[Sept 16]--Surprised By Success, Part Two

Acts 12:5-19

I’m sorry, but titles are not my strong suit. In fact, when it comes to writing or speaking, they’re usually the weakest part of my presentation. “Honestly, Keith, you couldn’t come up with anything better than a rehash of a title you used two days ago? Really?” Yes, really.

It might surprise you to learn that the main lesson I pull from this is not the miracle, or maybe not. I’ve tried to make the point over and over and over that the miracles we see in the book of Acts are not how he usually works. I’m sorry, it just isn't. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a statistical fact that of all the Christians throughout history who’ve been imprisoned for their faith, more ended up like James than like Peter. Does he still perform miracles today? Absolutely. Can he still perform miracles today? Absolutely. Does he still perform unambiguous miracles today in the same frequency like he did back in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry or during the time of the apostles? No, he doesn't.

Having said that, I'm going to seem to turn right around and contradict it, but I don't think so. He's capable of doing whatever he wants. In his providence, however, he usually chooses to work behind the scenes in order to accomplish his plan. When we come to him in prayer, though, we should always come in a spirit of expectation that he's going to either do what we ask or something far far better.

Let me illustrate with a classic story about prayer and expectation. If you’re already heard it, I apologize. A rural community was experiencing a devastating drought. The crops were burning in the fields, the animals were collapsing and dying from thirst, and there seemed nothing anyone could do.

So the pastor of the local church called for a meeting to pray for rain. The congregation gathered in the sanctuary and eagerly awaited the pastor to start the ceremony. He stood in front of the assembly and with a loud voice called for everyone’s attention. His next words shocked them to their core: “All right everyone, I’m calling for this meeting to be canceled!! All of you might as well get out of here right now and go on home! You couldn’t pay me enough to stand in front of you and pray for rain! Why am I doing this? Because not one of you brought an umbrella!!!

That’s a great modern illustration of what we see here. Peter was arrested and cast into prison. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the outcome of his upcoming trial before Herod: He undoubtedly faced the same fate as James. But against all hope, an angel came in the middle of the night and transported Peter to freedom. Understandably he wanted to see the rest of the believers and show them the good news. He showed up at the door of Mary (not the mother of Jesus, but probably a relative of Peter's) and knocked.

What happened next actually is pretty funny, but there’s a serious point behind it. The servant girl who answered shut the door in his face and raced back to her siblings who were at that moment likely were praying for Peter’s release. What was their reaction? “It’s his angel!”

This was in line with a Jewish tradition that a person’s “guardian angel” took on a resemblance to the one being protected.

Um, no. It was Peter himself. God had graciously decided to answer their prayers not just in a positive way but in a miraculous way. And they were praying in a half-hearted way that didn’t really believe that the Lord would really do what they were asking.

I think the application is pretty obvious, don’t you? No, he’s not some genie that you get wishes from when you rub his lamp the right way. He’s Almighty God. But when you ask, ask big and expect great things. He's entirely capable of surprising you.

Father God, how often are my prayers small? How often is my vision of you so small and insulting? Enlarge them, please.

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