So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (Acts 12:5).
Years ago I had the privilege of serving as pastor to a wonderful group of people in a community that had a long history as a farming community. It was not uncommon, especially during the long parched days of summer, for rain to be mentioned as a “prayer request.” On one occasion an older member of the congregation recounted to me how in times past they used to gather for specially called prayer meetings to pray for rain. Folks who came to the prayer meeting often brought umbrellas with them.
The umbrellas may have been a symbolic gesture, but I think it was more than that. I think the umbrellas spoke to their confident faith. Bringing an umbrella to the prayer meeting was a quiet way of declaring that God would respond to the prayers of his people. In my mind, those umbrellas also spoke to the church’s power. We don’t make it rain, but we pray to the God who gives rain and all good things.
There is a wonderful story in Acts 12 about prayer and power. Things were not going well for the church. James, the brother of John, had recently been executed by King Herod. Not long after that, Herod had Peter arrested and assigned sixteen soldiers to guard him. We are told that as Peter sat in prison “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).
Making a fairly long story less long, an angel of the Lord appeared and escorted Peter from his prison cell in miraculous fashion. Once free and clear of the jail house, Peter went to the place where a prayer meeting was being held – very likely a prayer meeting for Peter.
Peter knocked on the door. When the servant girl Rhoda announced to the praying Christians that Peter was at the door, they didn’t believe her. They told he she was nuts, out of her mind (Acts 12:15).
These were not the kind of Christians who brought their umbrellas to the prayer meeting. Nevertheless, God answered in power.
The church’s only true source of power is prayer. Nothing of lasting significance happens without it. There are other aspects of church life that appear powerful: large crowds, impressive facilities, wide-ranging programs of all kinds for all ages. But apart from prayer these are wires without current.
Far too many of us will show up to pray, but we don’t bring an umbrella. At some deep level, we’re not sure anything will come of our prayers. Said another way, we’re busy at church but we’re not especially powerful. When Peter shows up at the door, we refuse to believe it.
We need the church, but not because we need something more to do. Most of us are already busy enough. We need the church because we need to pray. We need others to pray for us and we need to be praying for others. That’s where power comes from.
So pray. And while you’re at it, be sure to bring your umbrella.
Too often, O God, we live in ignorance of the power you make available to us. We pray with low expectations and we live as if it all depends on us. Move your people to bold prayer, trusting your promises and resting in your grace. Through our prayers grant your power and change our world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.