Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 29
There was little for hope when Herod imprisoned Peter after killing James. Acts 12 tells us that maximum security measures were taken to insure against an escape. He was bound with chains and placed between two guards. He was locked inside the inner prison and twelve other soldiers guarded the doors. Even if he should manage to somehow overcome these obstructions there was still the great iron gate that served as the main door to the prison and the barrier between the prison and the city. Here was the might of Rome arrayed against Peter and the young church. What did the church have with which to meet this dread show of force? We read in Acts 12:5, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” There you have it. The brute force of the world arrayed against a praying church.
Answer to Prayer May Come Dramatically
That night a light shined in the prison and the angel of the Lord came to Peter. So strange was the situation that Peter thought he was seeing a vision and that none of the events were actually taking place. The chains fell from him, the guards slept, and Peter and the angel passed through unmolested to the iron gate. The iron gate opened before them of its own accord and the angel left Peter free outside the prison walls. Peter went to the house where Christians were praying for him but had more trouble getting in to the house of his friends than he had encountered getting out of prison. Having prayed, they could hardly believe it when their prayer was actually answered. After all, had not God let James be killed by the sword? Why should he now perform a miracle to save Peter from a like fate? There were a host of logical reasons why they could hardly have expected such a dramatic answer to their prayer. Yet there the answer stood knocking at the door for admittance.
Answer to Prayer May Come Before it is Expected
I often wonder how many answered prayers stand knocking at our doors until discouraged by our lack of faith they turn sadly away. Many people today who think of themselves as Christians refuse to believe in answered prayer. They say they believe in prayer but they think of it simply as a means of energy release within ourselves. They think that prayer changes us naturally but not our objective surroundings supernaturally. All this actually does is to take God out of prayer. This reasoning will finally destroy any prayer and cause men to quit praying as a way of life. It is true that mental, moral, and emotional changes take place within men when they pray. But this is not all that happens. In fact these things happen consistently only when the one who prays believes that more than this can and will happen. We are told in Hebrews that he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. The praying Christian must believe that he is talking to a God who hears and who will act. The man who does not believe this and who discounts the possibility of supernatural intervention in his daily affairs will not pray constantly or even consistently-nor will he be able to maintain a realistic habit of prayer for very long. He will soon grow weary of it and find himself, “Not in the mood.”
Regular Prayer Translates Doctrine to Experience
When I arise from prayer strengthened and my spirits bubbling, I know the strength of grace didn’t come from within my natural self. It wasn’t there. It had to come from elsewhere. I remember years ago in Tennessee watching a little creek dinge over and start rising when the sun was shining and not a drop of rain was falling anywhere about me. The old mountaineer beside laughed at my puzzled expression and said, “It’s raining back in the hills where this creek begins.” In the same way our rising faith does not come from within our natural selves but rather from the springs in the mountains of prayer where God’s love is constantly showering down and being received. The doctrines of Christ come alive in the experience of prayer. The regular practice of prayer translates these doctrines into transforming experience. Life becomes meaningfu1. The praying heart is given guidance, insight, and spiritual understanding. The world’s confusion is due to a lack of prayer. It is tragically true of the church as well. Read James 1:5-8. Perplexity is another word for prayerlessness. Prayer cultivates the moral growth, awakens ethical values and cleans the cobwebs from the mind. Prayer for the early Christians was the source of radiant, clean, strong, loving, clearheaded character which made the world wonder and won the hearts of the heathen for the Christ.
Real Prayer Aligns Human Will With Divine Will
Real prayer is the placing of the human will alongside the Divine Will with contentment and expectation. This activity is the heart of any really spiritual life. Without it a true Christian life is impossible. The prayerless Christian in a non-Christian environment whether it be at work, or school or elsewhere, is at the mercy of forces too strong for him alone. He is asking for defeat and making it virtually inevitable. Arrayed against him, like the forces of ancient pagan Rome arrayed against Peter, are the allurements of sin, the habit and tendency of society, the pressures of evil example and persuasion, and the inner cravings of his own carnal nature. But are not all these things arrayed against the praying Christian too? They are there but he can be victorious by the power of prayer. It links his little vulnerable soul with the keeping grace and the defending might of a faithful and triumphant Lord.
The praying Christian has a mental clarity and moral power unavailable to the prayerless man. And this is not all. He has a gay courage, an unquenchable boldness, that is either lacking or else takes the form of arrogance and foolhardiness in an unpraying man. The early church prayed for boldness and then went forth as men whose words mattered. “They were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). But all this might be explained as autosuggestion and the gaining of spiritual strength by a resultant psychological release. It would mean simply that prayer is good mental therapy. Thus prayer might change me and cause me to thereby inf1uence my environment. But this would not prove that a supernatural God had acted to directly influence my objective surroundings. Thus many people try to argue that they can believe in prayer without believing in God’s supernatural intervention in the course of nature at all. But this will not work. In our next chapter we shall continue with our study of Peter’s release from prison in answer to prayer and shall try to explain why answered prayer has to be a supernatural process if it exists at all.