Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 18 2013 - Acts 12:1-23 – The God who answers prayer … as he pleases

In Acts 12 we read of a remarkable answer to prayer. Herod had seized James, the brother of John, and had executed him. When he saw how much this pleased the Jews, he had Peter thrown into prison, planning, no doubt, to do much the same with him as soon as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was over. This set the church praying earnestly for Peter to be spared.

Their prayers were answered and Peter was released from prison in the most dramatic fashion. An angel appeared in the prison and woke Peter with a blow to the chest. As he got up, Peter's chains fell off his wrists. He hastily got dressed and followed the angel. The prison doors then opened automatically before them (don't let anyone tell you that the automatic door was invented in the twentieth century), and Peter was led out into the town and into freedom.

Peter could hardly believe what was happening. He seems to have thought that it was all a dream – until, that is, the angel left him and he found himself wide awake, a short distance away from the prison and in the middle of a deserted street.

Peter immediately made his way to the house of John-Mark where many were meeting in prayer on Peter’s behalf. When he knocked at the outer gate, a servant girl Rhoda was so shocked to hear Peter’s voice that she ran back into the house without letting Peter in. Despite having been earnestly in prayer for Peter, no one could believe that Peter was actually free and standing on their doorstep!

It's easy to use this passage as a lesson in prayer: if we are only sufficiently earnest in prayer, God will answer us – meaning that he will give us what we ask for. But wait a minute. Peter was not the first person Herod laid his hands on. James was first to be seized, and he was executed. Don't you think that the church was just as earnest in praying for James as they were for Peter? God does hear and answer prayer, but it's not always to grant the things we ask for, even if we ask for them most earnestly.

We need to be earnest in prayer, but we need also to be humble and submissive before God. We need to admit that we do not always understand God's ways; we do not understand why he so often seems slow to answer our prayers. Nor do we understand why God answers some prayers in astonishing and miraculous ways while other prayers remain unanswered. It will not do to suggest that unanswered prayer is the result of defective praying. We need to learn simply to trust God even when we do not understand his ways. And we can trust him and rest in the certainty of his care for us – for he gave his Son for us.

In his book, God on Mute, Peter Greig, writing from the painful experience of unanswered prayer, says, “I don't know why your prayers haven't been answered. But I do know that the very best thing about our lives – the most incredible thing we've got going for us – is that the Creator of a million stars is entirely and eternally good, that He is utterly caught up in the details of our situation, and that He cares for us more than we care for ourselves.”

Father God, you have given your Son for us and assured us that with him you will freely give us all things. Help us to trust you even when we walk in darkness and in the shadow of death, knowing that you have not left us in the dark concerning your love. Thank you that the day will come when darkness will be swallowed up in the blaze of your glorious light and we shall know you even as we are known by you.

Peter Misselbrook