand (2 Chr. 32:14)?” The Assyrian army made it a point to speak in a language that all of the LORD’S people could understand, so that the fear would spread rapidly behind Judah’s defenses.

“And they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten them and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.” (2 Chronicles 32:18, ESV)

Fear is the Trojan horse of the Devil. Being the chief opponent of faith, it often comes into our hearts disguised with words that sound like wisdom, but it only brings doubt. In the Garden of Eden, the Serpent’s deception wore this same disguise causing Adam and Eve to doubt what God had really said. You see, the moment we lose trust in what God has truly said and done, we become vulnerable to the seeds of fear that thrive in insecure environments. The strength of our faithfulness is determined by how full we are of faith. The enemy won’t hesitate to speak in your language in order to deceive you with words that sound like your own reasoning.

“Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting, that you endure the siege in Jerusalem? Is not Hezekiah misleading you…?” (2 Chr. 32:10-11)

When you choose to be faithful, another fiery dart of the enemy will try to cause you to doubt the godly leadership that has been placed in your life. The enemy wants you to feel like it’s their fault for the assault on your faith, and like it’s their fault that you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness, when in reality, he is deceiving you. He knows that if he can remove your respect for leadership, then he can prey on your pride and postpone your destiny.

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to your elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (1 Pet. 5:5-6)

People are mocked and praised everyday for committing time, money and energy into things they enjoy or value. Anyone can be scoffed at for investing their lives into anything out of the ordinary, but the Christian investment is not only out of the ordinary, it is mostly unseen and eternal; therefore, it is that much easier for people to discredit. But take heart, for the commitment to walk faithfully before the Lord is a commitment to a good and noble life full of genuine blessings and eternal rewards.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matt. 7:6)

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim. 3:12-13)

Don’t be afraid of the stigma, but rather expect and embrace it. For in the same way they rejected Jesus Himself, many will reject you. The authentic and mature Christian will surely agree that the road to life is truly narrow, but worth it. It’s not a hard road in that only the strong and elite can walk on it, but it’s hard in that it requires humility in a culture of pride, self-abandonment in a world of self-absorption, and faith in the face of resistance. So if you’ve ever suffered for doing what is right in the sight of the Lord, if you’ve been mocked for choosing meekness, or if you’ve been rejected for standing up for His truth in love, then let this encourage you dear brother or sister of faith. Keep standing, keep pressing, keep trusting, keep waiting, keep hoping, keep praising, keep loving, keep doing good, and keep doing right!

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph. 6:10-13)

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Eph. 6:16)