August 15, 2012

God's Surprises

There are times God surprises us by doing the unexpected, the amazing. Consider the experience of the early church in Acts 12.
The despot Herod slaughtered James, the brother of John, and threw Peter into prison (verses 2, 3). The Scripture records: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (verse 5). The New Testament church recognized the seriousness of the situation. Without divine intervention Peter’s fate was certain.

In answer to their heartfelt intercession, God sent an angel to deliver Peter. Commenting on the role of angels and answers to prayer, Ellen White noted, “Ministering angels are waiting about the throne to instantly obey the mandate of Jesus Christ to answer every prayer offered in earnest, living faith” (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 377). What an awesome thought! As our prayers ascend to heaven, Jesus commissions angels to answer our earnest pleas. Angels, mighty in strength and full of wisdom, are our allies in the struggle between good and evil.

2012 1523 page6Peter was amazed when an angel touched him and said, “Quick, get up” (verse 7). He was amazed when the chains that bound him to two Roman guards fell off his wrists (verse 7). He was amazed when the angel led him past the sleeping guards and when the huge iron gate leading to the city swung open miraculously (verse 10). These supernatural events were proof positive that God had sent His delivering angel.

The story ends with Peter arriving at the door of the house where the disciples were praying, and his insistent knocking captured the attention of the praying disciples.

A young woman named Rhoda answered the door. When she heard Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that she failed to open the door. She instead ran to tell the others of this miraculous answer to prayer. Their response is surprising. They were praying for Peter’s deliverance; they were seeking God for a miracle; but they did not have faith to believe that Peter was actually at the door. Their response to Rhoda is classic: “You’re out of your mind” (verse 15). God had worked a miracle, and they still did not believe. The evidence was before them, and still they questioned.

This story has at least three vital lessons for God’s last-day people.

First, when the church prays, something happens that would not happen if we did not pray. Unusual power is available when church members are on their knees seeking God. Prayer is not simply a ritual to make us feel good. In the controversy between good and evil it enables God to enter the arena of human affairs and work miracles (see The Great Controversy, p. 525). A local congregation that places a priority on prayer becomes spiritually alive. Vital godliness runs through the current of its veins. Without prayer and an intimate connection with God, the church can easily become cold, formal, and irrelevant.

Second, we don’t need superhuman faith to receive answers to our prayers. Faith is a gift of God (Rom. 12:3). When we exercise the faith that God has already put in our hearts, however small, that faith will grow. God works in spite of our human weakness. As we come to Him with the limitations of human frailty, trusting His goodness, He will work in ways we cannot imagine.

Third, God works His miracles in our lives every day. He answers our prayers in ways we may not see. Initially Peter did not recognize God’s awesome work in delivering him. The praying disciples were baffled when Rhoda excitedly declared that Peter was standing outside the door. Their faith did not grasp the reality of answered prayer. For a moment they were blinded to God’s marvelous miracle.

Maybe God is telling us something here. Could it be that unnoticed answers to prayer are all around us? Is it possible that God is moving in our lives and the lives of our families, but our vision is dim and our comprehension dull?

Why not pause for a moment right now and consider what God is doing in your life. You may be amazed, because, after all, God is an awesome God, overflowing with surprises for those who have eyes to see them. 

Mark Finley is editor-at-large of the Adventist Review. This article was published August 16, 2012.