Summary: If we are going to pray expectantly, we must: 1. Pray passionate prayers. 2. Pray persistent prayers. 3. Pray believing prayers.
It was around 1870 when New York City had one of the most hotly contested mayor’s races in its history. The incumbent was Mayor John Tweed. Everybody called him “Boss Tweed,” and it was a name that suited him well. The time came when he ran for reelection, and Boss Tweed’s political machine began to roll. It represented politics at its very worst. His entire organization was corrupt to the core. But there were a number of committed citizens who decided that they were fed up with this kind of politics and decided to fight city hall. In the beginning they seemed to be making a difference, but as the campaign drug on, the cost of the commitment of time and energy became more than most people were willing to pay. Many of the good people who initially believed in the importance of what they were doing began to drop out. The fight was ugly and many of them did not have the stomach for it. So when the election was held and the results were counted, any hopes for good city government were dashed — Boss Tweed had been reelected. The next day the New York Times ran an editorial and analyzed what had happened. The article summed up the situation with these words: “The good people quit being good before the bad people quit being bad.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that happen. One thing I have noticed is that evil and its followers have a tenacity that is often absent in the followers of good. We give up and give in at the most critical point. And nowhere is this battle won or lost more than in the battleground of prayer. Prayer is difficult. It is a learned behavior. It takes time and effort, so many people give up on prayer — and many times it is before the battle is really over. We quit long before the enemy does. The battle is long, arduous and ugly, and we get worn out and drop out before the battle is done. The problem is that we often give in just before the moment of victory. We give up when we stop expecting to win. We need to pray and live expectantly.
This was the problem that we read about in the twelfth chapter of Acts. This passage is so comical and at the same time so human. Peter had been arrested and chained between his guards, and the church had gone to prayer. Their prayers were almost cries of despair rather than prayers of faith and hope. And when the angel came to deliver Peter, even Peter experienced the shock of unbelief. He thought it was all a dream. When he was freed from the prison he went to the home where everyone was praying. A young girl named Rhoda went to the door, but when she heard Peter’s voice she didn’t open the door, rather she went screaming into the house saying that Peter was at the door. The people who had been praying for his release did not believe her, in fact, they said she was crazy. Then they got into a theological discussion: “If it is not Peter, who is it? It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter was still standing at the door wanting to get in. And when they finally answered the door, the Scripture says they were astonished. Astonished ? Hadn’t they been praying for his release? But when God answered their prayers, they couldn’t believe it.
There are several things we can learn from this story. The believers were doing many things right. In fact, their prayers were answered. Peter was released and was standing at the door — in spite of the fact that they never expected to see him again. And with good reason. Peter had been arrested and taken into the Fortress of Antonio. He was being watched around the clock by four squads of four soldiers each. Peter was bound with two chains between two soldiers. The fortress gates and doors were all secured and sentries stood beside them. It was impenetrable. Herod had already killed James by beheading him, and sought to win further points with the Jewish leaders. King Herod was extremely cruel, killing all rivals to his throne, including his relatives, wife and sons. He was a political animal and would do anything to buttress his political power. So killing Peter would not trouble him in the least, and he could never have been dissuaded from his plan. So there was good reason for the believers to have been unbelieving at this point. It certainly looked impossible.
What amazes me is that Peter was able to sleep that night — on a stone floor, in chains, between two guards. He is at peace because he knows he is in the will of God. In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s little book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, he tells the story of Ivan who suffers through all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day, as Ivan prays with his eyes closed, a fellow prisoner sees him praying and scoffingly says, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Ivan slowly opened his eyes and said, “I do not pray to get out of prison, but to do the will of God.” That must have been the prayer of Peter before he fell asleep.