|Original picture by deviantart user navalatanjjnn and used under a Creative Commons License|
And it is for that reason, that I draw such great encouragement from this story of the church praying for Peter.
In case you are unfamiliar with the context, you can read it here. The cliff's notes version is that Peter had been arrested following the death of James and his execution was imminent. So the church did the only thing it could do, which was also the most powerful thing it could do. They prayed earnestly.
From the comfort of our homes and church buildings 2,000 years later, we can read that statement in verse 5 without batting an eye. We already know the end of the story because we have already read Peter's letters that he wrote much later in his life! We already know God answered their prayers to save him. The way in which he was saved is pretty amusing in itself as we see Peter being led out of the prison in a half stupor until he is finally free and realizes what has happened! But the part that encourages me and my lack of faith is the brutal honesty with which Luke records the church reacting when they are in the act of praying itself and are told by Rhoda that not only had their prayers been answered, but that Peter was standing outside!
A more self-righteous group of people might have been persuaded to have left the details out. They might have been tempted to boast about their confidence in the power of prayer. Luke might have recorded them as celebrating and talking about how they just knew God would grant their requests. But that is not what happened, and it is not what Luke recorded.
What Luke did record is that when Rhoda slammed the door in Peter's face and kept telling the others who were gathered in prayer that he was outside, they told her she was crazy! When she insisted, they decided maybe she's not crazy...so it must be his angel! In other words, Peter had been killed and his angel was now appearing to them! It's actually kind of humorous to me that Luke even records that Peter just keeps knocking until they finally come see for themselves! I have to wonder if Peter wasn't tempted to repeat with a joyful twinkle in his eye what Jesus had said to him so many times before, "Oh you of little faith! Why did you doubt?"
Now, if their assumption about what they were being told was that Peter was that Rhoda was crazy or that Peter was dead, I have to ask, what were they praying for!? Weren't they praying for Peter's deliverance? Or had they already given up praying for deliverance and begun praying merely for his courage and faith to remain intact? And if the latter was their prayer, were they praying that because they did not believe God had the ability to save him?
The only thing I feel confident in saying is that the church most certainly did believe in the power of God to do whatever the will of God wanted. And yet, they were astonished when their prayers were answered by a direct act of God's intervening power.
That gives me the courage to keep praying in spite of my doubt because I know that God's answers to prayer do not depend on my ability to pray well. They don't even depend on my ability to pray with no doubts. Yes, I know the verses about praying with faith and not praying with doubt. But I also know that Jesus Himself was told "no" in the garden! And I am sure that I will be too, no matter my level of faith! And I am also confident that God's power is in no way affected by my weak faith!
And so I will pray. At times I will doubt while I pray. I will not doubt that God has the power to work; but more so that God will choose to work through my prayers. But He has told me to pray. He has told me that He answers prayers and that His will is always for the good of those that love him. And when I can remember those things, I will also occasionally pray with great faith.
But whether in weakness of doubt, or in greatness of faith, I will pray. And I will trust that God knows how and when to save His people in the best way physically and spiritually and emotionally possible.