“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.”-Acts 12:5-6 KJV
We need to understand the background story that led to the above verse before it can make a lot of sense to some of us. The Church at that time was undergoing very heavy persecution and while they were being persecuted and killed for the sake of Christ, it wasn’t God’s will that they get persecuted and killed. They may have initially ignored these things as “well, we are dying for God” but the enemy was capitalising on this to silence the Church. The Bible says
“And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also” – Acts 12:2-3 KJV
At that time, Herod was persecuting the Church and when he got hold of James, he killed him and nothing happened! Rather it pleased the people and he went ahead to arrest Peter. James didn’t die well, that was not God’s will for him. While he may have died a martyr, to live was a greater gain! The Church was at its infancy and the ministry of these men was greatly needed! One thing the devil does is to target men who are gifted and called to raise other men! James died just like that!
When Peter was arrested, the Church knew that this wasn’t just mere persecution, they suddenly realized it was not normal to lose such great men at that time. The Church went on prayers! This is where we begin our discussion! The Church didn’t just start praying, they have been praying, they have been meeting, they have been winning souls, they weren’t cold when James was killed. On the day James died, the Church was still hot but unaware! The arrest of Peter opened their eyes and they suddenly realized that this wasn’t normal! Peter would die by persecution but it wasn’t the time yet.
The Bible calls the kind of prayer they prayed “…Praying without ceasing”. The Greek word used here is “Ektenos” and this word appeared only two times in the New Testament. There is no other place this word was mentioned and ektenos means “to stretch”. They stretched the prayers regardless of how they felt at that time.
Ektenos is intensive labour in prayer, it requires energy and effort. It is unrelenting and continuous until there is a satisfactory answer. I love how other translations of the Bible translates this.
KJV – Pray without ceasing.
NIV – Earnestly praying.
AMP – Fervent and persistent prayer
MSN – Prayed for him strenuously
The second place this word was used in the Bible is in 1 Peter 1:22 which says “…see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:” – 1 Peter 1:22 KJV
The MSG translation says “like your life depends on it”. I don’t know why these words were connected to Peter even though he didn’t author Acts of the Apostle. If we can borrow from the words of Peter, we can say “the Church prayed like their lives depend on it” and of course, their lives depended on it. Peter was the same guy who preached the gospel and more than 3000 persons got saved! Peter was like the pioneer of Christianity and if Peter was killed at such a time, it would be a heavy blow on the Church. The Church had to pray without stopping, they had to pray their hearts out! That was the first time in the history of the Church such prayer was made.
Herod was not giving up, so the Church didn’t have to give up. They didn’t pray and relaxed saying “it is done”. They prayed until it was done. Many times we do programs that we call PUSH which is “Pray Until Something Happens” and we pray for thirty minutes and dismiss but these people prayed as long as Peter remained in custody.
At midnight when Herod was simply waiting for the rising of the sun to get Peter executed and as the Church continued to pray, an Angel entered the prison. Peter thought he was going to die, Peter didn’t believe this deliverance. Peter wasn’t out of the prison by faith, I am sure he already made his last prayer. Even while he was out of the prison miraculously, he thought he was dreaming until the angel left him! The Church was still praying.
When Peter located the house of Mary, the mother of John and knocked, a servant by name Rhoda came to see who was at the door and out of excitement caused by Peter’s voice, she ran back to spread the good news instead of opening the door and they never believed her. These were people praying for his release. This tells us something! As much as they were afraid and anticipated Peter’s death, their “stretched, ceaseless and life dependent” prayer, prayed in agreement and unity caused a change! This change had a ripple effect! The testimony didn’t end there.
There was a commotion in the Prison where Peter was previously held. When Herod ordered that Peter be brought to him, they had no explanation to his whereabouts. The miracle didn’t happen like that of Paul and Silas which shook the building, it happened silently! Some breakthroughs happen without a bang! The Church was praying without ceasing, they were praying as though their lives depended on it, there was no bang! But tremendous power was made available. Herod sentenced the soldiers to death! It still didn’t end there. Herod left the city and died a shameful death eventually!
This happened because the church saw a need like never before and addressed it in the place of ektenos prayer! I don’t know if we have gotten to that point where we dismiss prayer with so much analysis. We can never be wrong praying and what we don’t have answers to, we can fix it in the place of persistent prayer. This is a kind of prayer we don’t stop praying until we see the desired change.
James wrote in Chapter 5:16 of his letter “…the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16 NIV
You are righteous and therefore power is enforced when you pray. Don’t be too busy to pray, no prayer is too much and no time you put into prayer is waste! As the early church wanted to address the unrelenting Herod, they embarked into unrelenting prayer. Issues that are not meant to cease must be Settled with prayers that aren’t meant to cease until its course is fulfilled. It doesn’t just have to be ceaseless, it has to be heartfelt like our lives depend on it. Of course, this isn’t something you can manipulate. If your life doesn’t depend on it, you just can’t pray such prayer!
Finally, I’d like us to read somewhere else which didn’t use the word “ektenos” but talks about ceaseless prayer. We will conclude.
“pray continually” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV
The Greek word used here for “continually” is “adialeiptos” which means incessant. However, when understood in context, Paul was saying “Pray without any unnecessary break” but this isn’t the kind of prayer that was prayed in Acts 12. There was no break whether it was necessary or not and this was because they didn’t want to leave chances to time. Maybe, if they had gone on break, that might have been the time the sword would go on Peter’s head.
This is why the Message translation rendered it as “Strenuous” prayer. There was no time for comfort, there was no time to sleep, they weren’t relaxed or in a cosy environment but they persisted in prayer until the desired change came.
This may not be for everyone but I don’t know who is going through such a challenge that can’t be left to time, I don’t know who is between life and death, I don’t know who death sentence has been placed on, I don’t know who the doctor said will die in 24 hours, I don’t know the strategy the enemy wants to use against the Church that may put those who voice matter into a situation of life and death but if anyone can stand in the gap, if two, three, an assembly or the Church can stand in the gap and pray persistently, the earth will be shaken even in silence and the glory of God will be so visible that no dissenting voice can stand it.