It’s been several weeks since Bro. Harlan preached the message from Acts chapter twelve that he called, “The Power of a Praying Church.” And still the lesson that sticks with me is the surprised reactions of those prayer warriors. What lessons can God’s answers teach us?
So you don’t have to flip over to Acts 12 in your Bible (although reading scripture is always a good practice), I’ll summarize the story. It begins in verse one with Herod getting annoyed with the church in Jerusalem and arresting their pastor, James bar Zebedee.
James died, and his death pleased the Jews so much that Herod was emboldened to arrest Peter. This was during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. While Peter was chained to a pair of soldiers day and night, the members of his church were praying. Scripture says their prayer was instant and fervent (Acts 12:5).
We’re not told what the church prayed. They prayed for Peter. Perhaps they prayed that God would grant him peace. It seemed that was the case because Peter was fast asleep in the dungeon when the angel came to free him from prision.
Surely, they prayed that God would free him, though, right? Scripture is clear that Herod planned to execute him that very day. No one in church wanted that.
If, however, they were praying for God to release Peter, how much did they believe it would happen? How much do we believe God will answer our petition to cure our loved one’s cancer? The answer is in our response.
Faith is believing, right? So when we read that the church members who’d been praying for Peter’s release didn’t believe that God had delivered him to their door, we should assume they weren’t praying in faith.
But, wait. One condition for God to answer prayer is that it must be prayed in faith. So if God answered, then the prayers must have been uttered with at least a mustard seed of faith, right?
Still, they told our girl Rhoda (we’ll talk about HER response to the answered prayer later) that she was mad and must be imagining things. Didn’t they hear the knocking? Didn’t they hear a familiar voice calling out from the other side of the door?
How often do we treat God’s miraculous answers with disbelief? Like there must be some sort of mistake. Maybe there wasn’t ever any cancer because surely stage four couldn’t disappear in a month with only two chemo treatments and unceasing prayer!
In verse sixteen of our text in Acts, the Bible tells us that when the church members finally opened the door and saw Peter, “They were astonished.”
I’d really love to give these brothers and sisters of mine the benefit of the doubt. They were surprised to find Peter at their door in the middle of the night because who comes over at that time of day? Except, I don’t think that’s why they were shocked.
Hadn’t they just been earnestly praying for Peter’s safe release from Herod? Didn’t they believe God had the power to answer their prayer? But if Peter thought the whole episode was a vision until he found himself standing alone in the deserted city streets, we shouldn’t be too hard on the people he led.
How often have we been shocked that God said yes to our petition? In the case of a cure for cancer, that is a shocking thing, but what about when we ask for the money to stretch to the end of the month? Are we surprised when God answers a simpler request?
Too often, I must nod. I don’t know if it’s because I’m certain I don’t deserve God’s goodness or what, but many times I’m agog when God gives me what I ask for…and often He gives MORE than I ask.
It’s Peter who tells them what to do with God’s answer to their prayers.
“Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren.”Acts 12:18
And it was Rhoda who had the correct, God-honoring response when she first recognized their answered prayer standing on the porch. She was glad. She ran back to tell everyone how God answered their prayer.
“It’s a miracle!” I imagine her shouting. “Peter is at the door right now! God answered our prayers.”
“Shush,” some said, “we’re praying.”
“You’re crazy!” said some others.
“You’ve got to be seeing things! That’s not how God answers prayer.”
How many times have you been the naysayer? I’ll be brutally honest. Many times I’ve thought these things. Rather than rejoicing with Rhoda, I get on the bandwagon of disbelief and astonishment.
What about you? Have you praised the Lord for answering your prayers?