The Difference Prayer Makes
A daily devotion for May 30th
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. Acts 12:5
As we review the events of Acts 12:1-19, a question comes to mind; Why was James killed (see verses 1-2), and Peter delivered? Could God not have saved James as well? There is no question that he could have. Well, why didn't he? The only answer that this chapter suggests is found in Verse 5. Peter was kept in prison, just as James. But the difference was that earnest prayer to God was made for Peter by the church, and as a result, Peter was set free. You say,
What difference does it make? Couldn't God just have set Peter free anyhow? If God determined that James would die and Peter would be set free, what difference did the prayer of the church make?
But let us never forget what James (not this James, but Jesus' brother, who wrote The Epistle of James) says:
You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). In his wisdom God has designed that his people shall participate in what he does. He is impressing upon his people here that when danger threatens the program of God, or the people of God, it is a call to prayer. God will hear that prayer and answer it and set people free, when he would not have done so otherwise.
This is the great lesson of this chapter. We are not to take the events of our day for granted, as though there were nothing we could do about them. Prayer becomes a mighty, powerful thrust on the part of the people of God, to change events. Prayer is the most natural response of a heart that is dependent upon God. If you are really counting upon God to do something, then you will pray about it. You will trust him; you will communicate with him. If you are not counting on him, you will not pray. If you are really counting on something else, or on someone else — if you think that by your own clever maneuvering you can get out of a situation, or if you are trusting other human beings to come through — you will not pray.
The basic motive of prayer is a sense of dependence. If you really think that God, and God alone, can work, and that there are elements of a situation in which only he can change things — then you pray. This is what happened to this early church. When they realized that James had been put to death, and that this vicious attack of the enemy could be successful, it suddenly crystallized in their minds that they had a part to play in God's program. They were to go to God in earnest prayer that Peter might be delivered. And God set him free in a wonderful way.
This passage highlights for us what prayer does, and that is basic for us to learn today. God works in the same way today as he did in these first century days, and he will respond to our prayers in very much the same way.
Father, teach me how to pray. I don't always need to know what to pray for, but I do so desperately need to pray. I need to pray for others; to pray about the dangers that beset us as a nation and as a world. Help me to open my heart and be honest before you. I know that in the mystery of prayer, a mystery that I cannot fathom, something is happening that makes possible the activity of your Spirit to work in unusual ways, ways that otherwise would never happen.
Life Application: When prayer is worship, the focus is on the character and will of God. Are we learning to worship Him by praying Jesus' prayer: '....nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done'?
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