INMATES FOR THE GOSPEL
There are barriers between us and others—socially, economically, and of power. Prayer can radically change that. There are few stories that more wonderfully show this than the earthquake caused by prayer in Acts 16:25–40. And God still works just as miraculously today—I know from first hand experience.
In Philippi, a Roman colony, Paul and Silas were falsely accused of advocating for customs that were unlawful for Roman citizens (Acts 16:21). They were then beaten and thrown in prison (Acts 16:22–24). In prison around midnight, Paul and Silas start praying and singing hymns to God. Suddenly, an earthquake happens—shaking the prison, loosening the bonds of the prisoners, and opening the doors (Acts 16:25–26).
Then things get a little Graeco-Roman crazy before getting even better. The Philippian jailer ashamed of what has occurred draws his sword to kill himself—the honor and shame culture of the Roman Empire essentially demanded such an action (Acts 16:27). Because it’s dark, he doesn’t realize that all the prisoners are still present, so he hasn’t lost his honor yet. The jailer, so shocked, directly asks Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30 ESV). To which, they answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31 ESV). The jailer tends to the wounds of Paul and Silas, his household hears the gospel, and his whole household is baptized (Acts 16:32–33).
There is a barrier of power between Paul and the Roman guard, yet prayer overcomes it. The headline of the day, “Inmate Converts Jailer to Crazy Christianity.”
The police come the next day, proclaiming for some unexpected reason that Paul and Silas are to be set free—according to the local officials. Now this is where a normal person would just skip town. But Paul, perpetually bold and insistent upon justice, demands that the local officials come and apologize to him and Silas. He cites his Roman citizenship for the reason, which instills fear in the officials since their citizenship would have guaranteed Paul and Silas a fair trial. And due process was lacking. The local cronies apologize. Paul then hangs around for awhile, encouraging local Christians before departing (Acts 16:35–40).
THE MIRACLE WORKING POWER OF PRAYER
Now we all know of the sad and painful earthquakes that cause so much pain in our world—but here we see an example of God causing and using an earthquake for good. God shakes the earth for good, in this instance in Acts.
Prayer’s power is not limited to first-century jail cells. At my local rescue mission I have seen prayer overcome the language barrier. I remember an English-speaking man miraculously praying for a Spanish-speaking man in Spanish. Others then told the English-speaking man that they were shocked that he spoke Spanish; just for him to answer, “I don’t.” He didn’t even know he had been speaking Spanish.
In northeast India, I saw prayer turn a distraught and angry young man into a person full of joy, as his kidney failure was miraculously healed. Also in India, I saw a woman who had been paralyzed for quite some time miraculously walk again. Did the earth shake that day too? In the power of the Holy Spirit, it sure seemed so.
In Colorado, I saw prayer stir a man to seek God’s calling on his life—all the fear and trepidation that had been holding him back suddenly disappeared. And the earth sure seemed to shake that day.
Prayer works—and it works everywhere. May the earth shake everywhere! May the world hear the gospel yelling, crying—speaking truth! May the Holy Spirit reshape our world. May it loose the prisoners! May it set the captives free! May it bring the man in power and the man on the underside of that power together!
THE LONG JOURNEY AHEAD
Yet, when I look at my own life, I realize that experiencing prayer is not a magic cure. A life of prayer requires discipline. Despite all the times I have experienced God’s incredible work through prayer, I realize that my prayer life is often more like a desperate request for water when I am thirsty than a desire to backpack with the right amount of water.
We’ve all felt dehydration before. I experienced it in the deeps of Bryce Canyon and on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (that was twice in one trip, what was thinking?). But the most drastic moment was in Bihar, India. We had been in a remote village all day and the people from the village were so excited to see us that it was like that scene one of the Gospels describes, where the people were crushing in upon the house to see Jesus. The simple reason was that we had brought the gospel to town.
But the madness of the moment meant that I was stuck in the back of a building all day, with only one bottle of water. It was hot and humid. And I was far from acclimatized. I later experienced such severe dehydration that when I attempted to drink water I would vomit.
