Have you ever missed a call (whether you were screening calls, happened to be busy with something else, or just didn’t notice it), and then called the person back later? With caller ID, this is pretty common, but have you ever returned a call and your friend says something like, “What do you need?”, or “Why did you call?” Your response is, “What? You called me!”
I was talking about our lead pastor’s sermon one Sunday with our discipleship (“Next Steps”) pastor. The sermon was on Acts 12:6-17, where Peter was imprisoned and probably about to be executed, when he was rescued by an angel. In my opinion, the funniest part of this story is when he gets to the house where other followers of Jesus are praying for him, and they don’t believe the doorkeeper that he has been freed…despite the fact that they were probably praying for exactly that!
When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”
Acts of the Apostles 12:14-15 NLT
It is almost amusing to observe the discrepancy here between prayers and expectations, but when we ask God to act in our lives, and He chooses to do so, are we sometimes a little surprised? Do we ask, “Seriously? Did God really do that?”.
Our discipleship pastor compared the praying church (both in Peter’s day and in our own era) to getting a “phone call” back from God, like the example above. When we are caught off-guard by His intervention, and asking Him, “What are you doing?” or “What’s going on, here?”, we might imagine Him saying, “What? You called Me!”
So, before we are too quick to judge this first-century congregation, we would do well to evaluate our own lives. When we pray, are we aimlessly repeating the same thing or just going through the motions? (Jesus rebuked that sort of behavior in Matthew 6:7.) Are we just praying because we feel that we need to, without the faith that our prayers will be answered? Is prayer just a palliative exercise before the inevitable arrives? Do we keep looking for God to do something in a specific way, even as He provides for us in a different way that we did not expect?1
Or, do we pray with the firm confidence that God hears every single word (whether we feel His presence or not), and that He will absolutely answer every prayer in the best way that He chooses to, in both love and wisdom?
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
Hebrews 11:1 NLT
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God will always give us exactly what we pray for. While we work to better align our will with that of the Holy Spirit, there will still be times when we are asking for the wrong things. Sometimes, God’s answer will be “no”, often for a purpose greater than we can see at the time.
However, God often answers in the affirmative. He frequently says “yes” to our requests. (See 2 Corinthians 1:19-20, which talks about Jesus, the ultimate message of “yes” from God to humankind.)
Maybe we have become accustomed to God only answering what we consider to be “small” prayers, like for a traffic light to turn green or for that buzz on our phone to not be someone we are avoiding. Beyond that, though, have we built our trust up in Him to the point that we know He can work powerfully in prayers that are far bigger than us – far bigger than all of civilization put together? Are we willing to pray for revival, peace, or any one of the other things that the world needs, standing on the faith [confidence] that God hears and answers those prayers, too?
I hope that your prayers are bold, spoken as an adopted child of God to the Creator of the universe. At the same time, I pray that you have the faith to match those prayers, and that when God does amazing things in response, you won’t be surprised. When God answers, don’t be left forgetting what you asked Him about in the first place.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- This last point is my theory on why the believers in Acts were caught off-guard. As they prayed, perhaps they thought that God would intervene at the trial, or something else would happen to stop Peter’s execution. When Peter just showed up, that didn’t fit their expectations for how God would help him. ↩