The Church's Prayer and Spiritual Increase (continued)
The Test of Persecution
We find that the famine was followed by persecution, by Peter's imprisonment, and by severe testing for all the believers. What was the devil's purpose in this persecution? Was it not to scatter the saints, to divide them, to make them lose heart, and perhaps to compromise, or even to give up altogether? We, too, are affected by world-conditions, as they were by the famine. It may be that some of us are not involved in actual persecution, but we also suffer from satan's attempts to discourage and divide us. Peter, it is true, was the one actually in prison, but the whole church was on trial; they were all being tested as to whether they would stand firm in the evil day and win through to victory. It is so easy to enjoy meetings, to appreciate Bible teaching and to be loud in our praise to the Lord, and then, when the conflict comes, to go all to pieces. It would not have been difficult for them to lose heart. James had been taken violently from them; Peter was in prison and apparently finished; everything seemed to deny the reality of their faith. What would be the use of going to a prayer meeting?
And, of course, the human element usually comes in. We may be quite sure that Peter was not a perfect man, and that under such a stress it would be very easy to remember his faults. It might possibly have been argued that if he had behaved differently he might have avoided arrest. satan's effort was to break into the midst of that flock, to destroy their close fellowship, to get them doubting, questioning and arguing - anything but standing firmly together in faith. They might have felt that this imprisonment was Peter's business and not theirs. They might have let him find his own way out, perhaps putting up a little perfunctory prayer for him, but feeling in general that it was his own personal concern. And we, too, are exposed to these same perils and temptations. We do not have to wait for active persecution, for satan is always seeking to make us divided in spirit, suspicious and critical of one another, or at best rather coldly independent. The devil focuses his attention on making the church lose faith, lose hope and weaken in love. We are not now treating of whether one should go to a prayer meeting - some of the most important elders could not be present at this one - but remarking on the spiritual principle of resisting every attempt at scattering.
The church in Jerusalem did not succumb to this temptation, but rallied together in earnest prayer and love, not for Peter only but for the will and glory of their Lord.
The Victory In Jerusalem
"But prayer ...". Here is the spiritual answer to a spiritual challenge, and very much depended on the out-come. If the victory had not been won at Jerusalem, if the saints had been scattered, disheartened and defeated, what would have happened to the Word of God? The real battle was concerning the release of that Word. The supreme concern was not what should happen to the church in Jerusalem, nor even what should happen to Peter; what really mattered was what should happen to the Word of God. When the saints gathered for prayer at Mary's home, though they probably did not realize it, they were fighting out the battle of world-evangelization, of the growth and multiplication of the Word of Christ. There are two "buts" in this chapter. The first of them was the responsibility of the of the church: they refused to be moved. satan was attempting to overthrow, to scatter, to destroy love and to turn faith into despair, when he was suddenly checked by a mighty spiritual resistance - "But prayer ..." It was a turning point. The whole course of events was arrested, and there followed a blessed sequence of Divine acts of deliverance. It was straight forward after this, for God had taken matters in hand, and was sweeping aside all opposition, that His people might be led out and onward to new triumphs. In verse 24 we have the great Divine "but," "BUT the word of God grew and multiplied." This was the answer to their praying; the first responsibility lay with them, then God took things up in a mighty way, and said "but" by releasing His Word far and wide.
Like the church at Jerusalem, we too, shall be confronted with attacks upon our faith, our patience and our love. If we do not resolutely face up to these personal and local conflicts, pressing through to victory in the Lord's Name, what hope is there of increase and multiplication? On the other hand, if we do take up the challenge as they did, by stemming the onrush of spiritual disaster with our "But prayer..." God will surely respond with His "but," and clear the way for increase and new fullness.
(continued with # 31 - (The Far-reaching Effects)