Principles for a Powerful Prayer Meeting, Part 1 – Acts 12:1-11
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 16, 2011 AM
There is a plain marker on a neglected grave in a cemetery near the Canadian border that reads, “Daniel Nash, Pastor, Laborer with Finney, Mighty in Prayer.” Who was Nash? He never had the limelight but he shook heaven and hell because he believed in the power of prayer. Charles Finney, a former lawyer turned preacher by the call of God, was one of the key figures during the Second Great Awakening in 19th Century America. In the seven years in which Finney preached, there were an estimated 500,000 conversions. However, if you asked Finney, he would have given the credit for his crusades to Daniel Nash. When Finney went to a city to preach, Nash would arrive several weeks early, rent a room, find other Christians to join him, and start a prayer meeting to pray for souls. He rarely attended but stayed hidden, agonized in prayer for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to melt people’s hearts. Finney and Nash traveled thousands of miles together, in prayer and proclamation of the Gospel. In1831, Nash took ill. On December 20th, while on his knees in prayer over a map of the world, Nash died at age 56.
In this week’s passage, we find the early church faced with insurmountable odds. Foes to the gospel message and the church were everywhere. From the national leadership to the religious establishment, the early church faced almost certain extermination. Yet in the midst of severe persecution, we find the church growing and God doing miraculous things. One should ask, “What did the early church know that today’s church has forgotten?” We will discover principles for a powerful prayer meeting…
I am interested in prayer warriors like Nash and the early church! Those who willingly do battle for souls, overcome obstacles, and move God’s hand. As we look into God’s Word at the early church in Acts, we discover that kind of prayer. As we are asking God to teach us how to pray as a congregation as well as individuals, I thought it well to show you principles for a powerful prayer meeting. In the next two weeks, we will focus on five principles. Today we will focus on two of these. We discover that the early church…
I. Focused on God!
1. A Christian is out of spiritual sync until they focus on the Lord!
1) It means tuning to God’s agenda and joining him there! Have you ever done a comparison between the way the apostles approached Christ in the Gospels and the way they approached Him in the book of Acts? In the gospels their immature requests included calling fire down from heaven to consume those who rejected Jesus, sending people away hungry, and arguing about who would sit on the right and left hand of the throne when they got to heaven! They constantly demonstrated a lack of faith. Consequently, our Lord rarely did what they asked. However, when you turn to the book of Acts, you find a completely different result. We find 3000 converted in a single day, rooms shaken, prison doors opened, and the church established throughout the known world! What made the difference? Very simply, they went from being on their own agenda to being on God’s agenda. They changed from being self-centered to being God-centered. In fact, we find that when King Herod had Peter arrested, the church prays: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Persecution has a way of getting people’s attention. What was true then is certainly true for our lives as well. Whenever we are faced with the extreme difficulties of life, we immediately ask people to pray! We are out of spiritual sync until we focus on the Lord!
EXAMPLE: Way back in Acts 4, Peter and John are released with threats of what would happen to them if they spoke in the name of Jesus again. They go back and report this to their friends who immediately “raised their voices together in prayer to God!” (Acts 4:24) Interestingly, we discover that they spend five verses recounting how God works even through ungodly rulers and they finish by praying, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30 NIV) As a result, the place where they were praying was shaken as a physical sign of the power of God falling on them! Sadly, I believe that 90 percent of our prayers focus on us rather than winning the lost! When most of our praying is about our needs, we are focusing on us rather than God’s purposes. We need to focus on God with our prayers if we want our community and world won to Jesus!
While I believe that God is interested in our daily needs, we can become so caught up in them we forget about the plan of God. Jesus did not come to give us an easier life here and now, he came to seek and save the lost. His last commands to his followers consisted of telling them to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) The early church took this very seriously and it was not until the 1980’s that the American church lost this focus. We discover that the early church…
II. Followed God’s lead!
1. Far too often Christians sing, “Where he leads I will follow,” when in their heart they mean, “Where I lead, God should follow!”
1) Consider this: How is it that Elijah could believe that God would respond to his prayer by sending fire from heaven and consuming the water-soaked sacrifice? How could Moses think God would split the Red Sea when the Egyptian army was chasing the people of Israel? How could Joshua ask the sun to stand still? What made Jesus think a four-day-old stinking corpse could live again? They asked for the impossible because they were so God-oriented that they knew what he was doing and where he was working. Notice that in each case that discernment and knowledge flowed from their relationship with God through prayer! They had paid the price in prayer and therefore understood God’s perspective and joined him there! It is important to note that this is exactly what Jesus taught about his own life: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV) Jesus always discerned the heart of God and then acted. He calls us to that same kind of walk. In Acts, we find the disciples together in prayer. In fact, “the church was earnestly praying to God for” Peter! What occurs? “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 NIV) We learn that “Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.’” (Acts 12:11 NIV) Both Peter and the church followed God’s lead!
EXAMPLE: Let’s look at an incident from Daniel Nash’s life. In one city, a group of young men confronted Finney and announced they were going to break up the meetings. Finney and Nash decided to combat them with prayer, so they found a grove of trees and gave themselves to prayer until, in Finney’s words, “we felt confident that no power which earth or hell… would be allowed permanently to stop the revival.” That night, the group of young men arrived to find a packed house to hear Finney preach. Nash, who was ordinarily a quiet man, stood and faced them with these words, “Now mark me, young men! God will break your ranks in less than one week, either by converting some of you or by sending some of you to hell. He will do this as certainly as the Lord is my God!” Having said that, Nash dropped to his seat, bowed his head and groaned in prayer. Finney thought his friend had gone too far. Yet by the next Tuesday, the leader of the group suddenly showed up in tears and confession. He trusted Christ. Before the week was out, almost all of the young men were converted. That kind of discernment comes only to those who have a lifestyle of prayer focused on God and are willing to follow his lead!
The principles of a powerful prayer meeting begin in focusing on God and then following his lead! Paul would write his friend Philemon, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philemon 1:4-6 NIV) Paul focused on God and followed his lead do you?
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.