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Trusting God to answer prayer
Sunday school lesson for the week of November 1, 2015
By Dr. Nita Crump
Lesson scripture: Acts 12:1-11
Years ago, my cousin was told that she would never have children. She was deeply disappointed and mourned the news for a long time. Several years later she caught the flu. After a few days, the fever and aches subsided, but a new symptom developed – severe nausea that lasted most of the day. This symptom lasted for weeks. Her doctor treated her with various drugs to try to end the nausea, assuming that it was a result of her being exposed to something while her system was weak from having the flu. Please understand that my cousin is a nurse, so it wasn’t just a doctor making her health calls. She was actively seeking a solution to her continuing nausea not only as the patient, but also as a health care provider. After weeks of unending nausea, fatigue, and headaches, someone thought to do a pregnancy test. It was positive.
The joy that everyone in the family felt was tempered by the possibility that the baby might have suffered some ill effects from the weeks of treatment for flu and nausea. My cousin asked the entire family to pray. She asked her church to pray. She asked everyone she knew to pray for the baby. We prayed for six long months as we waited for the birth. I’m happy to report that today she has a healthy 20-year-old daughter.
We were grateful for the miracle that we believed God had provided. But what if the baby had not been born healthy? Would that have shaken our faith in God? Would it have been so easy to remember God’s gracious and loving provision through all things in that situation? It’s easy to look back through 20 years of watching this precious daughter grow up and say “Absolutely not!” But what would we have felt then? Would we have doubted God?
James dead and Peter arrested
Herod came from a long line of men who ruled with an iron fist, men who believed that no life was important if that life held any potential threat toward their reigns as kings of the Jews. The early church held many such threats because the people all considered Jesus the true King, not Herod. Herod arrested James and had him put to death. When that appeared to be a popular action in the eyes of the Jews, Herod had Peter arrested during Passover. Passover was a celebration of God’s saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so it was not the right time to kill someone. Peter was thrown in jail and held for execution at the end of Passover.
In verse 5 we read: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” The church prayed for Peter. Do you think the church failed to pray for James? I doubt it. I expect that if there were enough time for the news of James’ arrest to make it back to the church, the people certainly would have prayed.
Do you wonder how they felt praying for Peter after James had been executed? Do you think they believed that God would answer their prayers for Peter’s safety? Verses 12-17 seem to imply that they didn’t. Does this doubt mean that they lacked faith? I don’t think so.
Prayer is an expression of confidence in God. And if prayer is an expression of confidence in God, Peter had certainly prayed during his imprisonment. Peter’s situation appeared hopeless. He was in prison with four squads of soldiers guarding him. He was chained to two guards with additional guards standing watch. He must have known that Herod intended to execute him. So what do we find Peter doing during the night before his execution? We find him sleeping.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were in jail, chained to two guards and watched over by two more guards on the night before my execution, I don’t think I’d be sleeping. But Peter was in such a deep, peaceful sleep that he thought the angel’s presence was a vision instead of reality. That is a sign of a person who had prayed with complete confidence that God would work the situation out in the way that he, God, knew was best.
And so should we
Prayer is powerful expression of faith. Even when we pray with doubt in our hearts that our prayers will be answered in the way we would like, prayer is still an expression of faith in the God who hears our prayers. When our prayers are answered with a “no” or a “wait,” the very fact that we prayed is an indication that we trust that God is in control.
Prayer is a powerful witness to ourselves and to others that we believe that God is actively involved in our lives, that he can do all that he has promised he will do. Once we have prayed, the best thing we can do is exactly what Peter did – rest in the arms of God and trust that he has heard our prayers and will respond according to his plan. May we all reach a depth of faith that allows us to do just that.
Dr. Nita Crump serves as superintendent of the Southwest District of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.