Have you ever been praying for something, but then you realize you keep talking about the situation as if nothing is going to change?
Sometimes it’s really hard to believe things will change. Disappointments in the past can color the way we view our present circumstance.
I get tickled every time I read this story in Acts about Peter’s miraculous escape from prison. Oh, there was nothing funny about Peter’s arrest–especially since Herod had just had the apostle James put to death (Acts 12:2).
I’m sure at the time of Peter’s arrest, the early church feared for his very life.
“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying earnestly to God for him.”Acts 12:5, NIV 84
Praying with Expectation after Disappointment
I wonder what it was like for the believers that night as they prayed. This event occurred about ten years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. James had been beheaded just like John the Baptist. Stephen had been stoned.
The early church had witnessed persecution; but they had also witnessed miracles. In fact, they had seen the angel of the Lord deliver the apostles from jail before (Acts 5:17-42).
So here they were again, earnestly praying that God would intervene and save Peter’s life, yet knowing that God may choose not to should that be His will, as in the case of James and Stephen.
His Will or our Faith?
How do we hold that tension between faith that God will answer our prayer and the knowledge that it may not be His will? And why bother praying if God is going to do what He wants anyway?
Have you ever struggled with these thoughts?
I have prayed earnestly for a friend’s healing with faith and expectation, only to watch her die. But I have also prayed with fervor for a friend whom God chose to heal.
I’ll be honest. It messes with your head.
When we know God has the power to do something, but it’s not always His will, how do we continue to believe the next time in a way that exhibits faith?
Surprised by God
In our story with Peter, God does answer their pleas. Once again, an angel of the Lord shows up and leads Peter out of the prison. He finds his way to the house of John Mark’s mother, where many had gathered to pray.
“Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!'”Acts 12:13-14
This is where I get tickled. Here they have been praying all night for Peter’s release, but when he shows up, they slam the door in his face.
The Greek used here for servant girl signifies a young girl or damsel, not quite of marriageable age, so late childhood. She knew Peter’s voice, so she was familiar with the apostle and probably was part of the early church.
Rhoda knew they were witnessing a miracle and got so excited, she forgot to let Peter in!
Have you ever been surprised by God? Have you witnessed His answer before in a way that caused you to almost not believe it?
“‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.'”Acts 12:15
By this time, the church had witnessed great persecution. I’m sure they had prayed fervently for James the apostle, son of Zebedee. Yet their brother James, who had walked with Jesus as one of the Twelve, had been executed.
It’s so easy to become disappointed when our prayers don’t get answered the way we want. And sometimes we are afraid to believe again because we don’t want to experience the same heartache.
But God wants us to continue to believe Him to do the impossible. He doesn’t want us to give up on prayer. He wants us to trust Him.
Faith in God and Not in the Answer
With God, all things are possible, but not all things are within His plan for us. Rather than putting our faith in what God can do, we have to put our faith in the God who can.
So, instead of focusing on our situation, we focus on our God. Instead of talking about the problem, we talk about Jesus. Rather than praying with doubt, we pray with faith that our God loves us and does what is best for us, and in Him we can trust.
We will all struggle with disappointments and prayers that don’t seem to go our way. Even Jesus prayed in the garden:
“‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…'”Luke 22:42a
Yet He trusted the Father’s love for Him:
“‘…yet not my will, but yours be done.'”Luke 22:42b
So, how do we hold this tension between knowing God can and wondering if He will? We look to the Word of God which teaches us both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Throughout the Bible we find Scriptures that attest to the sovereign will of God (Colossians 1), yet we also find many calls to persevere in prayer (Luke 11:1-13).
It’s Worth Praying
Bible scholar D.A. Carson puts it like this:
“The perverse and the unbeliever will appeal to God’s sovereignty to urge the futility of prayer in a determined universe; they will appeal to passages depicting God as a person (including those that speak of his relenting) to infer that he is weak, fickle, and impotent, once again concluding that it is useless to pray. But the faithful will insist that properly handled, both God’s sovereignty and his personhood become reasons for more prayer, not reasons for abandoning prayer. It is worth praying to a sovereign God because he is free and can take action as he wills; it is worth praying to a personal God because he hears, responds, and acts on behalf of his people, not according to the blind rigidities of inexorable fate.”D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation
God loves us and works His will in our lives, of that we can be sure. Therefore, in our darkest hour, we can trust Him and pray earnestly with faith, believing that if it is in His power and for our good, we have what we have asked for (1 John 5:14-15).
So, don’t stop praying and trusting God with your situation. A miracle might be right outside the door.
Here are some Scriptures on prayer to be reminded that God calls us to pray with faith and not give up:
Matthew 6:5-15; 7:11; 26:41, Luke 18, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6-7, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Hebrews 4:16, James 5:13-18
What are some of your favorite verses on prayer? Share in the comments below and join the conversation!