Week of October 22

Power Politics or Purposeful Prayer?

Read: Job 6-8; Acts 12
“So Peter was kept in prison,
but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
Acts 12:5, ESV


“Divine power and authority are not given for the purpose of parading flesh or exalting men, but to serve the church and save the lost” (T.L. Lowery). There are any number of ways the early church could have placed a spin on the deliverance of Peter from certain death, but they chose to present the case as total dependence upon God, His will, and the advance of the Gospel.

This passage challenges the spiritual anemia of the contemporary church, but it offers us a transfusion that the Holy Spirit provides. Let’s examine our focal passage in search of ways to center our lives beneath the authority and power of God.

The Meaning of the Text

Wicked alliances
Luke provides us with the context of events that transpired in the fledgling Christian movement since Peter’s report to the Jerusalem church about the Gentile conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48; 11:1-18). There was within that group of believers a party that insisted upon Jewish circumcision as being necessary for Gospel salvation (11:2-3). The action of the Holy Spirit put all of that to rest! There would be no works-based salvation. The door had been thrown wide open for Gentile missionary expansion (see Acts 11:19-26; 13: 1-4). However, certain Jewish factions continued with their blood-thirsty goal of eliminating the church (12:3). Enter Herod!

Verses 1-5 provide us with an introduction to Herod’s evil intent and interference. We know that this Herod was a part of a political ruling family during the lifetime of Christ. Christ was born during Herod the Great’s reign (37 BCE-4 BCE). Herod Antipas took over his father’s throne in Galilee and Perea and ruled during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministries (4 BCE – 39 BCE). It was this ruler who had John the Baptist beheaded and tried Christ before His death. Herod Agrippa I was the persecutor of the church in our Acts passage. He began ruling in Judea and Samaria from 41-44 CE. This entire line of rulers were bloodthirsty tyrants, as was evidenced by their destructive, murderous behavior.

You may question “what on earth” this detail has to do with our Christian lives today! First, we live in a pluralistic and increasingly secular culture here in America. There have been increasing challenges to Christian belief and practice in the educational, political, cultural, and social spheres. Secondly, we do have readers of this devotional series who reside in various parts of the globe where Christian opposition occurs on a regular basis. So, we may identify, in part, with the ways people have/will oppose the Gospel. However, I believe the point in Acts 12 is not politics, but the power of the Gospel! Despite the evil that was evident in the death of James, Luke wants his readers to focus on the deliverance of Peter and the reason for it. Do I have your attention? I hope so!
The power of the Holy Spirit continues in our day
The response of the church in Acts 12 convicts me. It causes me to wonder whether the contemporary church hinders the Holy Spirit’s authority over our day-to-day deliberations and actions. You think, “Oh, Ashlock, why did you have to bring that up?!” Does the Spirit have the same power over the decision making in your church? Read on as you ponder these questions.
There are significant implications for a life that is truly yielded to the Spirit’s control! Notice that politics cannot stop the Spirit-directed Gospel (12:3, “when he saw that it pleased”; 12:20-24, Herod the politician died, but the “word of God increased and multiplied”). Notice also that civil authority is powerless to stop the Gospel from spreading (12:6-11). Recognize, as well, that even church disbelief in the Spirit’s power cannot stop the Gospel's advance (12:15, “you are out of your mind”). In Ashlock-speak, “Our powerlessness is too often due to our Spiritless-ness” (John 15:4-5, 7). This begs the question about whether we are abiding daily in Christ because we so often see little fruit in our walk with the Lord. There are ways to remedy this ineffectiveness.
Remedies for powerlessness in our churches
First, we may pray. No, not the cliché-filled, hurried exercise that we often throw toward heaven. We need the “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was being made to God by the church” type of prayer! Secondly, we may pray with power. Fervency in prayer requires focused dependence upon God to intervene at the point of need with full trust in His purposes. He purpose is for the Gospel to advance because it is His redemptive will. God’s power prevents church handwringing over challenges because all hands are clasped together in mutual dependence upon God. Let’s consider how we may apply this passage to our lives.

The Message for Our Lives

We concluded a successful Mary’s Table ministry event last Saturday. Each gathering blesses us, but they also wear us out! Our bodies grow weary, and our feet hurt. You may well imagine that we are eager to clean up and get into our vehicles to drive home and relax a bit.

Shawna, my wife, finished everything up and quickly opened her car door, sat down, and punched the keyless start button. Nothing happened! That moment of questioning surfaced. She must have wondered, “Does this unexpected breakdown need to occur at this moment?!” It occurred to her that the reason the well-cared for car would not start was not engine failure but human error. She had left the key fob inside the building. She retrieved the key and engine promptly started. It is a simple little anecdote, but it helps to illustrate the need for direct contact with the source of power, the Holy Spirit, in all the activities of the church.

For Thought and Action

1. Examine today the lack of answers to prayer in your life. Evaluate the focus of the prayers for their Gospel value and the Spirit’s control.

2. Secondly, examine your prayers to see if they are grounded in the character and nature of a Holy God. This is the supreme value. Do you pray too much for extrinsic things (i.e., possessions and personal desires)? Refocus your prayers on intrinsic goods like life, health, home, education, and faith.

3. God invites our churches to join hands in prayer rather than shaking our fists at one another over politics. Begin by praying for a spiritual awakening through which God’s power may be revealed and His will accomplished (Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth. . . ”).

4. For Families: The Bullocks have learned this week that a church in Forney, Texas, has re-inaugurated a Wednesday night prayer service that takes prayer very seriously. The church’s new pastor said that the Christian life takes two wings to soar. The first is living with Jesus each day in a love relationship, and all that it entails. The second wing is participating in serious, intense, corporate prayer, the source of our power, as the Holy Spirit directs us.

The church began a new kind of prayer pattern. Within a few weeks, more than 500 people attend the mid-week prayer service. God is responding and answering prayer and the community is watching and coming to see what God is doing as the family of faith there prays fervently.

If God is calling you to pray, invite a small group of other families or couples to a prayer meeting once a month at your home. See what God begins to do as a result of this commitment.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock