The Conflict of the Ages (continued)
Let us see where this was all wrought out. On the one side, Herod - wicked, wicked Herod, with all the cruelty of his long history, going back to Esau; the Jews, delighted that action was being taken against the followers of Jesus; the prison, the chains, the strong guard within and without - four quaternions of soldiers. These are things that represent great forces and great difficulty - all the things which are against. They are not just words; they are tremendous things, all of them, viewed from the natural standpoint. That is on the one side. On the other side, "an angel of the Lord:" and Herod, and the Jews, and the prison, and the chains, and the guard, are as nothing.
Where is is wrought out? In a prayer meeting, as it were right in between those two. Between the forces of hell and of heaven was the Church at prayer. The thing would not have happened otherwise. Those forces of evil would not have yielded to the heavenly authority of the ascended Christ through an angel, if it had not been for what was going on in that room. "But," it says, "prayer was made ... of the church ..." But ...But ... Away all the forces! Calculate them, take their full strength and meaning, and then put one word over it all - "But." "The Church prayed ..." And in response to that the angel - and all the other was as nothing.
The Church at prayer. What do you think about that? It says that "prayer was made earnestly," but that English word does not really convey the force of it at all. The Greek word means literally 'extendedly,' 'stretched out.' The Church prayed in a stretched out way; the Church was extended. satan was extended, heaven was extended, and these two powers came into collision because the Church was extended. It will never come about in any other way; it is just like that. What a tremendous thing is wrapped up with the Church at prayer!
As I dwell upon this story, many, many thoughts that are not in the story crowd into my mind. How different it might have been if the Church, instead of getting together and focusing upon the situation in oneness and in prayer like this, had said: 'Oh, if only Stephen had not said those things! If only so-and-so had been a little more discreet ... If only!' and a thousand other things of blame: blaming one and another and holding people responsible for this and putting it down to that, and that, turning in on themselves until they had got a whole situation of questions and reproaches and recriminations, and a 'case.' And the whole thing is sabotaged! Dear brothers and sisters, whenever this kind of thing happens we must look deeper. Behind all that is the strategy of Herod to frustrate the scattering of the fire. When the devil can get us turned in on ourselves and on our own problems, and upon one another's faults and weaknesses and failures, and so on, he has defeated the whole business of the Lord. You may pray and pray and pray, but if there is contradiction of division in the background, you pray in vain. The Lord will not come in.
They prayed as the Church in this 'stretched out' way. There is no other thing in mind; they are of one mind and heart. They are concentrated upon a satanic issue. There is a lesson in that. Oh, how our prayer is paralyzed by a thousand and one things which, if we only knew the truth, are not really the trouble - they are things that satan has got hold of. There may be faults. Was any one of the Apostles faultless? There may be weaknesses; but if only you are on the Lord's business, the Lord takes action.
(continued with # 11)