Acts 12:1-19 records the story of Peter’s prison break. The story begins with Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, having Peter arrested and incarcerated in a Roman prison in Jerusalem. Herod is feeling his oats because he has recently had another apostle, James, executed, a move he has noticed has pleased the spiritually lost Jewish religious leaders immensely. So the plan now is to please them some more by executing Peter. The only thing keeping Peter alive is the fact that it’s the week-long Jewish feast time known as the Days of Unleavened Bread, which follow the one-day Passover. Once the Days of Unleavened Bread are finished, so is Peter.
The only thing Peter has going for him is a bunch of prayer warriors who have been praying constantly for him all week. But now it is the night before his execution and all those prayers have accomplished nothing. Still, though, the prayer warriors keep praying. In particular, there is a certain group of who have met for an all-night prayer session in the home of Mary, the mother of the Mark who will one day write the gospel of Mark. Mary’s house is not far from where Peter is imprisoned. By the way, tradition holds that this house was the site of Jesus’ last supper.
Getting back to our story, Peter is fast asleep that night. Frankly, I don’t know exactly what to make of that. I’d love to say that his sleep stemmed from a confidence that God was going to show up and show off for him by somehow getting him miraculously spared. The events of the story, however, might indicate otherwise. Then again, perhaps Peter was remembering a promise that Jesus had once made to him, a promise that Peter would live to an old age (John 21:18). Maybe it’s best to say that Peter could sleep that night because he knew that he was going to be alright either way. Either God was going to rescue him or he was going to be granted the honor of being killed for the cause of His Savior just as his friends Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:1-2) had been.
So there he is that night, bound with two chains, fast asleep between two Roman soldiers as other guards stand at the prison door. But then what happens? A light appears in the prison and suddenly there’s an angel standing beside the sleeping Peter. The angel strikes Peter in the side to wake him up and says, “Quick, get up.” After causing Peter’s chains to fall off his wrists, the angel says, “Put on your clothes and sandals, wrap your cloak around you, and follow me.” Peter then follows that angel stealthy through all those guards right out of that prison. When they come to the iron gates that serve as the entrance into Jerusalem, the angel even causes those gates to open by themselves.
You might be asking, “Why didn’t those guards stop them?” The answer is, we don’t know. The story reads as if those guards went into some kind of trance or something that caused them to either not notice the angel and Peter or not care. Even Peter himself wasn’t sure what was happening. He thought he was having a vision similar to one he had experienced in previous days (Acts 10:9-16).
However it just happened, Peter is now free from prison. The angel accompanies him down one street and then vanishes as suddenly as he had appeared. It’s then that the fog begins to lift from Peter’s mind and he understands what has happened. Next, he makes his way to the house where that group of prayer warriors is praying for him. He knocks on the door of the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda comes to the door. She asks, “Who’s there?” and becomes overjoyed when the reply comes back, “It’s Peter.” As a matter of fact, she becomes so overjoyed that she gets in such a hurry to report the news to those in the house that she forgets to open the door for Peter.
Here now is where we come to my reason for this post. When Rhoda informs all those people that Peter is standing at the door, their unified response to her is, “You’re out of your mind.” To her credit, though, Rhoda sticks to her story. This causes those prayer warriors to change their assessment of the situation and theorize that it must be Peter’s guardian angel at the door.
“You’re out of your mind.” “It must be his angel.” Those comebacks don’t exactly ring of perfect faith in prayer, do they? As much as those folks had been praying all week for God to deliver Peter, we would expect them to respond to Rhoda’s report by saying, “Praise God! We knew He’d hear our prayers and grant our request.” But that’s not what they said. It wasn’t until they had gone to the door to verify Rhoda’s report and let Peter in the house that they fully believed that God had delivered him. Even then they were astonished at what God had done.
What I take from all this is that our prayers don’t have to be perfect to get God to respond. Our phrasing doesn’t have to be intricately precise. We don’t have to be in a specific place or position. Our faith doesn’t even have to be 100% ideal. After all, didn’t Jesus say that faith as small as a mustard seed (Luke 17:6) can get the job done? One father of a demon-possessed boy even admitted that even though he had some belief that Jesus would cure his son, he needed Jesus to help him with that part of him that was dominated by unbelief (Mark 9:24). But did Jesus cure that son? Yep.
I’ll illustrate this by describing the relationship I have with my two sons. When Ryan or Royce come to me with a request, my response to that request won’t be based upon how they word the request or where they are when they relay it to me. My response will be based upon whether or not the request fits in with my will for the situation. In regards to that story from Acts chapter 12, it was God’s will to spare Peter’s life in that particular situation. As for James, though, it obviously wasn’t God’s will to spare his life. That’s why all the praying in the world didn’t prevent Herod from executing him.
What I’m trying to do here is get you to correctly understand the nature of prayer. There’s no doubt that you having more faith/belief will help you to pray better, more effective prayers. Passages such as Matthew 21:22, Hebrews 11:6, and James 1:5-8 prove that. Also, there’s no doubt that you can pray more intimately when you are alone as opposed to standing on a street corner or in the midst of a crowd (Matthew 6:6, 14:23). My point today is just that you shouldn’t obsess over every minute detail about your praying, as if checking off the boxes of all those details will be the difference between God granting your request or not granting it. God doesn’t want your prayer life to be that complicated or burdensome.
First and foremost, He wants it to be genuine, honest, sincere, and real. He wants your prayers to be conversations you have with Him in which you: pour out your heart to Him, tell Him what’s on your mind, share your anger, express your frustrations, admit your fears, thank Him for His blessings, honor His greatness, confess your sins, dedicate yourself to repenting of those sins, make your requests, and die to His will regarding those requests. Trust me, you build all those things into your prayer life and I promise you that God won’t turn a deaf ear simply because you don’t word everything the way a world-class writer would or don’t have a faith that is bulletproof. Those folks in that house in Jerusalem that night were just regular Christians, not that much different than you and I. They were imperfect people praying imperfect prayers. And yet those prayers worked, didn’t they? Take heart in this, Christian, and keep praying!