2022 Countdown of the top ten most viewed posts. This post was first published August 30, 2022.
Why do we pray? Jesus told us, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).” In this statement, it doesn’t say what will given, what will be found and what will be opened, only that God will respond. Jesus added God will give “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (verse 13).”
There are things we want in life and there are things God plans. At times it is difficult to understand why something happens. In Acts 12, Herod “had James the brother of John put to death with a sword (2).” Then he imprisoned Peter and placed him under heavy guard. “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God (5).” It doesn’t say specifically what they prayed for, but that they were praying for Peter. They may have prayed to strengthen Peter as he was about to appear before Herod, or they could have prayed for his release after they learned Herod killed James.
Either way, the church was astounded with what happened next. They were in fervent prayer as God made a way for Peter to escape from prison, which was no small thing. “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison (6).” His chains fell off and he walked away undetected to “the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying (12).” There they were praying when Peter shows up at their front gate.
A servant tells them Peter is at the front gate, but they respond, “You are out of your mind (15)!” Isn’t that like us? We pray fervently for impossible things that only God can do and when he answers that prayer, we are surprised. Mary said when she learned she would give birth to Jesus, “For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).” After Jesus’ disciples asked him “who can be saved,” he responded, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God (Mark 10:26-27).”
When we look at situations in our life that seem hopeless or people who struggle with trials, it seems there is nothing we can do about it. Like Peter locked in prison under heavy guard, it seems it is impossible to change things. We see people we love reject Jesus and it seems there is nothing we can do to save them. Yet it is that moment of helplessness when we realize there is nothing we can do — that we must turn to God in prayer, fervent prayer. It is a moment of faith where we turn over our will, our desires to God. In that moment we turn to faith in God. We trust Him to do what he sees fit.
If we hold to that faith, cling to God’s plan, continually seeking to align our will with God’s will; praying expectantly that God will move in a powerful way; we can earnestly pray, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done (Matthew 26:42).” It was a hard thing for the church to swallow that God let Herod kill James, yet they were shocked when he helped Peter escape what was likely the same fate. The act of prayer is an act of humbling ourselves before God, seeking to know His will and learning to trust Him.