We have yet to REALIZE the ‘POWER’ of a PRAYING CHURCH: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 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. 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. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:1-5)
The newly formed church in Jerusalem not only suffered from famine but also suffered from the Jewish and Roman governmental opposition against them. Herod Agrippa I, the king of Judea and the grandson of Herod the Great, had now started persecuting the church. He went into great lengths to please the Jews, and the way he went about that was to harass some from the church and kill James, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, with the sword. James’s death was the first and the only apostolic martyrdom recorded in Scripture! Earlier, Jesus had told both James and his brother John that they would drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism (Matt. 20:20–23; Mark 10:39). For James, this suffering was execution, and for John, it was exile. The killing of James by Herod was his attempt to win the favor of the Jewish leaders.
The Jews responded so enthusiastically to the execution of James that Herod was encouraged to do the same with Peter. However, it was by then the Days of Unleavened Bread, and executions were not exactly appropriate during religious holidays. Also the Jews would be too busy with their ceremonies to appreciate the favor, so Herod ordered Peter to be imprisoned during the interim. This was Peter’s third arrest (4:3; 5:18), and during a previous incarceration, Peter had miraculously escaped with the help of an angel of the Lord who had opened the gates of the prison (5:19, 20). Now Herod took extreme measures to secure his imprisonment, and this time Peter was placed under maximum security in the care of four squads of soldiers of four men each. The soldiers worked three-hour shifts. Both of Peter’s wrists were chained, and he had a soldier on each side. Outside Peter’s cell, two more soldiers stood guard. It would now require a supernatural miracle to set Peter from his secure prison!
The apprehension of Peter however did not discourage the Jerusalem church, but rather, it set them to praying. This was in accordance to what James, one of their church leaders, had counseled them: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). So, the church in Jerusalem prayed earnestly for Peter, especially as the death of James was so vivid in their minds. G. C. Morgan comments, “That force of earnest, halting prayer was mightier than Herod, and mightier than hell.”
In answer to their united and earnest prayer, God sent His angel into the prison and delivered Peter miraculously. Even though the church prayed fervently to God to protect and deliver Peter, they failed to believe that God would actually answer their prayer. In fact, they were surprised when their prayers were answered and Peter stood outside the home where they were praying so earnestly. Thus, God executed a marvelous deliverance for Peter that even those who interceded for him found hard to believe when he showed up at their prayer meeting.
T. W. Hunt, the author of Prayer Life makes this observation: “If we examine the expansion of the church in the Book of Acts and the Epistles, we see convincing proof of the power of prayer. The early church had innumerable obstacles. Christianity was unknown and it was opposed by the authorities wherever it spread, it suffered constantly from false accusations and rumors…but by the end of the first century, it had spread in exactly the geographic pattern commissioned by Jesus-Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This rapid geographical and ideological shift could have been accomplished only by supernatural forces. The instrument of expansion was the church and the force the church was using was prayer.”
Let us understand that prayer changes situations and prayer changes people. In both ordinary circumstances and impossible situations, God can reveal His power so let's give prayer a central place in our weekly church activities. Debrah Chavis has the following to say regarding this matter: "A church that prays with power is a church that is united, on one accord, God-focused; with hearts corporately meshed together in a fire fueled by faith." According to her, a praying church is fed by God’s Word, is focused on God’s Kingdom, is firm in faith upon God’s Word, and is fervent in God’s Spirit!