This is what prayer life is like for many of us. We have these moments of incredible spiritual experiences—when the whole village comes out. But we neglect to prepare for the moment or the aftermath. And then when the high of the moment drops—after we were so surprised to see God show up—we find that we’re empty. We then look to prayer again, but instead of prayer making us feel well, we feel like we’re going to vomit. The reason: A massive intake of God all at once means a rapid and radical change in our lives. It means our depleted cells waking up at shocking speed.
The demand for change is too much for many of us, so we slowly find ourselves in our mistakes again. And then we drift farther from the God we love. We fail to pack the water in once more. We fail to sick with Jesus. But somehow, God still shows up—we make it out. Deep down, though, we know that God is showing up because He is that good. It’s not because we were prepared. We have continued to neglect our relationship with our Maker. We are still thirsty; we are once again dehydrated. We know what to do, but we fail to do it.
The answer to this dilemma is rather simple: pack water with you. Pray in everything. Realize that prayer is not like a constant high. Just like any relationship, a lot of it is about just going through life with someone. And God wants to go through life with you.
Paul says in his letter to the Philippians—the same community where he was jailed—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanking let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Let your requests be known friends. The earth needs to shake.
The Table is gathering for worship at the Walters this Sunday, June 26th at 5:30pm (contact us for directions). As usual, we’ll start w/ a shared meal, so bring something to share. This week’s meal theme is “Summer Food.” From the meal, we will conclude our Pentecost study on prayer by looking at the prayers of Daniel.
Hope to see you there!
Today, I want us to consider 1 Kings 16:29 through chapter 18. So grab a Bible and turn to 1 Kings 16:29. At The Table during this season of Pentecost we are examining the heroes of prayer. And the prophet Elijah has made our top 5 list. Elijah was a man of prayer, which made him a man of confidence, and a man of hope. In this account we see Elijah in action. b/c of the evil of king Ahab, Elijah, by the power of God, stopped the rain. For context lets 1st look at 1 Kings 16:29. It says:
29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
b/c of Ahabs evil ways, God acts. And it says in 17:1: Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab: As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. There were consequences for Ahabs actions. Yet, in the midst of famine and drought, God provides for Elijah. In 17:2-6, God hides Elijah in a secret oasis, where he is cared for. And when the oasis dries up, God blesses a widow and her son through Elijah and provides for them all in 17:7-24.
Meanwhile the land remains dry, b/c, through Elijah, God is proving Himself to Ahab and the nation. And after a time of waiting, it is time for Wrestle Mania, where God exposes these fake gods to His people. Drop down to 1 Kings 18. v. 1 says: After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land. 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Drop down to v. 17:
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him: Is that you, you trouble maker of Israel? 18 I have not made trouble for Israel, Elijah replied. But you and your fathers family have. You have abandoned the Lords commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebels table.
God is picking a fight, a fight that will prove His worth to His people, calling them back to Himself, b/c He desires relationship w/ His people.
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said: How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.
Its as if Elijah says: Lets set up a scientific experiment and see the results. The true God will show Himself. The proof is in the pudding.
But the people said nothing. 22 Then Elijah said to them: I am the only one of the Lords prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baals prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire -he is God. Then all the people said: What you say is good.
The people accept the terms of the contest, so Elijah lays out the rules. He says to the prophets of Baal in v. 25:
Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire. 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. Baal, answer us! they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. Shout louder! he said. Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.
Or as the NLT says: Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.
28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Like my friends from the coffee shop, and many others today, these prophets of Baal believed in a god that was distant. So they felt they must convince their god to act. Frantically calling out, and harming themselves, just to get their gods attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, Come here to me. They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. The people of Israel had apparently disassembled the altars of God that were throughout the land. So the following verses describe the rebuilding of Gods altar:
31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying: Your name shall be Israel. 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them: Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood. 34 Do it again, he said, and they did it again. Do it a third time, he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
Now, I know there are some seriously, experienced woodsmen in the room today. My guess is that the 1st thing you all do when preparing your campfire is to entirely drench your dry wood w/ gallons of water, right? No, of course not. But that is what Elijah does. Elijah wants to make sure the people of Israel know w/o out a doubt that God is acting and there is no trickery.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.
