I wonder how many of us pray for something without really expecting anything to change. Let me clarify and say that I don’t believe we should feel guilty if that has happened. In fact, that is exactly what I see happening to the “many” who were praying at Mary’s house in Acts 12. If you and I were in their place, we’d be gathering to pray as well. James had just be killed by Herod, Peter was in prison; the leaders of their church were in trouble and prayer seems like a perfectly reasonable response.
But notice what happens. Peter is rescued from prison by an angel, he knocks on the door sometime during the night and is left waiting outside while the excited Rhoda runs to tell the others that Peter has arrived. What is their response: “What is wrong with you girls? What you are saying is impossible. Peter is in Herod’s prison! You are out of your mind.” I wonder if Peter’s predicament had been part of their prayer list for that evenings prayer meeting. I bet it had been. It seems to me that they weren’t really expecting the solution that came about.
One small clarification here. When they finally let Peter into the house, he shares his story and then says “Report these things to James and the brothers…” In case you said: “Wait a minute, James was killed by Herod” let me point out that there are two James’. The first is James the Apostle, brother of John, and then there is James, the brother of Jesus. While Jesus’ brother James first rejected him as the Messiah (see Mark 6), he later became a leader in the church in Jerusalem.
Back to my main point. I have always thought that expectancy should be one of the basic characteristics of Christians everywhere. We should be like excited children who can’t wait to get to the Christmas presents. We should be sitting on the edge of our seats saying: “Oh man, I can’t wait to see what He does next.” Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think we should feel guilty when we pray without really expecting God to do anything, we’ve all done it, and this lovely story from Acts 12 assures us that even the first believers had trouble with this whole “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24) concept that Jesus taught.
I do believe, though, that we can foster and nurture a spirit of expectation, especially in terms of prayer. First there is the several promises in scripture that God hears and answers us, like the one I listed above. But there is also the experience of answered prayer. If you have a hard time expecting answers to prayer, then may I suggest you keep a journal of your prayer life, the things you ask for and the answers God gives you.
I’ll share a story to close that I heard from a pastor friend of min. The people in this story attend his church. There was a woman who came to be a Christian through a friend and started to go to church. Her husband was not a believer, in fact he didn’t put much stock at all in this God stuff. He decided it was his job to rescue his wife from her foolishness. He gave her a journal and asked her to keep track of those things that she asked for in prayer and the way God answered them. He thought that this would be a very practical way to show her the folly of her new faith. After about a year, he asked her to see her journal, hoping to find the pages that were supposed to hold God’s answers all blank. Instead, he found a miraculous catalog of God’s answers to his wife’s prayers over the previous year. Her husband became a believer because of that journal.
God delights in giving good gifts to his children.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 13-14