Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. Acts 12:5
The early Christian churches resorted to prayer meetings as a means of facing challenges and getting help from God. This is clearly shown to us in the accounts given in the book of Acts. In chapter twelve, we learn how the Jerusalem church got Simon Peter out of jail through prayer meetings! Verse five gives a description of this effort which has opened the eyes of many believers over the years in regard to how we can have effective prayer meetings. It will be important for the church to conduct prayer meetings before and during special efforts, in order to seek the power of the Spirit and the reviving work of Christ, it is important for us to take another look at this verse. What kind of praying got the Apostle Peter out of the prison?
1. It Was Intense Praying
The Greek word translated without ceasing looks and sounds like our English word, extended. It can mean “stretched out” over a period of time or “stretched out” in the sense of fervent. It makes a difference to God that we are serious about obtaining what we need. Remember that it was the “fervent” prayers of Elijah offered “earnestly” that prevented rainfall in Israel for three and a half years.
Remember also the intensity of the prayers of David recorded in the Book of Psalms. Let us also remember the importance of importunity (persistence) in the matter of praying for the ministry of the Spirit, according to the teaching of our Lord in Luke 11:1–13. Our prayer meetings ought to be characterized by earnest and intense prayers. Such intensity is generated both by the genuine desire of believers for the object of their prayers and also by the help of the Holy Spirit in praying (Romans 8:26–27). The need for revival should be emphasized based upon selected Scriptures read in the first moments of the prayer meeting.
2. It Was United Praying
“Of the church”
The term church in the Bible does not refer to a denomination or to the building in which a Christian congregation meets. It means the congregation itself. When the members of the church get together to pray, there is special power in their prayers. We learn this from the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:18–20:
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Let’s remember that when an individual prays out loud in a prayer meeting, he is leading the group in prayer. In this way, the praying is united. He needs to speak loudly enough for all to hear so that they can join him in praying, and he should pray briefly enough so that the others do not become distracted.
In a good prayer meeting, it is best not to “pray around.” Instead, those led by the Holy Spirit to lead the congregation to the throne should confine each of their turns in voicing prayers to about one paragraph and usually to one subject or request at a time.
I like to let people lead more than once, not in any certain order, but as God leads. The meeting should sound like a real conversation with Christ. Note in Romans 8:26–27, Ephesians 6:18, and Jude 20–21, that the Holy Spirit is the One who will make praying what it ought to be, if He is permitted to have control.
3. It Was Sincere Praying
Folks at a prayer meeting should really be talking to God. This is what Jesus was saying in Matthew 6 when He warned us against praying like hypocrites (to be heard by men) or like the heathen (using memorized phrases and sentences). Jesus said that we should pray like children asking their father for something (verses 5–9). Baptist people need to learn again how to pray from the heart, as if they are talking to God and not just repeating religious phrases that people have come to expect them to repeat like a chant. Let us pray like children talking with their father. Again, the Spirit will help us do it (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6).
4. It Was Specific Praying
The prayers in those prayer meetings were not the empty, general prayers that characterize many of our church services. They called on God for particular action. They asked Him to save Peter’s life and to get him out of jail. Many people think that praying out loud is supposed to be some kind of spiritual oration that makes some good theological points, but asks for nothing. But this is not how Jesus taught us to pray (See Luke 11:9–13 again). The Bible says, “Let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). May our prayer meetings be characterized by bold, confident, and specific petitioning of God, led by the Holy Spirit!
Our churches can again be powerful, triumphant, and glorious institutions if they will again do their work through a vital faith in their God. Faith in God will translate into faith in prayer. And faith in prayer will restore our faith in prayer meetings. Let us evangelize our communities as the first churches evangelized theirs, energized by effective prayer meetings.