Prayer and the Overcoming Life

Prayer and the Overcoming Life

Go to Acts chapter 12. The scripture that we’re going to look at today deals with a desperate time in the early church in Jerusalem. Up to this point, thousands of people have gotten saved. Thousands of Jews have converted to Christianity; they’ve given their life to Jesus. And believe me, this has not gone unnoticed by the Jewish religious leaders. So, the more Christians, the more Jews who get saved, the more threatened these Jewish leaders become, and then the persecution increases. The events that we’re going to look at today happened about eight years after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7) and sometime after the conversion of Paul (Acts 9). Herod Agrippa, the new king in Judea appointed by the Emperor Caligula, the Emperor of Rome, has been specifically sent there to bring law and order. The challenge from the Emperor, and the Emperor is friends with King Agrippa, specifically told him, “Bring peace and order there.” The Romans were getting sick and tired of these Jews. And then in 70 A.D., if you know your history, they finally got really sick and tired of them. Now King Agrippa, when he comes to Judea, he recognized very quickly that to have law and order, he has to gain the favor of Jewish religious leaders. He figures out very quickly that they are very concerned about this new Jewish sect that is taking people outside of Judaism. And so, he wants to help them. So, he arrests the Apostle James and has him beheaded because, the thinking of course is, if you want to stop a movement you kill the leaders. You cut off the head, you know, the head of the snake. Because the Jewish leaders were so excited about James’ death, he arrests the Apostle Peter. We don’t know how that happened, but he arrests him and he puts him in prison. The inner-prison. He also assigns 16 Roman soldiers to guard him. Now I think he did that because in Acts 5, Peter miraculously gets out of jail. Remember that? They didn’t know how. They put him in jail, and then the next day he’s out preaching in the Temple. So, let’s go ahead and read Acts 12:5-19, now that you’re up to speed.

5 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. 6 On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place. 18 Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
Acts 12:5-19 NASB

There are three valuable lessons about prayer that we’re going to look at this morning. Valuable lessons about prayer that are very important when we want to overcome or have victory in any circumstance that comes into our life. Especially a difficult one.

How to Overcome a Desperate Situation

1. Overcoming/Victory begins with prayer.

The Apostle Peter’s sentence had already been determined, and nobody doubted that he was going to executed. Herod knew what he was going to do; the soldiers knew what Herod wanted done; the Jerusalem church knew what was going to happen. Against all this authority, the Christians had no power, but they did have God. That’s the one thing they could do. They could pray. So, they got on their knees and they prayed for a miracle. One of the awesome privileges that you and I have as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is the Bible says we have access to God. We can come before the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16. We can come boldly and confidently before God day or night, Ephesians 3:12. Prayer is the valve, the spigot, the handle that turns on the power of God, that releases the power of God. His influence, and His authority, and His anointing in our life. I’ve said it a hundred times; if you’re a Christian and you’re not praying, if you’re not regularly praying for your day, you’re basically living that day without the supernatural power of God in your life. That God is God, and I’m not saying He’s not going to move in your life supernaturally if you don’t pray, I just know the Word of God says, “You do not have because you do not ask”, James 4:2. So generally speaking, since that’s the case and God has set it up that way, I’m not talking about God’s protection over your life. I’m saying, generally speaking, if you’re a Christian and you’re not actively seeking God first thing in the morning or at night, actively asking Him to move in your life, then you’re probably living most of your life without the supernatural in your life. One of my favorite biblical passages of seeking the Lord in the midst of adversity or a difficult situation comes from Psalms 109. It’s King David. And we don’t know what adversity David was facing, but this is what he said.

1 O God of my praise, do not be silent! 2 For they have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me; They have spoken against me with a lying tongue. 3 They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. 4 In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer.

Psalms 109:1-4 NASB

In the face of this adversity… again, we don’t know what it was, but is sounds serious, doesn’t it?… David had hope. King David had hope, and the reason why is because he was praying. Past circumstances must have shown him that if he took the time to pray, if he humbled himself before God and sought after God, God did something. God heard his prayer, answered his prayer, and miraculous things happened. Psalms 20:6-7, this is King David again.

