Have you ever prayed without really expecting an answer?
The Holy Spirit compels the church to not give up, or as Tom Petty would say, to not back down.
That’s something that is not just for the early church, this stuff is for us. You and I. God leads us to do certain things; to never give up.
Back at home we do this thing every winter where we make shoeboxes for children that are not as well off as you and I. Things in the boxes include crayons, coloring books, pencils, small toys, etcetera. We do this so that the kids have something on Christmas morning. We also include a letter to the child, and encourage them to write back.
I was working with a class of 4th and 5th graders, helping them make their boxes and such. After we finished making the boxes I told them to write a letter to the child they were making the box for. I had to tell them, though, that even though they were asking for them to write back, it was unlikely that they would receive a letter.
I remember one little girl was writing and she read hers out loud… “Dear Maggie, we’re praying for you but we aren’t expecting an answer…”
So, you see, to the kid reading that or to the parent reading that — it’s almost as if the person that wrote the letter has given up hope already.
I wonder how many times we have done that while praying.
You know, when we pray for something and before the prayer has even left our lips we don’t even expect an answer. We don’t even expect God to come through. Or, if you’ve told someone that you are going to pray for them and then you forget. Gosh, that happens to me all the time. And then you remember and you just kind of throw it up there. Saying, “oh yeah, by the way, Billy told me he was sick..” Is any of this making sense right now?
I think that is the basis of Acts 12.
You have a group of believers that are there together, praying for a need that is pretty urgent in the life of the church. But, I’m not so sure they believe their prayer is going to be answered. And, yet God actually does it. He answers their prayers. He performs a miracle. I think it has a lot to do with the idea of not giving up.
He sort of drops this in their laps because they are facing some pretty harsh stuff. They are going to be in chains, they’re going to be killed, all kinds of terrible things. There are just things that are going on where they have to believe. They never give up. They have to believe that God is going to come through for them.
And I believe that type of faith is something that we need as Christians.
It opens with telling us why we see doubt in believers’ minds.
Persecution is starting up. In the first act we read that the king kills James. Right after his death, verse three tells us that the Jewish leaders were pleased that he was killed. So, King Herrod sees this and he thing that this is a positive thing for his approval rating, if you will.
So, you have King Herod looking at the polls thinking, “Man, this is a good idea. I’m going to do this some more.” What does Herod do next? He locks Peter up. And He has the same expectations to do to Peter exactly what he did to James.
Verse 5: While Peter was in prison the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep. He was fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light inside the cell, and an angel appeared. The angel touched Peter on the side and said, “Quick, get up.”
So, they walked out of the prison and they were on their way. The chains fell off his wrists, and the angel told him to get dressed. The Word says the angel “ordered” Peter to put on his sandals and his robe and to follow him.
So, Peter did all of that. However, the entire time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize the realism of everything.
After that, they passed through the guard posts and then they got to large iron gate that opens to the city. I want you to picture this. Then the gate opened all by itself. It’s like they were walking out of Target or something and the doors opened automatically.
So what happens when they get passed the gate? The angel leaves. Then Peter finally figures it out this this was not just a vision, but it was the real deal.
I bet he was like, ”Man, God has really saved me this time. I thought I was going to end up like James and be killed. God, I really owe it to you this time.”
Then Peter went to his friends’ home. Where else do you go after something like this happens? I’ll go ahead and tell you this. If something like this happens to me, I’m making phone calls, updating my Facebook status and I’ll use every last one of the 140 characters I can use in a tweet. People would know about this.
So, Peter knocks on the door and the servant, Rhoda, goes to answer it. She is so shocked when she hears Peter’s voice that disregards the fact he wants in, and she runs back to the room where the people are gathered and exclaims, “Everyone, Peter’s at the door!”
Then the friends told Rhoda she was out of her mind. Rhoda wasn’t giving up hope, though. She was persistent. Peter’s friends finally decided that it had to be his angel at the door, because that is more plausible.
So, Peter is still knocking on the door — just standing there. They finally open the door, and the people are amazed! He motions them in and he tells them to tell James — different James, not the same James from the beginning, but James the brother of Jesus — what had happened.
So what does this have to say about never giving up?
Let’s go back to verse 5.
“While Peter was in jail, the church prayed earnestly for his life.”
If you pluck that verse out, you get the sense that these people are tremendous people of faith. Prayer warriors if you will. But, that is not the case here. We have to look at the whole context.
They just had a friend killed by Herod, so they don’t want another one killed. Also, when Peter shows up they are really surprised that their prayer has been answered. It’s one of two things right now. Either they were praying that the death would be quick and painless for Peter, or they were praying that he is released. With that being said, they are not too hopeful that it will happen.
What they don’t realize is God is giving Peter this sort of get-out-of-jail-free card.
They’re still praying, though.
So I thought about it some more.
Even though they were shocked with how things turned out with Peter showing up at their door, they are still at least going to the right place.
There is a message in there for us, and this is it.
God compels us when he says don’t ever give up. He compels us to pray, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s working.
I can for sure identify with that, can you?
I’m sure the followers of Jesus prayed for James before he was executed. He was still killed, though despite their prayers. I’m sure it messed with them a little bit and had them a little confused. Then they prayed for someone else in the same situation. I’m sure they had a little doubt.
I don’t know what you’re going through, but maybe you have prayed about some things and it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to and it is messing with you.
A few years ago my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I prayed every day for her. Today, she is still with me. However, I did the same thing when my granddad was diagnosed and he still died.
What’s up with that?
Maybe you’re in a relationship and you and the person you are with are constantly arguing and at odds with one another. You’ve prayed and you’ve given it to God but it isn’t working. What’s the point? It’s messing with you, isn’t it?
I’m going give you the secret to my prayer. I’m going to tell you how I resolved this issue with “unanswered prayer.”
I just tell myself that I have to pray like Jesus. There is nothing else I can do. Jesus, when he was in the garden before he was crucified, was praying that he didn’t have to go to the cross. He just didn’t want to go through the pain. Jesus cried out, “If there is any other way to go about saving humanity…let’s do that.”
Then he finished by saying, “if not my will, your will.” “If not my way, your way”
I wrote this prayer a while back. I try to pray it at least once a day. It’s main purpose is to put me in my place. It reads as follows:
As a follower of Christ I know that there is one way…the way of the cross. And if your way lines up with my way, praise God. But if it does not, I must still go the way of the cross. For I am called to be just a disciple of Christ, but called to die alongside Him. May God get the glory in whatever He chooses to do. I release myself to the Lord. Jesus, thank you for your ongoing love.
Your Will be done. Sometimes we know what that is, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can see it, sometimes we can’t. Our job, though, is not to determine when it is working and when it isn’t. It is simply to pray even if it seems like it is not working.
Cross Paths with God. Today.