Day 169

Your Prayers Make a Difference

Wisdom Proverbs 15:1-10
New Testament Acts 11:19-12:19a
Old Testament 1 Kings 2:13-3:15

Introduction

Saint John Chrysostom (349–407) wrote, ‘Prayer… is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings… The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, it has bridled the rage of lions… extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases… rescued cities from destruction… and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.’

We have a 24-7 Prayer Room on our church site at HTB. It was one of the highlights of my week to go into the room and spend time alone with God. Prayer really is the root and fountain of all that we do at HTB. It is such an encouragement to know that every hour, day and night, there is someone praying in that room.

Wisdom

Proverbs 15:1-10

15 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
   but a harsh word stirs up anger.

2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
   but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

3 The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
   keeping watch on the wicked and the good.

4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
   but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

5 A fool spurns a parent’s discipline,
   but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.

6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
   but the income of the wicked brings ruin.

7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge,
   but the hearts of fools are not upright.

8 The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
   but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

9 The Lord detests the way of the wicked,
   but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

10 Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path;
   the one who hates correction will die.

Commentary

Pray and bless

The writer of Proverbs contrasts ‘the wicked’ with those who pray: ‘The lives of God-loyal people flourish... he delights in genuine prayers. A life frittered away disgusts God; he loves those who run straight for the finish line’ (vv.6a,8b,9, MSG). If you live like this, you will bring great blessing to others.

One important aspect of this is what you say. Your words can transform lives. Whereas ‘cutting words wound and maim’, ‘kind words heal and help’ (v.4, MSG). Even when others are angry towards us, we are reminded that ‘a gentle response defuses anger’ (v.1a, MSG). Use your words to heal, help and encourage others: ‘The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life’ (v.4).

Prayer

Lord, help me to pray and use my words to bring blessing to others.

New Testament

Acts 11:19-12:19a

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison

12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Commentary

Pray with passion

It was the equivalent of today’s London, Paris or New York. The Greek city of Antioch was one of the wealthy, cosmopolitan capitals of the East. It was renowned for its buildings and culture, and for its lax moral standards and widespread corruption.

This city was transformed, and it became a distinguished Christian city and the springboard for Christian mission to the entire Gentile world. The Lord’s hand was with them and ‘a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord’ (11:21).

God used Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement’. Encouragement is not flattery or empty praise; it is like verbal sunshine. It costs nothing and warms other people’s hearts and inspires them with hope and confidence in their faith. We need those around us who are like Barnabas. And you can be like Barnabas to other people.

Barnabas ‘encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord’ (vv.23–24).

It was not a hit and run visit: ‘For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch’ (v.26).

There was a release of finance. Each gave ‘according to his ability... to provide help’ for those in need (v.29). This is an important principle of the Christian community – those who can afford help to pay for those who can’t.

This was a period of great blessing and massive church growth. However, they also faced a rising tide of opposition.

The Judean King Herod Agrippa I (c.10 BC – AD 44) had a cruel streak. He took to persecuting Christians. He was an unscrupulous politician who wanted to gain popularity with the people (12:1–3). He had James executed. Peter was in prison and Herod planned a public lynching (v.4, MSG).

Peter was guarded by four squads of four soldiers each (v.4). He had double the usual guard and chains on both hands (v.6). Peter himself ‘slept like a baby’ (v.6, MSG). There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience!

The church faced a seemingly impossible situation. The very existence of the early church seemed to be at stake. What did they do? What are you to do in situations that are seemingly impossible? We see the answer in verse 5: ‘The church was earnestly praying to God for \[Peter\]’.

  1. Pray to God
    When you pray, you are not just talking to yourself or praying eloquent prayers to impress those who hear you. Prayer to God means having an audience with God. It means actually coming into the presence of God – asking and receiving.

  2. Pray together
    ‘The church’ (v.5) joined together in prayer. ‘Many people had gathered and were praying’ (v.12). The New Testament teaches a lot about private prayer, but there is even more about praying together.

  3. Pray passionately
    There are two reasons why they might not have prayed at all. First, James had been executed (v.2). God had not answered their prayers for James; we don’t know why. But it did not stop them praying.

    Second, Peter’s situation seemed impossible. Their choice was either to give up praying or to pray passionately. The Greek word ektenōs (translated here as ‘earnestly’) was used to describe a horse made to go at full gallop. It denotes the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort as of an athlete.

    The imperfect tense suggests that they prayed not as a one-off, but for a considerable length of time. They persevered.

  4. Pray for others
    They prayed for Peter (v.5). There are many types of prayer: worship, praise, thanksgiving, petition, and so on – but here we read of intercessory prayer. They prayed for him because they loved him. Intercessory prayer is an act of love.

    History belongs to the intercessors. You can shape your generation through prayer. You can influence the course of history.