6 Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. 7 Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.

Psalms 20:6-7 NASB

David had learned again that God answers the prayer of those who seek Him. In Acts 12:5, it says that, we just read it, it says Peter was in prison, but the church was praying. It says the church was praying fervently. In other words, the whole situation was hopeless, except, the church was praying. The angel Gabriel said it best, “With God, nothing is impossible”. Prayer brings God’s possibilities into our impossible situations. Prayer brings God’s possibilities into our impossible situations.

“Pastor Dave, I know I should pray. I believe what you’re saying. It’s right out of God’s Word. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m just so busy. I’m so exhausted. I’m stressed out. Our marriage isn’t’ what it should be. I’m not spending time with the kids. I feel guilty. I’m at work too much. We have to pay the bills, the mortgages. Frankly, I’m exhausted. I guess what I’m trying to tell you, Pastor Dave, is that I just don’t have the energy to pray. I’m so busy with everything else that by the time I get around to prayer, and I know it’s with a good heart; I just don’t have the energy. I set out to do it, but it just doesn’t happen.”

Brother or sister, this is what I know, and I found it out the hard way. There’s been times in my life when I’ve worked 15, 16, 17 hours a day, every day. And I ended up under a doctor’s care because I went numb. My whole body went numb, from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head, just numb. And I remember being in the emergency room, and the doctor sits in that little rolling chair. You know when they sit in that rolling chair, and they roll right close to you, you know, “Uh-oh”. They usually don’t sit in the chair and roll close to you if everything’s fine. He rolls up, and he says, “Everything’s fine with you. Except, what are you so stressed about?” And I’m thinking, “This guy knows I’m a pastor, what a great example I am right now.” For the peace, the love, the Lord Jesus Christ gives us, I’m so stressed out as a pastor that I’ve gone numb. I mean, I was really convicted. You guys laugh, but you can see the irony. “Brother, give your life to Jesus and the peace of God will be upon you.” And I’m so stressed out I’m numb. This is what I know, though. After 38 years of being a Christian, the more responsibility you have, the more tasks you have to accomplish, the more that’s being asked of you, the more you need to pray. Martin Luther said that when he had a really tough day, he would increase his prayer. And I’m not going to tell you how many hours that was, because you and I can’t relate to it. It’s just so many hours, that even I go, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” But I just say it, someone like Martin Luther knew. I’ve got all this stress, all this responsibility, I’d better pray. Jesus, so often before He would do things, He would go alone and He would pray. And sure, it was Jesus, but you know what? I think He was tired physically. I think there were a lot of times when He went up to the mountains early in the morning, everything in His physical body, was saying, “Sleep! Sleep! More sleep!” So again, what I’ve learned is the busier you are, the more responsibility that you have, the more that’s being asked of you, if you want to do your best, if you want to accomplish, prayer becomes more important because prayer releases God’s anointing, His strength, His vision. Psalm 108:13, I love this.

With God we will gain the victory…

Psalm 108:13 NIV

Through God we will do valiantly…

Psalms 108:13 NASB

I like that, “valiantly”. What the Bible tells me is that if I take the time to pray, if I take the time to lay this difficult situation before God, if I consistently do that, I am going to gain the victory, and not only gain the victory, but I’m going to do it valiantly. So, the first valuable lesson that we can learn here is that when we face something difficult is we need to set that thing to prayer. We need to pray about it, the first thing. Before we start trying to figure out how to solve it, we need to start praying first. The second valuable lesson is this if you want to overcome…

