Acts 12:1-17

Turn with me to Acts 12. I want to speak today about “a praying church.” I want this to be a challenge and an encouragement, a message of exhortation that will lead us into a more dynamic life of prayer as a church. I would like to look this morning at what happens when a church really prays. Let’s start with verse 1 of Acts 12:1-17.


Prayer changes people, but what we want to look at today is the fact that prayer changes churches. Things really happen when churches pray! We’ve seen that in Acts 12. We don’t have time to go through the whole narrative, but it tells the story of how the church was facing terrible persecution for its faith. This wicked man, Herod, was killing the apostles and seeking to kill more apostles. We see that the church gathered together at this great time of need and emergency, not to discuss the problem but to pray.

They met together. James had been killed by the sword, and now Herod was turning his wicked attention to Peter. We find in verse 5 that “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” We read in verse 12 that there were many gathered together in prayer. Throughout the whole of the book of Acts, we see that prayer was an integral part—indeed, perhaps we could say a primary part—of the operations of the church in its beginnings.


In fact, the miraculous happened, great things happened, the supernatural happened— because we find Peter lying in prison, and an angel comes and taps him to wake him up and then delivers him—and as many of you have read in that book, the iron gates yielded to the power of God, and the power of God intervened in answer to the prayers of the church.

Peter comes knocking on the door of the place where the people are praying, and the young damsel Rhoda comes to the door—and she can hardly believe it’s Peter. She’s in such shock that she doesn’t open the door. She runs back to the people saying, “It’s Peter!” They reply, “No, it couldn’t be. It must be his spirit or his angel!” Great things happen when a church prays, when it really prays—even to the extent that the church doesn’t even believe what can happen, and when it happens, they’re so astounded because they didn’t think it could happen.


I think it’s right to say that our emphasis has changed today from praying to programs. Programs are not unimportant, but they’re not as important as praying.

Our emphasis has changed from interceding to entertaining. The sin of prayerlessness is not just found in the life of individual believers; it pervades the church. To God, prayerlessness is sin—do you realize that? Not only are there sins of commission (that is, the things you do that God tells you not to do), there are also sins of omission (the things we have left undone that we ought to have done). Probably very high in the Top 10 of those is prayer.

Ellen G. White says, “A prayer meeting will always tell the true interest of the church members in spiritual and eternal things. The prayer meeting is as the pulse to the body; it denotes the true spiritual condition of the church. A lifeless, backslidden church has no relish for the prayer meetings.”1 She also affirms, “Prayer meetings are neglected, while concerts, singing schools, and various entertainments are faithfully patronized.”2

Turn with me to 1 Samuel 12 and keep your finger in Acts 12. In God’s eyes, to not pray is sin. In verse 23, Samuel says to the people, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” You can sin against the Lord by not praying for others. It is disobedience to God’s command; in fact, the Lord Jesus commanded that men ought always to pray and not to faint.

Now, let me ask you a personal question: How is your prayer life? Do you rush to work in the morning without saying anything to God? Do you rush a prayer to God that you would never rush to any dignitary on a human level? How is your prayer life with regards to your attendance at prayer meetings? I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip—this is your responsibility before God!

We can be so complicated at times, yet all God wants is for us to come like little children to the Father—and will He not, with the heart of a Father, give us what we need?

Someone once said, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”I believe that with all my being! What have we dreamed of? What are your dreams? What are your visions? If it is according to the will of God and rooted in the promises of God, it can be yours for the asking in prayer! Did the Lord not first say to David, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”


Listen to this poem called “He’ll Surely Hear” by Oswald J. Smith:

“God promised He would answer prayer. / Well, then, His promise plead, / And come to Him in Jesus’ name: / He lives to intercede! / Behold Him now at God’s right-hand, / Our Saviour, Christ the Lord. / O, trust Him in the darkest night, / Rely upon His word. / Our every need He will supply, / He hears us when we pray: / O, let us then our faith renew / And trust in God today. / It matters not how great the test, / God always makes a way. / Then let us take Him at His word: / He will not say us ‘Nay.’ / The hills before His presence melt, / The mountains disappear. / He answers prayer in Jesus’ name, / Our cry He’ll surely hear.”

“We are encouraged to pray for success, with the divine assurance that our prayers will be heard and answered. . . . The promise is made on condition that the united prayers of the church are offered, and in answer to these prayers there may be expected a power greater than that which comes in answer to private prayer. The power given will be proportionate to the unity of the members and their love for God and for one another” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 303).

1 Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry, 183.

2 Pamphlets 149, 32.1.