On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’
“Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:23-31 NIV
Acts 4 records a major crisis breaking over the fledgling Christian church. Peter and John had healed a man at the temple, then Peter had told the crowd about the Lord Jesus. He explained pointedly about the Jewish leadership crucifying Jesus the Messiah, who then came back from the dead! This did not sit well with the Sadducean Priests, who not only winced at the accusation, but who rejected the very idea of this sort of divine intervention. Resurrection was not on their list of favorite topics. They ordered the temple guards to arrest Peter and John and put them in jail for the night. They then threatened them and released them. The heat was on.
Upon hearing these things, the brothers and sisters gathered for prayer, always their first spiritual instinct. Luke records the substance of their intercession, emphasizing the most practical aspects of it. There is wisdom here for anyone seeking the Lord’s help in a crisis.
First, they prayed for effectiveness rather than simply protection. It is not wrong to pray for protection. In Acts 12 that’s what they prayed for Peter, and the Lord supplied it impressively. It’s what most people pray for in most emergencies. Yet, could it be that the Lord occasionally has more important goals than our protection? These disciples pleaded for spiritual effectiveness in communicating the gospel. Every crisis is an opportunity to do something good and represent Jesus in some way. They were confident of the message of Christ and primarily looked for opportunities to explain it to people. They couldn’t do the miracles, but they knew the Lord could, so they prayed, “Lord, you do the miracles. We will proclaim Jesus.”
Secondly, they trusted God’s providence rather than their own analysis of the situation. Note how they addressed the Lord. “The creator of heaven and earth,” (a quotation from Psalm 146:6). They also acknowledged the Lord’s direct hand in the crucifixion, “What you predestined to occur.” Providence is a neglected truth in many Christian circles today. We tend to focus on the ways in which our decisions have caused our circumstances. It is not wrong for us to analyze our own actions, of course. But we need to remember that the Lord uses even our free decisions to bring about his long-term purposes, to shape our lives and present us with opportunities to trust him, to grow in faith. These early Christians did not try to explain this philosophically, but they firmly believed God was in charge—even of calamity. This knowledge set them free from constant anxiety about the fact that they didn’t see this pain coming, or where it would end. It didn’t bother them that it came “out of the blue.” They viewed it as something the Lord was using and they trusted him. Solving the mystery of “how this happened” was not their primary worry. Responding redemptively to the crisis was their goal. They were more committed to the advancement of the kingdom than to avoiding stress.
Third, they received courage rather than explanation. He answered their prayers with new strength through his Spirit. But he did not unravel the mysteries of his timing or purposes in the current situation. And we need not unravel the mysteries either. He calls us to pray and serve and represent him, not explain the why and wherefore of God’s will. Often in the spiritual life (life with God in Christ), we must put one foot in front of the other, carrying on without detailed explanation from the Lord as to how or why things happen. This is what Paul meant in 2 Cor.5:7 when he reminded the Corinthian believers that we “walk by faith and not by sight.” He didn’t mean we never get guidance, but that we rarely know everything we wish we knew about the circumstances we face. Massive elements of God’s good purposes are hidden from our eyes.
Remember, the Lord transforms us in crisis (Jas.1:2-4). He deepens our prayer life by reducing our self-confidence. He develops our character by focusing our attention on his purposes instead our natural desires (in this case gospel proclamation over protection from the chief priests). And he promotes the gospel in and through us as we “suffer forward” in the stress of this life.
Here are a few questions we might ask ourselves when we face unexpected stress: How would I respond to this situation if I viewed it as something the Lord is using for good? How can I reflect Christ in this thing, even if I cannot solve or explain it? How might I respond here if I were radically committed to sharing or representing Christ effectively rather than protecting myself? How can I think like Jesus in this circumstance?
We all need the Lord’s guidance when we face various trials. Answering these simple questions may help clarify the Spirit’s voice within. The Lord never lets us suffer needlessly. He always has a purpose and always will supply a way in which we can trust his grace more deeply (1 Cor.10:13).
Just a Thought,