2. Persevere in prayer and wait on God.

There’s that word again, “wait”. If you’re in here today and you don’t have a problem with waiting, I’d like to talk to you. Because we Americans don’t know how to wait very well. “Persevere”, “persist”, those kind of words, there’s a lot of them in the Bible. Jesus talked about them a lot. In Jeremiah 42, the Babylonians had come and defeated the kingdom of Judah. They had leveled Jerusalem, and they’d taken a bunch of captive Jews with them back to Babylon. Jeremiah’s still there, with a large amount of Jews; they didn’t take everyone. So, the Jews there, there were still some leaders there, and they were trying to figure out, “What should we do?”. And they thought the logical thing to do was run down to Egypt as refugees and seek safety there. Because, the Babylonians and the Egyptians were at war with one another, and they could go there as refugees. So, they went Jeremiah, and said, “Please pray and ask God what we’re supposed to do.” Jeremiah sets to pray. And the Babylonians had just left, and they’re afraid they’re going to come back. And so there’s urgency here. So, Jeremiah begins to pray, but God doesn’t answer him for ten days. And this is Jeremiah. Ten days. God gives him an answer; He tells them to stay there, live under the Babylonian rule, and God will bless them. Well, they don’t listen to him, they don’t listen to God, they run down to Egypt, but that’s another message. The point I was trying to make is that even Jeremiah had to wait for ten days. And he was God’s spokesman. A prophet. Sometimes you and I are just going to have to wait for God. But there’s something good about it. Isaiah 64:4 tells us that if we trust and wait on God, He is going to work on our behalf while we’re waiting. God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Waiting and trusting God literally puts God to work. And what Christian wouldn’t like God working on their behalf? As the Jerusalem church prayed, awesome things were happening. They didn’t see it but God was planning something awesome, was He not? There’s going to come times in your life when you’re desperate for God to move. You’re desperate for guidance. You’re desperate for God to answer you. And nothing comes. Nothing! As a matter of fact, sometimes it looks like what’s happening is the direct opposite of what you’re praying for. You’ve been there. What we have to remind ourselves during those times is that God’s clock is perfect. We’ve prayed, He’s working, the answer is coming. Galatians 6:9 tells us we shall reap if we do not grow weary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to remind myself that God’s working in this particular situation. And that I’ve come to this point in my life by no accident. God has allowed it. We Americans, we have a hard time with this. I really had a hard time getting my head around the fact that God allowed me to get oral cancer. And that through a series of situations it didn’t get diagnosed for two years. But I had to come to the place: God is sovereign. He let this all happen. He has a plan. He’s working out His plan. He has promised to hear my prayers, so He’s going to listen, and He’s going to answer.

13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

Psalms 27:13-14 NASB

David knew that if he waited on God, he put God to work, and God would do miraculous things. This passage there reminds me that if we persevere in prayer, great things are going to happen. God will answer us. But waiting’s not easy. It’s hard to keep praying about something when what you see with your eyes is the exact opposite of what you’re praying for. I can’t tell you how many times men or women have come to me, and they’re praying for a spouse or a son and they say, “The more I pray, the worse they get” and I say, remember there’s a war going on. You’re asking for the Holy Spirit to be poured out, and the Holy Spirit’s being poured out, and there’s a war going on. Enemy doesn’t like it. Waiting on God is not easy. Which brings us to the final lesson, which I’m going to spend a little bit more time on.

3. When we pray we should expect an answer.

This incident in Acts 12 should remind us all, as Christians, just like these early Christians, many times we pray for things, but we really don’t think anything is going to happen. We’re praying because we know we should do it, but we don’t really believe anything is going to change or happen. Even though we are told in scripture again, and again, and again, and again that God answers prayer.

‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

Jeremiah 33:3 NASB

2 O You who hear prayer, to You all men come.
5 By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation, You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea.

Psalms 65:2, 5 NASB

“O You who hear prayer, to You all men come”. David is describing the God of the Universe as a God who hears our prayers. And it’s been interesting me, how people who really don’t believe in God, when a real tough thing comes, they start praying to God. And while I was standing up here first service, I remembered something I hadn’t remembered in a long time. In my younger days, surfing was very important to me. And there was a particular day the waves were huge. And being young and stupid, we went out there; there wasn’t another person out there. We went out at Sunset Cliffs at a place called “Garbage”. If you’re into surfing, you know where that is. I’ve been out surfing when the waves were 10 feet high. That’s big. I can tell you, they were a lot bigger than that. When we got out there, we started getting afraid. My friend, who doesn’t go to church or anything, he starts crying out to God, and I’m going “You’ve got to be kidding”. I wasn’t a Christian then. And he’s praying to God, saying “I’ll go to church God, I’ll do whatever you want, get us out of this!” He really was. And to his credit, when we finally got in, the next Sunday, he went to church. He never went back, but he went to church. The point is, Romans tells us that God puts the knowledge of God in our hearts. And so often, when human beings face death, they cry out to God. Or a really tough situation like that. You guys who surf, when we drove down to Ocean Beach, the waves were actually breaking on top of the end of the pier. That’s how big these things were. And they were completely closed down. It was crazy.

