|Create Date||February 6, 2019|
|Last Updated||February 6, 2019|
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How God Answers Prayer
Redhill. 3 February 2019. Presented by Gordon Green
Often everything seems to be going well - then everything falls apart. But that shouldn’t surprise us (Eph 6:12) I want to look at a chapter in Acts that we have looked at before but because there is so much in this episode of the young church we need to spend longer in it and focus on something that is relevant to all of us today. Apart from the stoning of Stephen 13 years before, the young church had enjoyed almost 15 years of relative peace. The church was growing and spreading out. The gospel had begun to reach the gentiles - but now Satan strikes and strikes hard. Real persecution was about to begin. King Herod, for his own political reasons wanting to please the Jewish elite, had James put to death. He had James head chopped off. Seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod had Peter arrested and wanted to also kill him. He was obsessed with popularity. Herod and the government was a Goliath – mighty, proud, arrogant, powerful and Peter and the young church was a David – very small and seemingly weak. It was an unequal contest.
Peter was arrested. He has 16 soldiers guarding him. He was bound in chains and placed in a cell deep inside the prison which was sealed by three sets of iron doors. But an unbelievable, astonishing, unexpected story is about to unfold. At this same time the church was praying earnestly for Peter. Can you imagine how afraid they were? “Who’s next? First James, now Peter! Is Herod going to kill all our leaders and then come for us?” The situation looked helpless and hopeless but now God enters the scene - and everything changes. In Acts 12 we see God in action. You could say that’s the way of summarising or epitomizing the central message of the gospel – God in action. The church was praying fervently and now we see God answering prayer. I want to divide this story into 2 sections: First, how God answers prayer and secondly when God answers prayer. How does God answer prayer? Let’s look at 3 ways from this story that helps us understand how God answers prayer.
- God gave Peter sleep
Peter must have thought this was his last night. Would you be able to sleep if you knew you were going to be tortured and killed the next day? Peter was sound asleep. How was Peter able to sleep surrounded by enemies? God sustained him. Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee was miraculous but we can miss the real miracle. Jesus was sound asleep during a horrific storm! His Father enabled him to sleep. He had peace (Phil 4:7). This was a very different Peter from the one who cursed and lied about Jesus because he was afraid of being arrested. Here he was sleeping with no fear! Something similar happened to the smiling and praising Christian martyrs who were led into the Coliseum to face the lions or to be burnt at the stake. In the boat the disciples had to shake Jesus awake and now Peter in prison had to be struck on the side to be awakened. Are you having sleepless nights? Read and meditate on Psalm 3:5-6; 4:8. Say to God that you know he loves you and claim his promise in Psalm 127:2 - he gives those he loves sleep. That’s you!
- A bright light shone in the prison.
In the Bible light represents God. In Genesis we read that “God looked upon the darkness of the world and said let there be light.” Also “God is light and in him no darkness at all” and “he is the father of lights.” There was a light that Paul saw on the road to Damascas. In the prison there was darkness all around – literally and emotionally. Everything seemed hopeless. Imagine the despair and the hopelessness all around amongst the Christians. It seemed nothing could be done. Darkness. Ever feel like that? Everything is going wrong for you. You feel helpless, drained, sad, depressed but what happens next? Suddenly there was a bright light. Something amazing was about to happen because God was going to act (Story of the 13 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand).This bright light in the prison would reveal the way out. The light of God is the light of hope. Assurance. Encouragment. It was an impossible situation. Peter was chained between two guards. There were other soldiers nearby just outside the door. The prison walls were thick and there were great iron gates that shut up the prison. Escape? Impossible! But no matter what the situation God can act. No matter how dark it may be. Nothing is impossible for God. If God wants you to be delivered he will act. With God all things are possible. And God was about to do the impossible. Peter was rescued. He follows the angel and he is left outside the prison gate. And that leads into the 3rd way that God answers prayer in this story:
- God answers in a way that surpasses our every expectation and hopes.
Peter followed the angel past the guards and through the gates to freedom. He walked to Mary’s house knocked on the door but they didn’t believe it was Peter! This story shows us that even these early Christians were just like us. They struggled to believe God would hear them. Even when the answer knocked on the door, they didn’t believe. They were a praying church. They had spent the night praying. They were people of prayer. But they still thought it was impossible that Peter was at the door. Do we believe in prayer? We talk about our faith and our prayer but we must concentrate on the power of God. He is much more ready to give than we are to receive. Nothing is impossible with God. God astonishes us. Overwhelms us. There is no limit. I think it’s true to say that most of us struggle with prayer. We forget to pray, and when we remember, we hurry through prayers with empty words. Our minds drift, we are easily distracted. It’s not totally our fault. Satan hates it when we pray. He saw what happened when people prayed and Peter was rescued and the many other amazing stories in the Bible (2 Cor 10:4). He tries to keep us from prayer (James 4:7-8; Ps 145:18)
When does God answer prayer? Sometimes at the very last moment. This happened just before Peter was about to be tortured and killed. He had been in prison for many days. God could have rescued him long before but he didn’t. Why?
- God chooses the weak of the world to shame the strong. Can you imagine Herod saying ”Tomorrow morning we will get hold of this Peter and we will bring him out and make a display of him in front of all the people. Then we will put him to death. We will show everyone and especially these Christians who the really Lord is!” Imagine the sneers and the jokes, the boasts, the mockery of the church? God allows them to do all this and just as they think they have destroyed the church Peter escapes miraculously from prison! They are made a laughing stock before the people. God still does that and will do it again (Psalm 37:13-15).
- He tests our faith. Not that He wants to know how much faith we have but He proves us. We discover whether we really are trusting him. He doesn’t deliver at once. We discover how weak we are and how dependent we are on God. “The wind blows so the oak tree may become stronger, so we are made strong.” Hardships mature and strengthen us. We are learning in the process. Jesus is in you and you stand - stand in the strength of Jesus Christ. You become strong through testing. Today you are the result of how you have handled all the tests in your life! The pressures make you into the person God created you to be.
Are you facing difficulties, impossible situations? Are you discouraged? Pray and take your prayers, petitions with you to God. Don’t give up. In his good time which we cannot always understand he will answer. He will act. Keep on praying. Hold on and you will never be disappointed.