Introduction to How to Pray

“The church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Acts 12:5

Our Subject is, “How to Pray So As to Get What You Ask.” I can think of nothing more important that I could tell you. Suppose it had been announced that I was to tell the business men of this city how they could go to any bank here and get all the financial accommodation they desired any day in the year, and suppose, also, that I knew that secret and could really tell it, do you think that the business men of this city would consider the information important? It would be difficult to think of anything that they would consider more important. But praying is going to the bank, going to the bank that has the largest capital of any bank in the universe, the Bank of Heaven, a bank whose capital is absolutely unlimited. And if I can show you this morning how you can go to the Bank of Heaven any day in the year, and any hour of the day or night, and get from that bank all that you desire, that will certainly be of incalculable importance.

Now, the Bible tells us that very thing. It tells us how we can go to the Bank of Heaven, how we can go to God in prayer any day of the year and any hour of the day or night, and get from God the very things that we ask. What the Bible teaches along this line has been put to the test of practical experiment by tens of thousands of people, and has been found in their own experience to be absolutely true. And that is what we are to discover from a study of God’s own Word.

In the twelfth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we have the record of a most remarkable prayer, remarkable because of what was asked for and remarkable because of the results of the asking. King Herod had killed James, the brother of John. This greatly “pleased the Jews,” so he proceeded further to arrest the leader of the whole apostolic company, the Apostle Peter, with the intention of killing him also. But the arrest was during Passover Week, the Holy Week of the Jews; and, while the Jews were perfectly willing to have Peter assassinated, eager to have him assassinated, they were not willing to have their Holy Week desecrated by his violent death. So Peter was cast into prison to be kept until the Passover week was over, and then to be executed. The Passover week was nearly over, it was the last night of the Passover week, and early the next morning Peter was to be taken out and beheaded.

There seemed to be little hope for Peter, indeed, no hope at all. He was in a secure dungeon, in an impregnable fortress, guarded by sixteen soldiers, and chained by each wrist to a soldier who slept on either side of him. There appeared to be no hope whatever for Peter. But the Christians in Jerusalem undertook to get Peter out of his perilous position, to completely deliver him. How did they go at it? Did they organize a mob and storm the castle? No, there was no hope whatever of success that way. The castle was impregnable against any mob, and, furthermore, it was garrisoned by trained Roman soldiers who would be more than a match for any mob. Did the Christians circulate a petition and get the names of the leading Christians in Jerusalem signed to it to present to Herod, asking that he would release Peter? No. That might have had weight, for the Christians in Jerusalem at that time were numbered by the thousands and among them were not a few influential persons, and a petition signed by so many people, and by some people of such weight, would have had influence with a wily politician such as Herod was. But the Christians did not attempt that method of deliverance. Did they take up a collection and gather a large amount of money from the believers in Jerusalem to bribe Herod to release Peter? Quite likely that might have proved successful, for Herod was open to that method of approachment. But they did not do that.

What did they do? They held a prayer meeting to pray Peter out of prison. Was anything apparently more futile and ridiculous ever undertaken by a company of fanatics? Praying a man so securely incarcerated, and so near his execution, out of prison? If the enemies of Peter and the church had known of that attempt they doubtless would have been greatly amused, and have laughed at the thought of these fanatical Christians praying Peter out of prison, and doubtless would have said to one another, “We’ll see what will become of the prayers of these fool Christians.”

But the attempt to pray Peter out of prison was entirely successful. Apparently Peter himself had no fears, but was calmly resting in God; for he was fast asleep on the very eve of his proposed execution. While Peter was sound asleep, guarded by the six teen soldiers, chained to a soldier sleeping on either side of him, suddenly there shone in the prison a light, a light from heaven; and “an angel of the Lord” could have been seen standing by Peter. The angel struck Peter on the side as he slept, and woke him, and said, “Quick, get up!” Instantly Peter’s chains fell from his hands and he arose to his feet. The angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and your sandals.” Peter did so, and then the angel said, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” Peter, dazed and wondering, thought he was dreaming; but he was wise enough to obey God even in his sleep and he went out and followed the angel, though he “thought he was seeing a vision.” The soldiers were all asleep, and, unhindered, the angel and Peter passed the first guard and the second guard and came to the strong iron gate that led into the city. Moved by the finger of God, the gate “opened for them by itself.” They went out and silently passed through one street.

Now Peter was safe, and the angel left him. Standing there in the cold night air, Peter came to himself, and realized that he was not dreaming, 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.” Stopping a few moments to reflect, he may have said to himself, “There is a prayer meeting going on. It must be at Mark’s mother’s house; I will go there.” And soon those who are praying are startled by a heavy pounding at the outside gate of Mark’s mother’s home. A little servant girl named Rhoda must have been kneeling among those praying. Instantly she sprang to her feet and rushed to the gate, “When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’“ “Oh, Rhoda, you are crazy,” cried the unbelieving company. “No,” Rhoda said, “I am not crazy. It is Peter. God has answered our prayers. I know his voice. I knew he would come and he is here.” Then they all cried, “It is not Peter, it is his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and they opened the door, and there stood Peter, the living evidence that God has answered their prayer.

Now, if we can find out how these people prayed, then we shall know just how we, too, can pray so as to get what we ask. In the fifth verse we are told exactly how they prayed. Let me read it to you. “The church was earnestly praying to God for him.” The whole secret of prevailing prayer, the prayer that gets what it asks, is found in four phrases in this brief description of their prayer. The first phrase is, “earnestly.” The second, “the Church.” The third, “to God.” The fourth, “for him.”