“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Alec Baldwin was reportedly “inconsolable for hours” after allegedly discharging a prop gun in the accidental shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. “Everyone knows this was an accident, but he’s absolutely devastated,” a source told People magazine.
Nonetheless, some have responded to this tragedy in ways that personally disparage Baldwin. I will not repeat these taunts and jibes here.
I understand that Baldwin has offended many with his political satire and attacks on leaders with whom he disagreed. Nonetheless, it is discouraging to see the level to which our public discourse has sunk—and especially discouraging when Christians participate in such vitriol.
“The nation is coming apart”
Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren writes in her latest New York Times op-ed: “The nation is coming apart. The world is in turmoil.” She explains: “A recent poll by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics showed that 75 percent of Biden voters and 78 percent of Trump voters believe that their political opponents ‘have become a clear and present danger to the American way of life.’ A majority of Trump voters (52 percent) and a large minority of Biden voters (41 percent) support splitting the country into two along blue/red lines.”
Digital media executive Brett Meiselas tweeted, “If you’re attacking Alec Baldwin for this horrible tragedy, you are a bad person. Full stop. This is profoundly traumatic for everyone involved. I cannot even begin to imagine the guilt, sadness, and devastation everyone involved is currently feeling.”
A better response to tragedy is being modeled by Christians praying around the clock for the Haitian missionary hostages, a story I reported yesterday. (For updates on the missionaries from the organization sponsoring them, click here.)
As I was praying for these missionaries, Alec Baldwin, the families affected by the shooting on his movie set, and others suffering in the news, I was reminded of a single verse in Scripture with profound implications. I consider it a Spirit-inspired template we should each follow today.
A verse that changes everything
Acts 12 finds Peter imprisoned by King Herod, the grandson of Herod the Great. The apostle has been turned over to four squads of four guards each (v. 4), likely in the fortress Antonia (cf. Acts 21:31–23:32).
In response, “Earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (v. 5). In his classic work, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, R. A. Torrey identifies their four-fold strategy.
One: Pray together.
The “church” was praying for the apostle, at least five thousand families (Acts 4:4) scattered across the region (Acts 8:1). They were claiming Jesus’ promise that God answers collective prayer (Matthew 18:19–20). Not because we should not pray in solitude, a discipline Jesus often modeled (cf. Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:23). Nor because praying together talks God into what he would not have done otherwise. Rather, collective prayer encourages us, holds us accountable to each other, and magnifies our passion and faith.
Two: Pray passionately.
Luke records that “earnest prayer” was “made” by the church for Peter. The Greek is in the continuous tense; they were still praying in the morning when Peter escaped and came to them (Acts 12:12). Jesus set the example in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Such passion does not earn God’s favor. Rather, it positions us to be molded by his Spirit into the character of Christ (Romans 8:29) and empowers us often to become the answer we seek (cf. Matthew 9:38; 10:1).
Three: Pray specifically.
Luke notes that they prayed “for him.” By contrast, we sometimes pray so generically that even if God could answer us, we wouldn’t know he did. I often hear people ask God to “be with us” when he already promised he would be (Matthew 28:20). We ask him to “bless” someone without stating their specific needs and asking for his specific answers. Good golfers don’t aim at the fairway—they aim at a tree on the fairway. Effective intercessors are specific and focused in how they pray and how they ask God to answer them.
Four: Pray to God.
It seems redundant that Luke was inspired to write, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (my emphasis). But we are all tempted to pray more to impress others than to intercede before the Lord. We can pray about God more than to him. Or we can enter his presence intentionally and consciously, kneeling before the throne of the God of the universe. Our true power is not in our prayer but in the One to whom we pray.
How to “turn the world upside down”
The results in Acts 12 were miraculous: an angel freed Peter from his chains, led him past sleeping guards, and opened the iron gate of the prison (vv. 6–10). However, I need to add: even when we pray collectively, passionately, and specifically to God, he does not always answer in ways we wish. According to very early tradition, Peter was eventually crucified upside down in fulfillment of Jesus’ warning that he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). The other disciples died as martyrs or suffered imprisonment.
But praying as the first Christians prayed positions us to be transformed and empowered by the One to whom we pray (cf. Acts 4:31). It positions us to receive God’s best, whatever that may be (cf. Romans 12:2; Isaiah 55:8–9). And it serves as a powerful testimony to our skeptical secular culture that the One to whom we pray is real and relevant.
The first Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and sparked the mightiest spiritual movement the world has ever seen. God’s nature does not change. Anything he has ever done he can still do today.
I am therefore convinced that the key to fulfilling our “salt” and “light” calling in our culture (Matthew 5:13–16) is doing what these early Christians did. If we were praying as they prayed, we would experience what they experienced. If we do not, we will not (James 4:2).
Some years ago, a group of missionaries were camping at night on a hillside. Robber bands were common in the area. The missionaries were carrying money and feared attack. After praying together, they finally went to sleep.
Months later, the leader of one of the robber bands was brought to the mission hospital for treatment. While there, he asked the missionaries if they still had the soldiers who guarded them that night. “We intended to rob you,” he admitted, “but were afraid of the twenty-seven soldiers.”
When the story got back to the church supporting these missionaries, someone remembered, “We had a prayer meeting that night, and there were twenty-seven of us present.”
Why do you need to pray collectively, passionately, and specifically to God today?