Praying for prisoners
King Herod began to persecute the church.
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 12:1-5)
The church prayed for Peter and their prayers were answered.
Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. (Acts 12:6,7)
When a believer is imprisoned because of his faith we should pray for him. The church prayed for Peter and he was freed in response to their prayers. But should we just pray that the imprisoned believer be released? Paul might have held a different opinion.
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians he was in prison. He didn’t complain about his situation and ask them to pray that he be freed; he told them how God had used his imprisonment to enable him to preach the gospel to people who would not have heard it otherwise.
God has often allowed his followers to become imprisoned or enslaved in order to give them opportunities they would not otherwise have had. You probably know the story of Naaman the Syrian general who was a leper. Elisha cleansed him of his leprosy and he became a worshipper of God. But do you remember how he heard about Elisha in the first place?
Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:2,3)
If she had not been captured she would not have had the opportunity to tell Naaman about Elisha. Jesus told his disciples that when they were arrested for preaching it would be to give them the opportunity to testify to the truth.
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:17-20)
So how should we pray for those who are imprisoned? Of course we should pray for their release but first of all we should pray that they understand and accomplish the purpose for which God allowed them to be imprisoned. And if you ever face imprisonment for the gospel you need to remember that God is in control and has a purpose for what is happening to you.
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
God even used Peter’s imprisonment to give him an opportunity he would not have had otherwise.