Elijahs prayer is solely focused on the glorification of God and His plan of redemption, not to prove Elijahs competence, or that Elijah was right, but so that God would be seen in His glory. What a wonderful focus of prayer! May our prayers move from focusing on our wants to His greatness!
What was the result of this faithfulness? 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. The science experiment is over, the champion of Wrestle Mania has been crowned. And: 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried: The Lord -he is God! The Lord -he is God! And then, the prophets of Baal are destroyed, and God in the face if Ahabs defeat, tells Elijah to prepare Ahab for rain, and by the will of God the land is drenched w/ rain.
The good news we see in this passage is that God is powerful and created us to be in relationship w/ Him. He desires to be close to His people. In the face of disobedience, God allowed the consequences of Ahabs leadership to come to pass in a famine. And then God called His people to witness the realities of serving fake gods. God invited His people to come close and witness His power in this miracle of consuming fire, followed by rain on a weary land. The good news is that God is powerful and created us to be in relationship w/ Him.
 Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Ki 18:30). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Please join The Table in worship this Sunday, June 19 at 5:30pm, at the Walters’ (contact for directions). We’ll start with a shared meal. This week’s meal theme is “Soups and Salads,” bring a dish if you are able. We will then look at 1 Kings 17-18, and consider the prayer focus of Elijah. Invite a friend; everyone is welcome!
The Table turned 6 years old over the weekend! It is hard to believe that 6 years ago a group of about 40 gathered in our small living room to eat, sing, pray, and study scripture (I “preached” while sitting on my laundry hamper). We have done some incredible things over that time. We have thrown some epic parties for neighbors (campfires, game nights, movies, and other shenanigans). These gatherings have facilitated awesome relationships, while also allowing those outside our church to familiarize themselves relationally. Over the last 6 years we have grown in our discipleship of Jesus (through scripture study, prayer, sharing, and hanging out together). We have also blessed our neighborhood in very tangible ways (organizing produce exchanges and beautification projects, cleaning the homes of disabled and elderly folks, and moving/packing low income neighbors). God has allowed us to do some cool stuff over the last 6 years.
Also over the weekend was the biggest mass shooting in recent US history, leaving 49 dead and more wounded. This tragedy exposes the darkness of our world. It exemplifies the “us” versus “them” reality on so many levels. It has been already used by many to reassert their political and social points. But most of all, it just leaves me sad. What an awful, awful event.
As I consider our local celebrations and national tragedies that happened over the weekend, I cannot help but reflect further. God has allowed our church to do some cool stuff over the years, but we do not do these things so that we can simply do cool things or grow personally. We exist as a church because we believe we have good news to share to a broken world, and partner with Him in His work of redemption. We place our hope in Jesus as the answer to the brokenness around us. Christ is the center of our church, and our lives. We exist to glorify Him and to share His love with those around us, to share His peace in the face of tragedy, to share His hope in a better reality. Our prayer is that God would continue to move among us, as individuals and a church, in our relationships, and in world around us.
May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth just as it is in heaven.
The Table is turning 6 years old! To celebrate, we are throwing a party. Join us at 5:30pm, on Sunday June 12th at Fairhaven Park (107 Chuckanut Dr.). We’ll gather in the pavilion closest to the playground. Bring a dish to share, and we’ll eat, pray, say a few words, but mostly just hang out. The spray park will be on, so kids, bring a swim suit.
Come celebrate w/ us!
The Table is gathering for worship, this Sunday, June 5th, starting at 5:30pm at the Walters (contact for directions). We will begin with a meal. Our theme this week is Mexican food; bring something to share is you are able. We will then continue our Pentecost study on prayer, and look at the life of Jehoshaphat. Invite a friend; everyone is welcome!
See you soon!
The Table will not be gathering for worship on May 29. Our next worship gathering will be June 5th, at the Walters.