If you were my child, by this time you would have heard me saying a million of times how wonderful (and important) it is to read the Bible stories as if you had never read them before. Be expectant, read the drama, pay attention, be engaged with the characters in the narrative. Get excited. Love the story. See Jesus. Things like these I tell my children over and over again.
Today I would like to convince you to do the same. Read in Acts 12 the story of Peter's imprisonment and how he was rescued by an angel. Read it aloud. Get excited. Be engaged. Read it as if you had never read it before.
|The Liberation of St. Peter by Sebastiano Ricci, 1722|
Herod is killing Christians and when he sees that the Jews are happy about it, he decides to keep on the persecution, so he arrests Peter. Peter is now asleep in the prison and an angel appears and strikes him on the side. Just imagine that, waking up in a dark, nasty cell surrounded by a bright light and an angel striking you. Not the kind of an angel apparition that many would like to have. That would have been scary. Now add to the fact that the words that the angel speaks are not sweet and soft. The angel woke up Peter telling him, "Get up, quickly." The chains fell from Peter hands and the next thing he hears is the angel telling him "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." The angel appeared in a fantastic way, now he surrounds Peter with a bright light, strikes him, breaks his chains and asks him to dress up quickly. Without much thought, they pass by two soldiers and find themselves in the street. Peter in now all by himself, the angel has departed and just then he realizes that this had not been a dream. This is how things work when you are in the business of preaching the gospel. You either get the beatings from men or the striking from angels whom God sends to break chains and open doors.
Now keep on reading and see the wonderful lesson in the story. In one of Peter's friends' house many saints had gather together to pray for Peter's deliverance as soon as they had heard the news of his arrest. These saints prayed earnestly (v.5), and no one would have dared to doubt their faith. The answer to their prayer came when they were praying earnestly -but expecting nothing: the Lord sent his angel and Peter was out in the streets walking towards his friend's house where they were all gathered. The saints were still praying earnestly. God's answer to their prayers knocks at the door and they don't believe the miracle. They even scolded Rhoda, the servant girl who first recognized Peter's voice -and believed the miracle- with harsh words saying, "You are out of your mind." Talk about being in the spirit and all of a sudden acting in the flesh? Here you have a good example. But Rhoda, and I just love that her name is here for us to remember, kept insisting, It is Peter, it is him. He is here! But the men who had been praying earnestly did not believe her. They thought it was easier to have an angel knocking at the door than Peter himself (I guess they had to listen from Peter how angels open doors and strike people, and not necessarily knock at doors).
This story has taught me an enormous lesson: God hears and answers our earnest prayers, not because of our faith, as if our faith had power in itself to change things, but because He is full of grace. He answers the prayers of his own in spite of our unbelief because He is our Heavenly Father.
We pray not to change God's will, we pray because we have been commanded by God to pray. The saints in this story prayed earnestly and God's will happened even though their faith was little. What an encouragement! Let us pray earnestly, without ceasing. Let us get together with our family and with our friends to pray. God will sure hear us, and His will will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven. Our prayers avail much not because of our own merits, but because the God who hears us has mercy on us. He moves us to pray and to pray earnestly. Let us keep praying, friends, soon an expected-unexpected miracle will knock at our door.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18