Day 177

The Power of Prayer

Wisdom Proverbs 15:22-30
New Testament Acts 16:16-34
Old Testament 1 Kings 15:4-5

Introduction

A few years ago, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Pete Greig (founder of 24-7 Prayer) launched an initiative calling hundreds of thousands of Christians, of many churches and denominations to a great wave of prayer for the evangelisation of the nations during the week before Pentecost Sunday. Before COVID-19, the week culminated in beacon events in packed cathedrals and churches around the world over the Pentecost weekend. Justin Welby, asked people to pray for three things: ‘That all Christians find new life in Jesus Christ… That all those you meet… might see something of Jesus… For the church to overflow with the reality of the presence of Jesus.’

Pete Greig has described it as ‘a groundswell; a movement from the grassroots up’. He said he had been very moved to hear of one boy who’d prayed for five friends, three of whom had since become Christians!

Prayer is spiritual nutrition. Just as the body needs physical food, so the soul needs spiritual food. Prayer changes us. However, the Bible goes much further than this. Prayer is powerful. It is, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it, ‘the slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.’ Prayer has the power to change circumstances, other people and even the course of history.

Wisdom

Proverbs 15:22-30

22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
   but with many advisors they succeed.

29 The LORD is far from the wicked,
   but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
30 Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
   and good news gives health to the bones.

Commentary

Prayer changes circumstances

God ‘closely attends to the prayers of God-loyal people’ (v.29, MSG). Your prayers can make a difference to what happens. ‘The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous’ (v.29). According to the writer of Proverbs, righteousness means keeping ‘a straight course’ (v.21), listening to advice (v.22) and maintaining purity in our thoughts (v.26). It means responding to people with ‘prayerful answers’ (v.28, MSG). Through Jesus, all who believe ‘are righteous’ (Romans 3:22). Therefore, God hears your prayers.

Prayer and careful planning are not opposed to each other. As well as talking with God, it is wise to get advice from others: ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisors they succeed’ (v.22).

You will bring blessing wherever you go: ‘The light in the eyes \[of him whose heart is joyful\] rejoices the hearts of others, and good news nourishes the bones’ (v.30, AMP).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the many times you have heard and answered my prayers. Lord, today I pray…

New Testament

Acts 16:16-34

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to face the authorities.

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’

32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Commentary

Prayer changes people

What made the early church so powerful? Surely, part of the answer is the prayer lives of those first believers.

  1. Pray regularly
    It appears that prayer was a regular habit. ‘Once when we were going to the place of prayer…’ (v.16). This suggests they did not only pray on their own, they met together frequently to pray.

  2. Pray in the name of Jesus
    Christian prayer is powerful because we pray, not in our own name, but in the name of Jesus.

    Paul was followed around in the town of Philippi by a ‘psychic’, who was clearly under demonic influence as a result of her involvement in the occult (v.17). Finally, after several days of this, Paul could take her endless repetitions no longer. He turned around and said, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ (v.18). At that moment, the evil spirit came out.

    The name of Jesus is so powerful. The only way to deal with demonic power is through the name of Jesus. No demon is a match for Jesus. Jesus sets us free from demonic forces. He utterly transformed this young woman’s life. The demon ‘was gone, just like that’ (v.18, MSG).

  3. Pray in all circumstances
    The woman was a slave who made a lot of money for the people who owned her. Her owners were furious that she had lost her supernatural powers. They seized Paul and Silas, ‘roughed them up’, ‘arrested them’ (vv.19–20, MSG) and hauled them off to court. They whipped up the crowd against them.

    The crowd joined in the ‘attack’ (v.22). Life is not always going to be easy if we start making a difference. Some of our views may be very unpopular or even illegal. ‘Attacks’ are not necessarily a mark of failure; they may be a sign of success.

    The magistrates bowed to the pressure and ordered that they should be stripped, severely flogged and thrown into prison under heavy guard where they ‘clamped leg irons on them’ (v.24, MSG).

    The prison officer would have been used to people coming into prison angry, cursing and swearing. By contrast, he sees Paul and Silas praying, worshipping and singing hymns to God (v.25). There is great power in this combination of prayer and worship.

    An earthquake shook the prison and every door flew open. The prison officer in charge was about to take his own life as he thought all his prisoners had escaped and he feared the consequences. Paul, faced with freedom, chose instead to stay, and bring his jailor to Christ.

    When Paul assured him that all the prisoners were still there he asked, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ (v.30). This is what might be called ‘an evangelistic opportunity’! Paul explained what the prison officer had to do and thus he, and afterwards his whole family, believed in Jesus and were baptised.

    Immediately, his life began to change. He shows compassion. He washes the wounds of Paul and Silas (v.33). He feeds them (v.34). He and his whole family are ‘filled with joy’ (v.35). He is willing to be known publicly as a Christian. They became founding members of the church at Philippi.

    These events were so clearly supernatural that Paul saw the astonishing power of God behind the human agency of his words.

    This episode ends with the judges having to apologise personally to Paul and Silas as they had not realised they were Roman citizens and it was, therefore, illegal to treat them in the way they had been treated: ‘The judges panicked... apologised, personally escorted them from the jail... Paul and Silas went straight to Lydia’s house, saw their friends again, encouraged them in the faith, and only then went on their way’ (vv.38–40, MSG).

    Prayer has the power not just to change our own lives but also circumstances, events and the lives of others.

Prayer

Lord, help us to be more like the early church. Help us to meet together regularly to pray. Thank you for the power of the name of Jesus. Lord, may prayer and worship underpin everything we do.

Old Testament

1 Kings 15:4-5

4 Nevertheless, for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. 5 For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life – except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

Commentary

Prayer changes history

Of course, prayer does not change the past, but it can change the future course of events.

The history of the people of God as set out in the book of Kings is rather mixed. We read constantly of how the people of God ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (14:22; 15:26,34; 16:7). They committed sins (for example, 14:22b; 15:26,30,34; 16:2). They had shrine-prostitutes (14:24a); they engaged in detestable practices (v.24b); there was continual warfare between Israel and Judah (v.30; 15:6,32). The kings were often not ‘fully devoted to the Lord’ (v.3).

There were notable exceptions such as Asa (15:9–24). He ‘conducted himself well before God, reviving the ways of his ancestor David. He cleaned house…’ (vv.11–12a, MSG).

In the middle of all this, there is a fascinating comment: ‘Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – except in the case of Uriah the Hittite’ (vv.4–6).

David was having an impact long after his death. God honoured his prayers for generations.

God had said to David, ‘Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16). David had prayed, ‘And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, “The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!” And the house of your servant David will be established before you’ (vv.25–26).

The Lord heard David’s prayer. The impact of David’s prayer was to change the course of history. David had lived a righteous life (‘except in the case of Uriah the Hittite’). However, the New Testament tells us that every person that believes in Jesus is in a better position than David was. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are righteous before God. God hears the prayers of the righteous. So, because of Jesus, your prayers also can change the course of history.

Prayer

Lord, would you turn our city and our country back to you. I pray that you will raise up leaders and politicians, fully devoted to you, who will get rid of evil and bring peace and justice to our world.

Pippa adds

Solomon may have been the wisest man in the whole world but it seems that he did not do a good job of parenting. He should have applied the proverb that he may well have written, ‘Train children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it’ (Proverbs 22:6).

Thought for the Day

God hears your prayers.

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References

Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 12: 1866: The Ravens' Cry, delivered on Sunday evening, 14 January 1866 by C. H. Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

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 quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

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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