The Boundless Power and Reach of God

How God Uses Our Prayers to Advance His Gospel

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him… 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… Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’”Acts 12: 5, 7, 11

In the Book of Acts, chapter 12, we find a great example of the effectiveness and power of prayer. This chapter encapsulates profound truths about the nature of prayer, the strength of community, and the supremacy of God.

Peter, who found himself behind bars, chained and guarded by 16 soldiers, was one of the prominent apostles of Jesus Christ, belonging to the inner circle of disciples along with James and John. Throughout his journey and walk with Christ, Peter had learned to trust Jesus even in the midst of perplexity and suffering. This same Peter, who cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear to protect and prevent Jesus from being arrested, also denied knowing Jesus after He was taken away by the authorities. But after Peter had seen Christ crucified, buried, risen and received the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he preached the Gospel with boldness, passion, and love.

The change in Peter was real because even though he is opposed, falsely accused, and arrested and jailed like his Savior for heralding the Gospel, he does not act like his old self. He places his trust in God and refrains from either being silenced, fleeing, or picking up a sword to fight. His view of God and suffering is also very clear from his writing to the church, particularly in 1 Peter 2:21, where he writes, “for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” By willingly enduring suffering for the sake of Christ and to bring the message of salvation to the lost, Peter mirrors the sacrificial love demonstrated by Jesus. But this did not mean that he and the church did not cry out to God for strength and open doors to keep spreading the Gospel. Peter also writes about prayer in 1 Peter 3:12, stating, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” In this epistle he emphasizes the importance of prayer for believers, highlighting God’s attentiveness to the prayers of the righteous. He got to learn this from experience. I bet as the church was praying for him, Peter too was calling out to God.

Even if the man of God is imprisoned and chained behind bars, neither the Word of God nor prayer can be chained. In fact, later in the same chapter, we read in verse 24, “But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.” This serves as a powerful reminder that God’s Word is unstoppable, transcending physical barriers and human limitations. Apostle Paul emphasizes the same truth when he wrote to Timothy from prison, stating, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” Despite persecution and imprisonment, the message of salvation will continue to spread and thrive through His church, today as it did back then.

The situation appears terrible and hopeless for Peter and the church, as King Herod Agrippa I, a grandson of Herod the Great had already executed Apostle James the son of Zebedee, and Peter’s fate seemingly was in his hands, a wicked earthly authority that opposed God. However, the response of the early church is not despair, passivity, or violence, but rather earnest prayer. Despite the daunting circumstances, the believers turn to God in fervent supplication for Peter’s deliverance from jail and his likely death sentence.

Here are several lessons we can learn from this account in Acts:

1. The Power of Prayer

Prayer is not merely a religious ritual but a compelling and effectual means of communication and communion with God Almighty. The believers understood the significance of seeking God’s face and His intervention in times of trouble. They would have remembered all the times they saw Jesus communion with His Father in heaven and also for asking Him for the impossible. The church would have remembered His teachings on prayer stating “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matt. 6:13). We too must come to believe that God wants to hear from His children and that He goes to work on our behalf (Isaiah 64:4). The prayers of the first-century church were not apathetic requests but sincere and passionate pleas for God to act on behalf of Peter and the message of Christ to keep spreading.

Who do you have in your life today that needs your prayers? Is it a family member, a friend, or perhaps a co-worker? Let’s also not forget the persecuted church around the world and intercede on their behalf. Trust God’s Word and start talking to Him on their behalf, for “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

2. The Importance of Community

Notice that it was not just one or two people praying for Peter but the entire church. There is strength in unity, and when believers come together in prayer, our collective faith is a force to be reckoned with. The early church demonstrated solidarity and support for one another in times of need, setting an example for us today in how we should devote ourselves to God and the local church. We are called to continue the ancient practice of assembling for the sake of hearing the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. We pray in private, but also in community as exemplified in the book of Acts:

Acts 1:14 – “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Acts 4:23-24 – “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”

This is why we at Coastal Church have the pattern of meeting every Saturday morning for corporate prayer to pray for one another, other Christians, our city, our country, and beyond our borders. Our common unity is in Christ and advancing His Gospel as part of the Body of Christ. For that to happen, we need the church to be committed to diligently practicing the spiritual discipline of earnest and unceasing prayer.

3. Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

Despite the seriousness of Peter’s situation, the believers did not lose faith in God’s ultimate control over all circumstances. They prayed earnestly, acknowledging God’s power to intervene in their dire situation. Their trust was not in their own abilities or strategies but in the providence of God. That is why they did not plan to break Peter out of prison or assemble an army with weapons and battle tactics dependent on human strength or earthly means to fight for the church’s protection. Instead, they chose to pray and believe that God’s way would be better than theirs. And sure enough, God’s way was much better. An angel was sent to release Peter from prison, and ultimately, at the end of chapter 12, King Herod was struck down by an angel because he did not give glory to God and accepted the people’s acclaim that he was a god. This story perfectly illustrates why Christians should “leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord…In due time their foot will slip; for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly.” (Rom. 12:19; Deut. 32:35 ).

As peacemakers, we trust God’s Word when it says, “do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18). I wonder if there is a situation in your life right now that you are trying to control and make happen in your own wisdom and strength, instead of asking God to step in and speak into your impossible circumstance, showing His power and wisdom. Trust in His sovereignty today, and listen to His voice bringing you peace:

Whatever I please, I do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)

I work all things according to the counsel of my will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

Wisdom and might belong to me. I change times and seasons; I remove kings and set up kings.” (Daniel 2:20–21)

I sent my angel and struck Herod down, because he did not give me glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)

My Son will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33)

4. Persistence in Prayer

The word “earnestly” used in verse 15 implies a sense of urgency, eagerness and persistence in prayer. The believers did not give up after a casual prayer; they continued to intercede for Peter fervently. They would not stop until they got an answer. They might have remembered Jesus’s teaching to His disciples in which He instructed them to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). This teaches us the importance of perseverance and determination in prayer, even when answers seem delayed, uncertain, or different from what we asked for.

Ultimately, the story of Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison serves as a testament to the faithfulness of God in response to the prayers of His people. It reaffirms the truth that God hears and answers the cries of His children, according to His perfect will and timing. However, it’s essential to understand that we cannot give up praying, even if the answers God gives us are different than what we were expecting or even heartbreaking. This was the case for the church in Acts, as seen in the martyrdom of Stephen and James for their faith. And ultimately, in 64 AD, Peter faced imprisonment again and was executed, being crucified upside down.

As we have reflected on the church’s earnest prayer and Peter’s supernatural prison break, may we be encouraged to approach God with the same fervor and faithfulness displayed by the early church. Let us never underestimate the power of prayer or the strength of community in times of trial. And may we always trust in the sovereignty of God, knowing that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Sometimes His answer is to open doors that no man can shut and sometimes it’s to give us strength and faith to endure the trials of life while delighting in God, as Peter encourages us to “rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

To conclude this blog, let us turn to the prayer of the Apostle Paul, who not only endured much hardship for preaching the Gospel of Christ but also experienced the boundless power and reach of God in and through his life, as found in Ephesians 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father… I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Let us pray together, seeking God’s strength, presence, and love to fill our hearts and empower us to live out our faith with boldness and love, just as the early church did. All for His glory and praise. Amen.