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

1 John 5:14-15 NASB

13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

John 14:13-14 NASB

What is curious to me, over the years, is how preachers or teachers of the Word always try to explain away these passages, trying to give God an out. The bottom line is, the Bible says over and over God will answer prayer. You don’t have to make excuses for God. God will answer prayer. But the Bible does tell us that He answers prayers that are according to His will. If you pray a prayer that is according to God’s will, it’s going to be answered. It will be answered. Of course, the next question is, how do you know what the will of God is when I’m praying for something? First of all, you’ve got the Bible. You can compare your prayer and make sure it aligns itself with the Word of God. But secondly, you just keep praying, I prayed for a wife every day. I’m sorry God, I must’ve worn You out, but every day. And I just kept praying. It wasn’t until I started praying the right kind of prayer that I got married. I was a stubborn guy. I knew what I wanted. God gave me something better than I wanted. It’s a fact, you guys. You better believe it. I’m hilariously, happily married. So, the key is praying according to His will. If it isn’t specifically spoken of (in the Bible), just keep praying, and God will change your prayers. But He’s still listening to you. He’s still working. I also think it’s very important to recognize… when Luke was writing Acts, I’m sure he had a lot more stories than he put in there. I’m sure when a person is writing history, they’ve got a lot of stories and they can’t put everything in there. It’s interesting to me, why did Peter talk about this failure of the church. This lack of faith. I mean, come on. If they’d had faith that Peter was going to be delivered, they wouldn’t have been surprised that Peter was at the door. I have to assume one of the reasons is, is because God wants us to know these early Christians were just like us. We pray, but often in our minds we’re saying, “This is not going to happen, this is impossible”. We believe more what we see with our eyes than believing God for a miracle. Or we believe more of what we see than what God can do. We know up here (points to head) that God can do great things, but we just don’t think it’s probable. Was it the great faith of these Christians that moved God to release Peter? The answer is no. They were surprised that Peter showed up at the door. I believe the truth here is that God answers prayer. Even when the faith in that prayer is as small as a mustard seed. The faith that pleases God is you just pray. God will show Himself faithful. Even when our faith is weak, when we’re exhausted, when we are tempted to throw in the towel, God hears our prayers. There have been times in my life when I couldn’t even say anything anymore. I just laid on the ground. “I’m just tired. I’m exhausted. I’m just laying before You. You know what I’m praying.” Answered prayer is not based on how we feel, your faith; it is based on God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness to you.

