Summary: God answers prayers -- and that usually surprises us!
A Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it. Exasperated, she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help.
The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he said, “You know, I can’t remember the combination either.”
Then he folded his hands and looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock.
The teacher was amazed. "Pastor, I can’t believe you prayed and God gave you the combination," she said.
"It’s really nothing," he answered. "The combination is written on a piece of paper taped to the ceiling."
Well, I think we sometimes appear to be a people of prayer, but we’re not really. As a church, we don’t know quite what to do about prayer, or how to go about prayer, or even whether we should have any expectation of prayer working.
Are we a people of prayer? And how do we become a people of prayer?
Prayer is a major element of our New Testament lesson.
This is a strange text from the Book of Acts. The lesson begins like a tragedy.
The church is being persecuted. Herod puts a Christian leader to death. He finds that people like this and it helps increase Herods popularity, so he has Peter arrested and he has him scheduled to be executed.
Then the tragedy turns very dramatic as an angel appears and wakes Peter from his sleep and leads him out of the prison. It is a mystical sort of event as even Peter doesn’t know if it is real, or a vision, or just a dream. The angel and Peter walk up to the gates of the prison and the iron gates open by themselves.
But then the event turns begins to feel like a comedy.
The whole church is praying for Peter’s release, and the church’s response when they see Peter is to think, “That can’t be Peter – he’s in jail. We’re here praying for his freedom, so he can’t be free.”
This business of prayer can be a complicated and confusing thing.
Sometimes prayers seem to go unanswered so often, we find ourselves expecting God to do nothing when we pray. Sometimes we don’t know what to pray for, or how to pray.
Looking at the Book of Acts, this chapter can teach us some important lessons about prayer.
The first is, the church should pray!
Very simple, very logical. Of course the church should pray.
But I have to say that I wonder if we pray enough in our church or in our lives.
Paul says in his New Testament book, First Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing.”
Many of us will pray for a few moments, and then stop.
When I was a child, I was taught by my Sunday School teacher to never use the word “Amen” in a private, personal prayer. She said that “Amen” meant “I agree,” or “Make it so.” Why would you pray a private prayer and then say, “Amen.” It’s like saying “I agree with what I just said.”
More than that, my Sunday School teacher said that using the word “Amen” was like saying “Good-bye” to God. Like hanging up the telephone, “Bye, see you later,” the word “Amen” has become for some people a way of hanging up on God. Disconnecting from God.
Paul told us to pray without ceasing, and by that he didn’t mean that we should on our knees all the time, or living like Monks in a monestary. He meant that we should be in an attitude of prayer, so that even as we talk with others, part of our mind is in communion with God. When drive down the road, part of our mind should be in quiet relationship with God.
But for many of us, prayer is a rare action. It is something we do infrequently.
How many times have we been in conversation with others and they tell us about how they are in the middle of a divorce, or they are waiting to hear back from the doctors and the news might not be good, or they are struggling to find a job – and we will say, “You are my prayers.”
But they aren’t in our prayers. We say we will pray for them, but we don’t.
One of the things we see in this passage from Acts is that the Church prayed.
We need to pray as a church.
Praying is the most powerful thing that we can do as a church.
Secondly, we discover in this New Testament lesson that the church should pray as a community!