“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Acts 12:5 (NIV)
Peter was only days away from being martyred. But as the church was earnestly praying for him, something incredible happened. The Bible says, “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” (Acts 12:7). Peter was now a free man because of God’s miraculous power.
As soon as he was free, Peter went to the house where the church was praying for him, and Rhoda, a servant, heard Peter’s voice at the door and was so excited that she ran back to the group without even letting Peter in. Interestingly, when Rhoda told the people praying for Peter that he was at the door, they didn’t believe her; instead, they thought it was “his angel”! Even though they had been praying for Peter’s release, they couldn’t actually believe God had answered such a prayer.
This leads me to share a few thoughts that are on my heart:
First of all, intercession (or praying on behalf of others) is a vital ministry. We all know it’s important to pray for others when they are sick or suffering, but it is also important to pray for the church, its mission, and its leaders. Jesus asked His disciples to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Apostle Paul continually asked the churches to pray for him and the work he was doing (Rom.15:30; Eph. 6:18,19). To pray for the Spirit to work in and through the church is biblical and beneficial. It’s a noble ministry that is often under-emphasized and under-practiced.
Secondly, unified prayer is powerful. The believers in Acts 12 never dreamed that their big prayer for Peter’s release would be answered. But that’s what can happen when God’s people are unified in prayer! When people pray in unity and with faith, it often triggers God’s blessing and power in ways that mere effort and good intentions will not.
The Scripture says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). If we are continually praying for the church and its leaders, we can be assured that God is building the church toward its full potential, for He “give[s] the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13), and we know that “He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20). Yet first we must regularly commit our ways to Him, asking for His guidance and His favor.
The prayers of God’s people made a difference in the life of Peter, and while I’ve never had to be delivered from jail (thankfully), I have witnessed God’s anointing in tangible ways. When I look back at the journey my church has gone through, from a small, struggling church of 65 people to a multi-site, impactful church community, I often think about the quiet Saturday mornings when people would show up to pray for Richwoods and its mission. I also think about the 100+ people who have committed to pray for my family and me, as well as the concerts of prayer, ministry teams, and small groups who have gathered over the years to pray for our church family and the work it’s doing. On top of this, there have been countless prayers whispered by anonymous people who have simply followed God’s prompting to lift up Richwoods.
Hard work and determination alone are not enough to build a church that glorifies the Lord. We must be sure we’re walking with the Lord and in His will. We must also be praying for God’s power and presence to work in and through us as we seek to help a greater number of people find and follow Jesus.
Finally, everyone in the church can participate in the ministry of intercessory prayer. While it may not appear as glamorous as standing on the stage and singing, it’s a powerful ministry that can result in great things for the Kingdom.
I have to confess that while I still pray for my church and its mission on a regular basis, I have waffled in leading the congregation to share this burden. I have emphasized it at times, but then I have not continued to encourage its practice.
Well, it’s a new day… and it’s time to start again. That’s why I’m rekindling the fire for intercessory prayer at Richwoods. This year our church is at a critical stage of growth and maturity. We’re going to be revisiting our comprehensive calling, developing a new strategy to improve discipleship, hosting our first pastors’ conference with the 95network, expanding the PEACE Plan, keeping our eyes open for new opportunities to add a campus, and looking to hire a campus pastor.
Whether you attend Richwoods or go to another congregation in another part of the world, intercession is something you can do. Take time to pray for your church leaders and your church as a whole. Ask for God’s favor, power, and presence to bless the work that is being done for His glory. When you do, be assured that God is listening. And, unlike the believers in Acts 12, don’t be surprised when you begin to see amazing things happen at your doorstep.