    This was an extraordinary prayer meeting and the results are evident (vv.6–15). In answer to their prayers God acted supernaturally. Peter was freed the night before his trial. God’s answer involved visions, angels and chains falling off (vv.6–9). Obstacles were removed. The guards did not bar the prisoners’ escape, and the iron gate to the city opened in front of them (v.10).

    Peter then turned up at the prayer meeting but his release was so extraordinary that Rhoda, the girl who answered the door, forgot to let him in, and no one else believed it was actually him (vv.12–15)! They told Rhoda that she was out of her mind (v.15) but actually God had done what seemed impossible in answer to their earnest prayers.

    The word of God continued to increase and spread (v.24). As John Stott wrote, ‘This chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing.’

Prayer

Lord, help us to pray like the early church. May your hand be with us. May we too see a great number of people believing and turning to the Lord and the word of God triumphing.

Old Testament

1 Kings 2:13-3:15

Solomon’s Throne Established

13 Now Adonijah, the son of Haggith, went to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Bathsheba asked him, “Do you come peacefully?”

He answered, “Yes, peacefully.” 14 Then he added, “I have something to say to you.”

“You may say it,” she replied.

15 “As you know,” he said, “the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the Lord. 16 Now I have one request to make of you. Do not refuse me.”

“You may make it,” she said.

17 So he continued, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.”

18 “Very well,” Bathsheba replied, “I will speak to the king for you.”

19 When Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand.

20 “I have one small request to make of you,” she said. “Do not refuse me.”

The king replied, “Make it, my mother; I will not refuse you.”

21 So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah.”

22 King Solomon answered his mother, “Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother —yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!”

23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request! 24 And now, as surely as the Lord lives—he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised —Adonijah shall be put to death today!” 25 So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.

26 To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign Lord before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.” 27 So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli.

28 When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. 29 King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”

30 So Benaiah entered the tent of the Lord and said to Joab, “The king says, ‘Come out! ’”

But he answered, “No, I will die here.”

Benaiah reported to the king, “This is how Joab answered me.”

31 Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my whole family of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed. 32 The Lord will repay him for the blood he shed, because without my father David knowing it he attacked two men and killed them with the sword. Both of them—Abner son of Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of Judah’s army—were better men and more upright than he. 33 May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace forever.”

34 So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried at his home out in the country. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in Joab’s position and replaced Abiathar with Zadok the priest.

36 Then the king sent for Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there, but do not go anywhere else. 37 The day you leave and cross the Kidron Valley, you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head.”

38 Shimei answered the king, “What you say is good. Your servant will do as my lord the king has said.” And Shimei stayed in Jerusalem for a long time.

39 But three years later, two of Shimei’s slaves ran off to Achish son of Maakah, king of Gath, and Shimei was told, “Your slaves are in Gath.” 40 At this, he saddled his donkey and went to Achish at Gath in search of his slaves. So Shimei went away and brought the slaves back from Gath.

41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had returned, 42 the king summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and warn you, ‘On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die’? At that time you said to me, ‘What you say is good. I will obey.’ 43 Why then did you not keep your oath to the Lord and obey the command I gave you?”

44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. 45 But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord forever.”

46 Then the king gave the order to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck Shimei down and he died.

The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands.

Solomon Asks for Wisdom

3 Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord. 3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honour —so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke —and he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

Commentary

Pray for wisdom

Solomon ensured his long tenure by liquidating all his enemies early in his reign (chapter 2). How different was the action of this son of David compared to Jesus, ‘the Son of David’, who brought life to everyone and taught us to love our enemies! He is the one who reigns eternally.

However, there was at least one thing that Solomon definitely did do right. God said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (3:5). His response demonstrated humility and a recognition of his need for God. Solomon prayed, ‘Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong’ (v.9).

God was delighted with Solomon's response. He said to him, ‘Because you have asked for this and haven’t grasped after a long life, or riches, or the doom of your enemies, but you have asked for the ability to lead and govern well, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for – I’m giving you a wise and mature heart. There’s never been one like you before; and there’ll be no one after. As a bonus, I’m giving you both the wealth and glory you didn’t ask for – I’ll also give you a long life’ (vv.10–14, MSG).

Jesus said, ‘Seek first his \[your heavenly Father’s\] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33). In effect, by praying for wisdom, Solomon was seeking first the kingdom of God. God said to him that as a result, all the other things would be his as well.

The offer of wisdom does not just apply to Solomon. James writes, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ (James 1:5).

Prayer

Lord, I need your wisdom. Please give me a wise and discerning heart in every situation I face. Lord, I pray for the wisdom that comes from heaven and is first of all pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (3:17).

Pippa adds

Proverbs 15:3 says,

‘The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.’

Whether you think you are good or bad, God is watching you… Is that comforting or not?

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References

St John Chrysostom, quoted in Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1959), p.156

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year, (Candle Books, 2006), p.330

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS

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