I doubt anyone would dispute the fact that the United States is in serious trouble right now as we face a myriad of problems, from shootings on high school campuses to ethical and moral breakdowns in our society.

But as we look at the spiritual condition of our nation, one thing is clear: the remedy is not political. While I believe all Christians should be involved in the political process by exercising their right to vote, we need to also recognize that political solutions will not solve the real problems of our country.

This is where the church comes in, and specifically, where you and I come in. Yet I fear that many in the church today have the right ideas but are going about them in the wrong way. For the most part, the church has abandoned the very message that is so desperately needed at this critical time in our history.

In a day when we ought to engage our culture with the one truth that has any hope of transforming it, many of us have turned aside to fight the world on its own terms and with its own strategies. However, the front line of this battle is in the proclamation of the gospel, and one of the most powerful weapons God has given us is prayer.

Consider the early church. They faced a daunting task as they sought to reach their culture and their world. With no political base to speak of, no voting bloc in the Roman senate, and not one Roman emperor (with the exception of Constantine) who was sympathetic toward the church, these first-century believers dramatically impacted their culture.

Acts 12 gives us a classic example of why the early church turned its world upside down—and why we don't today. As the chapter opens, we find Herod, the consummate politician, harassing the church. James was put to death—the first of the apostles to be martyred—and Peter was arrested next. Things were looking bleak. James was gone. Peter was probably going to be gone. It was a horrible situation.

What did the church do? Something we don't do enough of these days. They prayed. "Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church" (v. 5). Though all other doors were closed, one remained open: the door of prayer. This was—and is—the church's secret weapon. Let's consider what made their prayers effective.

They directed their prayers to God.

Often in prayer, we'll flippantly throw out a request without thinking about whom we're addressing. God is not our butler in heaven or our vending machine in heaven. He is our Father in heaven. He is God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the perfect and holy God. If we would think about that for a moment, it would change the way we pray.

They prayed with intensity.

The phrase, "constant prayer," could be translated, "they prayed earnestly." Another way to translate it is, "they prayed stretched-outedly." They were grasping and reaching out for the throne of God. Prayer that prevails is prayer into which we put our souls, stretching out toward God with an intense and agonizing desire.

They prayed in unity.

Constant prayer was offered by the church. There is power in united prayer. The idea here is not a group of people agreeing together. It is the idea of a group of people agreeing together for something that is the will of God (see Matthew 18:19–20).

They prayed with as much faith as they could.

It's evident from their amazement at Peter's release from prison (v. 16) that the church prayed with some doubts. While they prayed fervently and they prayed together, they also prayed with doubt.

Some would say that a lack of faith will cause your prayer to go unanswered. But even when we don't have all the faith we should, God will more than meet us half way. We must come with as much faith as we have and leave the rest in the hands of God.

Look at how things changed for the early church as a result of prayer. As chapter 12 concludes, Herod dies. It is amazing how circumstances changed. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing. It closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing. That is how prayer works. That is why we need to pray.