“For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

1 Peter 3:12 NASB

Two things; who is the “righteous” that Peter is talking about? That’s everyone in here who has given their life to Jesus Christ. Jesus won your righteousness on the cross. He took your sins upon himself, your punishment upon Himself, so that you could have immediate access to God. Yes, you’re a sinner, but when God looks at you, He looks at you through the blood of Jesus. You are holy and righteous in His sight. You are the righteous of God. He is going to be attentive to your prayers. Now there is a truth here, this is the second thing, that if you say you’re a Christian, and you’re practicing sin, you’re in rebellion against God in a certain aspect of your life, I’m telling you, that’s going to affect your relationship with God. The bottom line is, God listens to your prayer. If you’re a Christian like 95% of you in here, you’re just trying to follow God, you’re a sinner just like me. Last night I yelled at my wife. I got angry. I got angry last night, for really no good reason. But that’s not going to hinder a prayer of mine before God. I asked my wife to forgive me. God will forgive me. But it’s a rebellious sin that you don’t want to deal with and you’re not going to listen to anyone, you’re going to do your own thing- that’s going to affect your relationship with God. It’s important to understand, too, God answers prayer, but let me tell you something, God doesn’t always answer our prayers like we want. Throughout the Bible, God does the unexpected. We serve a God of the unexpected. Can you imagine, you’re an Israelite, you’ve just been delivered from Egypt, and you’re camped there, maybe you don’t even have a tent, you’re just leaning up against your belongings, and there’s the Red Sea, and here’s Pharaoh’s army. And there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that the next day, you’re going to be dead. They might save your children to make them as slaves, but they’re going to kill you. No one expected God to part the Red Sea. Jesus rose from the dead. No one expected that. I mean, even though He’d been telling them. No one expected Jesus to rise from the dead. They were shocked. When we pray, God does the unexpected. I want to tell you something. Thirty something years ago, Mark and I were with this small group of believers, we were praying for a church. Praying for somewhere to have church. We were meeting in a Rec center. It was in eastern San Diego, in San Carlos. There was no way that Mark and I wanted to be in El Cajon. No way. For Mark, it was way too far from the ocean. To my shame, I have to admit to you, I thought I was better than El Cajon. I’m just being honest with you. El Cajon? That’s for someone else. “God, we want to be in the hills, not in the valley.” Only thing available was a small little place, and listen, even when we rented it, in our minds we thought we’d only be here for a short time, and we’ll pay lease, and God will open up something else that way (gesturing west). What an unexpected, wonderful plan God had. And I’m so glad God did the unexpected.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…

Ephesians 3:20 NASB

There are two specific prayers that I am praying every day. I pray them every day, several times every day, and it seems like the more I pray, the more the opposite is happening. But God’s a God of wonder, the God of the unexpected. And if things are happening totally opposite of what I am praying, I’ve learned something wonderful is going to happen. God is the God of the unexpected. I didn’t sleep much last night. Because one thing I hate about your kids getting old is they move away. Bad, bad, bad. But I know you just keep praying, you just keep expecting, and I am telling you, God is the God of the unexpected. I have learned to expect God to surprise me. To do something better than I am originally praying for, especially for His Kingdom. And I’m telling you, I have learned that this is the faith that moves mountains. Not the faith that expects God to move exactly how you want, but the faith that says, I don’t know what God is going to do, but He’s going to do the unexpected. When I look back on this from years from now, I’m going to know that because I prayed, God did something wonderful.

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. 8 Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.

Micah 7:7-8 NASB

God always answers prayer. Always. It’s the only conclusion that you and I, any objective reader of scripture, that’s the only conclusion you can come up with. And it makes me angry when I hear preachers or teachers trying to give God an out. God doesn’t need an out. I believe God answers four ways, and these four ways have not changed in 20 years. The first, God answers “Yes.” We like that. Secondly, “Yes, in a little while.” Of course I joke: that’s ok as long as the while is little. When it goes (gesturing long), we have trouble. The third is, “Yes, but you’re part of the solution. You’re part of the answer.” Sometimes God wants us to forgive somebody, do something. You’re praying for something, “God, the Smith’s don’t have enough food to eat, please give them food.” Well, God wants you to go give them some food. That’s a simple answer. Do you understand what I’m saying? Sometimes we’re part of the answer. We’re praying about something, but God says, “You’re part of the answer.” And number four, “Yes, I hear what you ask, but I have the unexpected in mind. It’s better than you ask or think.” When God answers your prayer in that unexpected way, these are the answers from God that most affect you. As you look back on your life, these are the prayers and how God answers you, that has the biggest impact on your life. And the reason is because it speaks of God’s sovereignty over your life. He really is in control.

There’s always one thing that I want you to take away from any message I preach. And today, it’s simply this: God answers prayer. God has heard your prayers, and He will answer them. If He’s making you wait, you keep praying, you keep seeking, you keep knocking. He’s working on your behalf. The Bible says if He’s making you wait, He’s working on your behalf. His clock is the perfect time. And if He’s making you wait, brother or sister, get ready for the unexpected. Keep trusting, and get ready for the unexpected.