Marble. Cinder block. Granite. Brick. You might find any or all of them lying around a construction site, but someone’s got to stack it up, right? Jesus gave us responsibility in building His church, so it helps to know all the materials available to us. Here’s one: praying together. It’s like sandstone—made of lots of little particles, but fused together, it makes a great wall.
To get the most out of this study, read Acts 12:1-25. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: Acts 12:5
The early church is under persecution. But as believers are growing in number, the Holy Spirit is working to protect them and help build the kingdom. God’s power is evident, so the Christians gain in confidence, further strengthening the church. Jesus promised He would build His church and hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), and now the disciples are discovering what He meant and what their role would be.
The disciples may have been praying for Peter because they loved him and were concerned about his fate. But their prayers were important for the church, too.
Think of a time you and others were equally concerned about a prayer need. How did you handle this? Acts 12:5 says that ongoing prayers were being offered to God for Peter “by the church.” How would you organize such a thing?
Remember the popular saying, “the family that prays together stays together”? The Christian family—the body of Christ—is said to be “held together by the joints and ligaments” (Col. 2:19). Considering that Paul said we are each a part of the body, like an eye, a foot, or a hand (1 Corinthians 12:14-26), what do you think the joints and ligaments might be?
The disciples were praying together “with one accord” when the Holy Spirit was given to the church (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1 ESV). It’s hard to pray with someone you’re angry or uncomfortable with. Why do you think that is? If it’s happened to you, was there a change in your relationship after praying?
Why do you suppose the disciples didn’t stay home and pray individually? Do you think God hears group prayer better than personal prayer?
Continuing the Story
On being freed, Peter immediately visits his friends, who are astonished to see him. He asks that they tell the other believers what happened.
Jesus promised He would build His church and hell would not prevail against it.
Prayer works—and “fervent” prayer works in a breathtaking way! What do you think fervent prayer looks like? What was going on in Mary’s house that night?
A servant girl answered Peter’s knock, and Acts 12:14 says she was so overjoyed to hear his voice that she forgot to open the door. Yet she may not even have been a disciple. Consider how overhearing prayer might open an outsider’s heart. How do you feel when unbelievers are listening while your group prays?
The Israelites often sang to each other about God’s goodness and miracles. Think about a time when you were overwhelmed by His gracious answer to your prayers. Whom did you want to tell? What did you hope to accomplish by telling them?
Modern life can make meeting as a group pretty inconvenient. Is your faith in the Lord—and prayer—so strong that you would gather with other believers during a crisis, late at night in someone’s home, to pray as the church did for Peter? Is there a promise in the Word of God that you could memorize to encourage yourself and others to have this kind of faith?
Jesus is the head of His church and its builder. He calls us to assist by serving—usually in cooperation with each other.
Though many Christians have a heart for evangelism, spreading the good news takes teamwork.
In John 15:7, Jesus promises, “If you abide in Me ... ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” How might gathering as the disciples did in Acts 12:12 help us to abide in Christ? Is there anything in your life today that gives you confidence you are abiding in Him?
Though many Christians have a heart for evangelism, spreading the good news takes teamwork. How might praying together be a key?
Our heavenly Father wants us to pray not just as a church, but for the church (“all the saints”—Eph. 6:18). It’s easy enough to pray for someone’s personal prayer request, but how would you pray for the entire body of Christ? This requires a deep love for our fellow Christians around the globe. To better identify with them, it helps to remember that we are all fighting the fight of faith (1 Peter 5:9).
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
The story of the disciples successfully praying for Peter’s release is one of astonishment and delight. We at times may picture God as a purely practical and austere King, but think about the gifts He gives. It seems clear that our Father loves to delight us with amazement and wonder. As recipients of God’s sweet surprises, we long to share with each other about His goodness. This dynamic reveals that in some ways, love is a group matter. And prayer is one way that love plays out.
Our Father loves to delight us with amazement and wonder.
When we’re privileged to be around two people who care for and respect each other, we’re always better for it. And witnessing extravagant love and honest gratitude can open our hearts in unexpected ways. Think about a loving relationship in your life. How do you think people around you benefit from the warmth of that relationship? Next time you’re praying with friends or family, could you ask God to help you experience a greater measure of His love through your fellow believers?
Many cultures have a proverb echoing this sentiment: Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow. Far from being a cliché, that’s a great recipe for fellowship. 1 Corinthians 12:26 goes further: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” How do you think that was true during the disciples’ experience of shared prayer in Acts 12? Can you share someone’s joy or sorrow by praying with him or her today?
We often think of prayer as something we do alone. But petitioning our Father and celebrating His victories together will bring us closer to each other and to Him. And when we’re praying for the needs of the entire body of Christ, such as Peter’s release or the courage of persecuted believers, we do even more to help Jesus build His church.
Illustration by Adam Cruft