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The Surprising Power of Prayer (Acts 12)

Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

-Acts 12:16

There is an element of prayer that is completely surprising to the natural mind. By nature, prayer should often result in surprise and astonishment, because it is a conversation in which God Himself is actively involved. The Presence of God alone is enough to cause astonishment. If we include the activity of His Spirit responding to our petitions and groanings, then we have every reason to expect surprising displays of God’s supernatural power and care when we pray. I believe we give God glory and cause His heart pleasure when we expect Him to surprise us.

We should expect, foremost, to be astonished by how prayer changes things. After Herod killed the apostle James, Peter suddenly found himself sitting in a jail cell, in the wake of losing a close brother who had just been martyred and gone on to be with the Lord. I do not envision Peter singing hymns through the night, as Paul and Silas would later do (Acts 16:25), and who can blame him? But even when there was not a song rising up from Peter’s heart, yet “constant prayer” was rising up from the hearts of God’s people for Peter (12:5).

We might expect the believers of that day to shout, “I knew it!” when they received the news that Peter was at the door. In reality, they responded much like we often have. Instead of believing Peter’s miraculous release, they told the girl who answered the door that she must be crazy! But how many times have we reacted to the power of God in this way? We have enough faith to ask, but not to expect to see God’s supernatural response! Listen to this gracious command of Jesus: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). He spoke this to His disciples who had been led by His Spirit, washed by His Word, and had begun to share the desires of His heart. If His Holy Spirit indwells us now, then we have even more reason to receive these words with confidence, because the same Spirit who helps us obey the other words of Jesus will help us obey this instruction.

We would be wise to ask the Lord often, “What do You want me to believe You for?” If we continue praying for those things He lays upon our hearts, however big or small, we have reason to expect surprising answers to prayer.

As we pray with expectation, we will also be astonished by how prayer changes us. Previously, when Peter went up to pray on the roof of Simon the tanner, he went up knowing the Lord to one degree, but he came down knowing the Lord in even greater measure. He had heard Jesus say during his earthly ministry, “Not what goes into the mouth…but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11). Surely the meaning of this was not entirely lost on Peter. But Peter was still a man partially shaped by experience and tradition, as we are today. It took an intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit, in which He gave a vision and spoke a word, for Peter’s heart to be transformed on the issue of God’s acceptance of Gentiles.

Should we then find it strange when God unveils our eyes to things of His Word and His kingdom when we spend time with Him in prayer? We may have known some truths mentally for a long time, but prayer brings a surprising power through the Spirit that enables us to know them less like cold math facts and more like close friends. Peter’s revelation from God changed his mind, his heart, and his behavior toward Gentiles. This is the most surprising aspect of the power - that in prayer we find power to live the very truth that Bible study only enables us to learn.

We should ask the Lord often, “Is there anything You want to reveal to me?” and then prepare to be astonished at how He changes us if we will receive revelation and agree to walk it out. 

-Pastor Alex

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