The Surprise Of Answered Prayer - Acts 12:1-19
God's answers to our prayers are a challenge to us. We don't understand His answers many times. It feels like He hasn't answered. Or that He answered in a way that we didn't expect. Sometimes He answers in such a dramatic way that we are completely surprised.
#1 - In the midst of difficulties ___________________ ...
"So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." Acts 12:5 NIV
We can understand "earnestly praying" when difficulties come our way. Not a casual conversation with God. Rather - "God HELP!" Peter is the leader of the church. It seems inconceivable that he should be in prison and subject to the death penalty. When our lives are about to change completely because of the threat of losing a loved one, when our world turns upside down from our expectations, we don't have to be reminded to pray. We PRAY! It oozes from us in every moment.
... even when the outcome seems _____________________ .
“After arresting [Peter, King Herod] put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each.” Acts 12:4 NIV
God, I'm praying but I don't even know what exactly to pray for because I don't see any way for this situation to change. No more drugs. No more treatment. No alternatives. We've exhausted all possibilities.
"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." Acts 12:6 NIV
The enemy is so over-whelming! 4 squads of 4 soldiers each. 4 shifts. Each shift 4 soldiers. One on each side of Peter, who is chained with not one - but two chains. One soldier on either side of the door. Taking no chances. Do you sense that the enemy - who we call a spiritual enemy - is making sure this time? No escape possible. Evil at work today! We see only the physical, but behind the physical is the spiritual. We don't see with our eyes directly, but we can only see the results of rules, laws. Layer on top of this hopeless situation, our lack of understanding of God:
#2 - Prayer is work for us because we don't always understand God's __________________ .
"King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword." Acts 12:1-2 NIV
How could God have allowed this to happen? James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were the first disciples. John (writer of John and 1,2,3 John) was also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Yet his brother was murdered swiftly with the sword. Before we even could pray we received the news of his sudden death. WHY? HOW? Where was God?
This is where the work of prayer comes in for us. Prayer is effort, work!
“Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18 ESV
It's not just the time or concentration involved. It's the never-ending, always-on aspect of the prayer task. "At all times" = "never ceasing." Every movement, all the time, just in an attitude that we are with God. "Keeping alert" = always aware. There's more going on here than meets the eye. Spiritual too. "All perseverance" = no breaks, never quit. Always lifting the needs of other. So we're in godly shape for the unexpected. This is not easy stuff. Way beyond basic Christianity 101. This is Christian maturity!
Be encouraged today. Because God DOES answer prayers. And though we cannot always see how, God's answers are always good! Because God is always good. The Bible tells us that someday we will see clearly but now "dim reflections," what the NLT "puzzling reflections." (1 Corinthians 13:12.)
But when you least expect it, hope is the lowest, ...
#3 - When we see God's answers to prayer, they are...
... ___________________________ .
"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." Acts 12:7 NIV
There's more going on than we can see. The spiritual beyond the physical. And even the highest, most authoritative, spiritual leader (like Peter) has to be struck to be able to see what God is doing! Angel appears and Peter sleeps on! The soldiers don't hear or sense. The double chains simply fall off allowing Peter to stand up. Extraordinary! Supernatural! // Can you imagine Peter just remaining there? Just continuing to sit imprisoned, even while guards slept and chains off. Has God removed your chains, while you continue to sit as if imprisoned?
... ____________________________ .
"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." Acts 12:8 NIV
God thinks of everything when He answers. Even the tiniest details that we would forget. Peter is naked or nearly so. Humiliated and cold. Part of the torture of imprisonment. But once he's awake and aware, he would just want to get out of there, nakedness be damned. He no doubt would soon feel differently once outside in public and in the cold. "Stop. Take the time to get dressed. Put on your shoes."
Are you free but walking around as if you're still naked and ashamed? God doesn't just want to free you. He wants to take care of you. You are God's child. Royalty! Are you living as though you were still imprisoned by evil's hatred?
... ______________________________ .
"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." Acts 12:9 NIV
Every now and then we see beyond the physical. We see the reality of God's supernatural power guiding us through life. The chains fall off. The gate opens by itself. We seem to be gliding through life lifted entirely by God's power. Seems like a dream. Couldn't be real.
But it is real. God is real. There is a level beyond, another dimension to God's creation. And we live and breathe inside it. Can you imagine God's freedom being so real and so freeing - it goes beyond all explanation - and yet you close your eyes to it - choosing to live defeated because you can't grasp it?
... _________________________________ .
"When [the servant named Rhoda] came to answer the door... she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!' 'You're out of your mind,' they told her." Acts 12:14-15 NIV
Shocking might be a better word. When we're in shock we act dumb, dazed. We don't do the rational thing - like opening the door for Peter. We also don't expect answers, even when we're praying and God has already answered!
Can you imagine? Could you be praying for something, for an answer from God, when He has already answered? Do you need just to get up from your knees and open the door?