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An Airhead Girl, the Disciples' Unbelief and a Waiting Apostle
How God reports it
Herod's popularity rating was off the charts. He had just killed one of Jesus' original disciples, James. Now he'd imprisoned Peter intending, no doubt, to do the same with him. But God intervened. While sleeping between the guards, Peter felt a blow to his side. He awoke with a jolt to hear an angel command him to dress and to follow him. Quietly they stole out through miraculously opened gates. That's when Peter found himself alone on a dark street in Jerusalem. Now God's own word...
"When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, 'You are out of your mind.' But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, 'It is his angel!' But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed." Acts 12:12-16
I love Rhoda
Yes, I liked the one played by Valerie Harper too (1970s sitcom). But this Rhoda is mentioned only once in Scripture. Her name means "rose" and has its origin in a Greek island named Rhodes where roses grew wild. She must have known and loved Peter, for when she heard his voice at the door, she recognized him immediately and ran to report his presence to the folks inside. While Peter must have been just a little miffed, we can forgive her focus lapse. I've had a few of those myself.
An all-too-familiar prayer meeting
In the wake of John's death and Peter's imprisonment, it's not surprising that someone must have said, "Let's have a prayer meeting." People in crises do that. They gathered at the home of Mary the mother of John Mark, who later accompanied the disciples on some of their travels. The presence of a servant girl marks the family out as among the wealthy 1%ers.
Don't know if it was open prayer where everyone offers his or her own petition, either one by one or all at once. Don't know if they prayed in tongues and danced in the aisles. Don't know if they lifted their hands to heaven or prostrated themselves on their knees.
What we do know is that there were "many", probably a lot more than gather in the average American church's prayer meeting, if there's one at all.
They prayed but didn't expect anything
By all counts, this was a sub-par prayer meeting. Didn't Jesus assert, "whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Matthew 21:22 (underline mine) Isn't it a Christian truism that if we want something to happen we must have faith. So we buy books, go to seminars and listen to sermons so that our faith will grow stronger. We can then pray effectively and God will do great things (read "do what we want.")
God should not have answered this crowd's prayer!
But He did!
Of course we are to pray continuously, fervently and believingly. But don't, for one moment think, that by doing so, you control God. A god manipulated by our prayers isn't worth praying to.
While He often orchestrates events to respond to our prayers, He just as often brings about good things totally apart from our prayers and in spite of our unbelief. Much of contemporary Christian spirituality is nothing more than a thinly disguised marketing ploy by which desperate people are told to believe and do the right things so that God will do good things for them. "Let's keep it positive and upbeat."
In a recent Fox News appearance, Joel and Victoria Osteen were interviewed by Chris Wallace. In the ten minute segment the only mention of Christ was by Victoria asserting that He never put anyone down. Not sure the Pharisees would agree. When, Chris reminded her of Jesus overturning the money-changers' tables, she claimed that was an exception. Chris bore on, "But doesn't the Bible say a lot about sin and sinners?" The answer? "Yes, but we can put it in a more positive way. We encourage people to do better!" There was not one word about Christ's death on behalf of sinners nor about our taking up his cross and following Him.
Is it any wonder that the Christian faith is ridiculed by many sensitive and thinking people? I don't blame them. To quote Paul, the Osteens preach "a different gospel."
Prayer: A response to God's Word and Work
That's why we pray. God has acted first by revealing his heart to us in the Bible. He continues to act as he superintends world and personal events. We pray to bring our hearts and desires into line with God's purposes. Would a faithful follower of Jesus want anything else?
Want some model prayers? The prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples is a good beginning. Note how it is totally God focused. Then go to the psalms. Notice how often the psalmist begins with negative sentiments and ends with positive praise. Check out Psalm 13, Psalm 79 and many others.