Day 169

Your Prayers Make a Difference

Wisdom Proverbs 15:4
New Testament Acts 11:20-26,12:1-17
Old Testament 1 Kings 3:5-14

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 15:4

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

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 11:20-26,12:1-17

11 20 … 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.

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.

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 3:5-14

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.’

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.’

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?

Thought for the Day

Encouragement is like verbal sunshine. It costs nothing and warms people’s hearts.

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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

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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