Page 211 began early as I made my way to work so I could clean bathrooms and make sure the building was ready for the Sunday worship gatherings. Once the building was ready, I headed home and spent some time writing yesterday’s page before getting myself cleaned up and ready for church. It was a good morning to spend in worship of God with fellow believers and David shared a great message on earnest prayer from Acts 12. The first century believers knew what it was like to face persecution and trouble from all sides, including from corrupt government and religious entities. Their solution caused the church to grow at such a pace that it was said they were “turning the world upside down”. It is a solution we would do well to put into practice concerning every area of our life, but unfortunately we have often become too educated, too self-important, too self-reliant, and too proud to earnestly go to God in prayer about everything. We invest too much time and effort into coming up with our own answers that we cannot risk going to God to learn His ways are not our ways. But many times it is in the deepest of trouble, when all else has failed, that we are willing to humble ourselves enough to earnestly pray.
This morning David shared three characteristics of the earnest prayer taking place within the first-century church that we would do well to put into practice. I’m writing today’s page early enough that I don’t yet have the video of the service to refresh my memory as to David’s wording of the three points, but here is my take on them: 🙂
- Earnest prayer is often revealed during times of trouble. In the text, James had been put to death by Herod and because doing so had pleased the people so much, Herod had Peter arrested with the plan to put him to death as well. While Peter was in prison awaiting a trial that likely had a predetermined outcome, the believers had gathered and were praying earnestly. While the trouble seems to have intensified their prayers, the previous chapters of Acts leading up to this moment make it clear that earnest prayer was nothing new to this group of believers. If we want to have effective and earnest prayer in times of trouble, it is important that we have developed a lifestyle of prayer so we know exactly what to do when trouble comes.
- Earnest prayer often precedes deliverance — even unexpected deliverance. The deliverance of Peter is an interesting story. We find that Peter is sleeping the night before his trial. Given what had been done to James, Peter had to have had a pretty good idea what the outcome of the next day would be — yet he slept. Chained between two guards with other guards at the door and in the midst of a secure complex, Peter is awakened by and angel who lead him out of the prison. Peter’s first thought as this is taking place seems to be that this deliverance is just a vision — a picture from God to let him know that everything is under control no matter the outcome. Yet once Peter is away from the prison and the angel disappears, he realizes this deliverance was a real, physical deliverance from a real, physical prison and the likelihood of impending death. And when he appears at the house where the believers were engaged in earnest prayer, they don’t appear to be expecting this type of deliverance at all. God is a God of deliverance and it is through earnest prayer that we connect with the deliverance that He knows is best for us and for His kingdom purposes. Sometimes that means we are delivered from troubles and hardship and sometimes we are delivered through troubles and hardship. Either way, it is our earnest prayer that recognizes God’s hand at work in delivering us in just the right way, at just the right time, and for just the right purpose.
- Earnest prayer calls us to give testimony to the work of God in answering our prayers. When you find yourself delivered from certain death — and honestly, all those who are in Christ have been delivered from such — it can be very tempting to run as far away from the surroundings you were in when trouble first came your way. In fact, before the chapter ends, Peter does leave for another place — but first there was something that needed done. Because earnest prayer was the lifestyle of the believers in the first century church, Peter could be confident that this is what was taking place on his behalf. His deliverance wasn’t only about him temporarily escaping death, it was also about strengthening the faith of the early church. The story of his deliverance needed to be told and it needed to be told to those who were earnestly praying. Once the testimony was given and the strengthening of faith accomplished, Peter could then go on to another place. It is often the testimony of God working in our life in response to the earnest prayers of our self and others that God uses to strengthen not only our own faith, but the faith of others. God’s desire is that we tell our story and give Him the credit as we give testimony to the work of God that takes place through a lifestyle of earnest prayer.
After the church service, we went to lunch then I spent the early part of the afternoon relaxing and checking on my online notifications. Two things stood out while I was doing that. One, I had a number of friend requests from high school classmates that apparently found me online through other classmates sharing about the children’s book I just published. It is exciting to me to see people responding so favorably to the work God gave me to do. And two, I had a request from someone I had never heard of so I went to their page and found that they live in Kenya. The first thing posted on their page was a thank you to another person, whom I don’t think I know, that sent him a copy of my book, “Pursuing God”, as a resource and encouragement. As I saw a photo posted of a book I have written that made its way to Kenya, God encouraged me to keep being faithful in what He has me doing and that as I wait upon Him, He will renew my strength and give me rest.
Eventually I headed out to the porch to photograph some of our resident hummingbirds. Today there were at least four different hummingbirds that wanted to claim the feeder as their own. Some days as I have watched, the birds have been pretty casual about spending time at the feeder but today they seemed to always be looking over their shoulder, or wing, and with good reason — if they spent very long at the feeder, they were soon “buzzed” by another hummingbird that would chase them away from the feeder. They are fun to watch because even as they are hovering, my camera shutter isn’t fast enough to fully capture their wings. Today’s photo is of one of the birds coming in for a drink and while I captured the body of the bird in a “stop-motion” photo, the wings are just outlines captured as they were flapping. As I’m still feeling the effects of not enough rest over the past week, this photo made me think of the phrase about not letting the grass grow under your feet. Even while seemingly paused in mid-air, these wings were flapping so fast that they could barely be seen. I know the feeling, don’t you? It feels as if you would simply fall to the ground if you didn’t keep going, and so we keep on flapping at whatever it is we’re doing. Perhaps sometimes God would rather we stop flapping and fall to the ground so that He can pick us up.
After spending some time photographing and then going through the photos I took so I could share a few online, I decided to start the writing of today’s page rather early with the plan to perhaps head to bed early to get some extra sleep before the start of the work week tomorrow.
As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:
- There are many ways to respond to trouble, but none more powerful and effective than earnest prayer.
- Pride is one of the biggest hindrances to having a lifestyle of earnest prayer.
- God knows how to encourage me when I am discouraged — I just need to pay attention and continually draw near to Him.
- God can use our work in ways that we cannot think or imagine if we are willing to turn it all over to Him.
- The applause of people is a poor substitute when it leads us away from hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, from our Lord.
- The applause of people can, however, be an encouragement when that applause is given in recognition of a life of faithfulness to God.
- Sometimes it is difficult to truly be still when we think we are in competition with others for what we need.