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What Does God Say When People Pray
(part 2)
Acts 12:12-17 

 

For thirteen extraordinary days in October of 1962, the world stood on the brink of an unthinkable catastrophe. Across the globe, people anxiously awaited the outcome of a harrowing political, diplomatic and military confrontation that threatened to end in an apocalyptic nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

There is an interesting late night scene in "Thirteen Days," the movie that chronicles the events. Kenny O'Donnell, an advisor and friend of President Kennedy, is walking down the street and passes a Catholic church, when he sees a long line of people in front of the church. He looks to see why people are lined up when he sees a sign that says, "Confessions 24 hours. Pray for peace."

Kenny stops. Pauses. And then gets in line.

God's ear is always open when we come to him in prayer. We don't have to wait in line, and we don't have to wait for catastrophe. Under any circumstance prayer is always the best thing to do. (Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html ) Yet, can any of us deny that we are more likely to pray during times of deep distress. 

The Psalmists knew the comfort from praying when distressed. He wrote: " In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears." Psalm 18:6 NIV

In Acts 12, the New Testament Church was distressed. In Acts 12:1 Peter, one of the apostles and church leaders in the church of Jerusalem, was imprisoned. The verse says, "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them."

King Herod's intent to persecute the Christians should not be taken lightly. Remember what happened in Matthew 14:6-10 between Herod and another prominent church leader? Let's read it. "On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much [7] that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. [8] Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." [9] The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted [10] and had John beheaded in the prison."

Herod was a vicious man, he certainly was not to be taken lightly. He'd already killed James, John's brother. Polling data told him the majority of the citizens approved of that action so he captured Peter.

Herod was serious about guarding Peter. He assigned four shifts of four soldiers to the detail, chaining Peter to two of them. Herod's intent was to give him a fair trial then kill him after the Passover.

Peter was in a fix. He needed help. He needed a miracle. He needed God.

The church responded. "So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." Acts 12:5 NIV

Really, the church is at its best during times of crisis. Let someone's house burn down, and we respond with prayer, and practical assistance. But that same person can sit in the same house for years, lonely, troubled, silently suffering and we may not utter a prayer for her or lift a hand to comfort her. 

Why? We're humans, and we tend to leave for another day what can be left for another day. What isn't urgent is neglected.

This was urgent. Not only did the people love Peter, they needed him. He was their Pastor, so they gathered for "earnest prayer." The prayer was earnest, no doubt, but it wasn't terribly optimistic. 

Do you trust in your God to answer your prayers during catastrophe? Do you think He will answer you, or do you think he will put you on hold?

As soon as Jeni noticed flames leaping closer to her South Surrey (British Columbia) home, she called 911. A recording answered and asked Jeni to hold. 

"My wife was panicking," said her husband Hilmar. "There were propane tanks in our garage. She thought they might explode." Jeni thought she had dialed a wrong number. 

"You don't expect to call 911 and hear a message," she said. So she hung up and called again. 

"All operators are busy. Please hold on and wait for the next available operator," the message said. She hung up and dialed a telephone company operator, who, after a couple of delays, connected her to the Surrey fire department. 

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum promised to investigate. "It's always been indicated that you never get put on hold when you dial 911," he said. "Every second counts. We'll look into this."(Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html

When we come to God in prayer, we never have to worry that He is unavailable. He is always there in our time of need.

Isn't that the way it is during times of catastrophe? We pray, because we don't know what else to do, but we don't necessarily think God will do anything about the situation. We're afraid He'll let us down.

But God didn't let Peter down.

The night before Peter's trial, he slept, chained between two guards, when the Angel of the Lord appeared and awoke Peter. When he awoke, Peter followed the angel's instructions. Half awake and half asleep, he put on his robe and sandals and walked with the angel past two sets of guards, out of the prison. The angel escorted him to the city gates, the iron gates opened by themselves and Peter walked into the city, and when he did, the angel left him and Peter was left standing alone a free man.

Where do you think he went?

He went to where he knew people would be praying for him, he went to Mary's house. Let's see what happened next by reading Acts 12:12-17 "And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. [13] And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. [14] And when she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. [15] And they said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, 'It is his angel.' [16] But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. [17] But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, 'Report these things to James and the brethren.' And he departed and went to another place.'"

Rhoda, the servant-girl, sat listening to the prayers of the church for Peter. When the knock came at the door, she ran to answer it. Who would it be? Another member of the church coming to pray? The Romans coming to break up the prayer meeting and arrest others? No. She recognized his voice, it was Peter. Overfilled with joy, she failed to let Peter in, but instead, ran to tell the adults that Peter was there.

They didn't believe her. They said she was crazy. But she insisted. They explained it away by saying it was an angel. But Peter kept knocking, so finally the adults went and opened the door and sure enough, it was Peter. Can you imagine the chaos? Instead of going to find out what really happened, they stood their arguing among themselves. More opinions than faith! Sound familiar?

Finally, they answered the door and let Peter in. He didn't stay long, just long enough to tell them to pass the word along and he left.

What does God say when people pray during times of catastrophe? Praise God, sometimes, he intervenes. Even when we are slow of faith.

The Psalmist wrote, "In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free." (Psalm 118:5 NIV) A verse that must have run through Peter's mind as he walked through the city gates to Mary's house. The Psalmist also wrote, "When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted." (Psalm 138:3 NIV) A boldness Rhoda experienced as she stood up to the adults when they doubted her word.

What does God say, when people pray?

Psalm 50:15 NIV says, "and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." 

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