Read His Words Before Ours!
Have you ever been surprised by an answer to prayer?
The people praying for Peter in this account from Acts certainly were!
Peter has been imprisoned for following Jesus, and as he waits for his public trial after the Passover celebration, the church is “praying fervently to God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
They are under no illusions about how the situation is likely to end for Peter. Herod Agrippa recently had the apostle James killed with a sword, and seeing the Jews’ resulting pleasure, has prompted Peter’s arrest. (Acts 12:1-2)
The church knows it is a matter of life and death, and so they pray desperately. Different translations of Acts 12:5 describe their prayers as constant, intense, earnest, persistent, continual, and without ceasing. This is prayer that is intentional and focused.
Consequently, God intervenes in a miraculous way. Awakened by an angel, Peter is told to get up. His chains fall off, the prison gates open, and the guards meant to be watching him closely seem oblivious!
The events are so unexpected that even Peter struggles to believe at first, but finally the truth sinks in.
“Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” (Acts 12:11)
Immediately, he goes to the house where he knows the believers have gathered to pray, which leads to a rather comical scene. Rhoda, the servant girl who answers the door, is so overwhelmed and overjoyed to hear Peter’s voice that instead of letting him in she rushes to tell the others, only to be met with astonishment and unbelief!
As they argue about whether or not it could possibly be true, the answer to their prayer is standing outside the door the whole time!
Finally, they let Peter in to see for themselves and hear his story, but it raises the question: if they were praying so fervently, so passionately, so continually, why were they so surprised when their prayer was answered?
I think I’ve gained insight into this over the last six months as I, and several others, have prayed earnestly and continually for a friend’s husband who is unwell. There has been so much prayer that my friend says her husband must be the most prayed-for man in the world!
Yet, despite our many prayers, he has deteriorated. His condition has been declared inoperable and, humanly speaking, it is only a matter of time.
We continue to pray for a miracle, yet I admit I would be surprised if my friend’s husband suddenly appeared at my door cured of his illness.
I don’t doubt for a moment that God can do it. I just have no idea whether He will.
I imagine the believers praying for Peter had similar thoughts. After all, James had been killed. Would praying for Peter really make any difference?
Yet, despite their uncertainty, they prayed; this act itself evidenced their faith, imperfect as it was.
They prayed because they knew they were helpless to fix the situation; they knew it was something only God could do. While their prayers may not have been rooted in perfect faith, God heard, and He answered.
As James writes, “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” (James 5:16)
The difficulty we often have with prayer is that it’s unpredictable. It doesn’t work according to a formula. It’s not about how much we pray or trying to find the magic phrase or perfect combination of words to unlock the miracle or the answer we seek.
In fact, it’s not about the quality of our prayers at all; it’s about the One to whom we are praying.
If our prayers are answered as we hope, as in Peter’s situation or when God healed Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-7), we rejoice and give thanks to God. Only He can do the impossible, and there is no credit we can take. The glory is His!
When our prayers are not answered as we hope, it doesn’t mean our prayers were lacking in flawless faith or that God doesn’t care. It doesn’t even mean our prayers are unanswered, simply that God’s purpose is different.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (Isaiah 55:8)
We can’t always understand God’s ways, but we can trust in His goodness. My friend’s husband may not be healed on earth, but we know that, because of his faith in Jesus, an eternal future awaits him, free from pain and suffering. In the meantime, we continue to pray.
Jesus urged His disciples to persistently keep on praying and trusting God’s character as a loving Father who longs to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7) Likewise, He invites us to partner with Him in His work, bringing our situations before Him with faith and confidence, trusting in His power and love, and confidently knowing He loves to hear and answer us.
Sometimes, as with those believers praying for Peter, the answers to our prayers can be even more amazing than we would ever have expected!
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!