Surprised by Answered Prayer: Acts 12:1-19

© Marcelo A. Tolopilo

Let me state this right out of the shoot. This article is not a treatise on prayer. I will not attempt to unpack the general doctrine of prayer, let alone begin an exhaustive study of it. I simply want to encourage you to pray even when your faith is small because God moves in response to the heart cries of His people. That’s a simple and life changing truth!

“What do ya’ know, God heard me!”

I was recently praying earnestly for one of my sons. I did so with the fervent passion of a parent but with the timidity of a child not certain his request would be fulfilled. You see, like you, I understand God can do anything, but my nagging concerns frequently betray what I know. No doubt you’ve been there many times. You call out to God for the needs of your loved ones, your friends, your kids. You pray for them specifically but you conclude your sincere entreaty with an appropriate, yet almost glib ending tacked onto your heart’s cry.

Sometimes we pray earnestly but not fully expecting the Lord to work. Our God is so gracious, because instead of giving us a spiritual lump of coal for our wobbling trust, the Lord continually reaches out to work in answer to our trembling, timorous supplications. In the case of my prayers for my son, I was literally surprised and amazed by how specifically God answered my prayers for him—in this case right down to some precise and particular details!

Now amazement at the power and goodness of God to answer prayer is a good thing. Surprise, or incredulity at God’s ability to answer prayer, not so much. This reflects our small view of God. Mercifully, God often transforms our surprise into joy through answered prayer and in the process expands our faith and our boldness to pray as well. Isn’t God good to us?

Déjà vu

If you get the feeling that you have run across these thoughts somewhere before, you’re probably thinking of the events recorded in Acts chapter 12:1-19. As this chapter unfolds, we read that the early church in Jerusalem was experiencing a serious upturn in persecution. Herod the Roman puppet-king over Palestine had begun to arrest and mistreat Christians. Not content to only victimize the rank and file, Herod brashly went after the leadership of the Jerusalem church. He took hold of James the brother of John, one of the most visible early leaders of the church, and had him executed. When he realized that such mistreatment of believers garnered the favor of the Jewish leaders, he became emboldened and proceeded to arrest Peter—no doubt intending to kill him as he had murdered John.

This horrible persecution signaled the church to pray. In Acts 12:5 we read, “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” On the very night in which the apostle Peter was scheduled to come before the murderous Idumean, the hand of God moved in response to the petitions of His church. Hearing the fervent prayers of His household (Ephesians 4:19; 
1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 4:17), God sent an angel to deliver Peter from the intentions of Herod. It’s a marvelous story. You ought to read it!

Suddenly free, Peter found himself at the gate of the very house filled with Christians praying for his deliverance! The sequence of events are fascinating, joyful, and a bit familiar to our experience.

In verses 13-16 we read, “When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.”

Their initial response to answered prayer was, “You are out of your mind!”, which was shortly transformed to God-glorifying amazement. Does that sound familiar? I have to believe that the dear brethren who were there to witness God’s power through prayer were emboldened from that moment on to pray with greater faith in the One who hears and answers prayer.

Our Take-Away

That is the take away for you and I. As I mentioned, I was recently reminded that God hears me, even in my weakness, and that God responds to our words, our petitions. Acts 12 is an eternal testimony to that great truth.

I encourage you to pray more and to pray with faith-filled boldness in and to the God who answers prayer. Persevere in it, be specific, be expectant, and then stand back and watch the mighty hand of God at work.

View All Articles