Audio Library

II. Expectantly (8-25)

This early Church teaches us by their positive example to pray earnestly; however, it is by their negative example that we are taught to pray expectantly.

A. We are too easily contended (8-12)

Notice that it is not until Peter has left the prison compound and walked for a block that he realizes that he is truly out of jail!  From the angel’s having to strike Peter in the ribcage to wake him up, it is apparent that he was in a deep sleep.  That in itself is an interesting point; Peter is not anxious.  Obviously, he is so confident in God’s sovereign care that he sleeps like a baby in this Roman prison.  However, Peter does not seem to expect God to do anything either.  He assumes from the beginning of the experience that this is but a vision intended to teach him some kind of spiritual lesson.

 

We are confident in God’s sovereignty and do not worry much about the future.  But neither do we expect God to do much out of the ordinary.  We live in a kind of confident maintenance of the status quo.  There is nothing especially sinful about that, but I believe God offers more to most of us.  Life is short and we each have only one life.  Why not live expectantly?  Why not pray that God would put you in places and use you in ways that will expand his Kingdom?  Why not this prayer, “Father, show me where the action is today and give me the privilege of being a part of it, if in no other way than by prayer.”

B. Doubtful (13-25)

While we infer that Peter was living contentedly but not expectantly, Luke clearly shows us the gathered Church was praying earnestly but not expectantly.  Peter’s appearance at the door, Rhoda’s abandonment of him, and the Church’s denial form one of the most humorous scenes in the Bible—but humorous mainly because we see ourselves in it.  Everyone was praying feverishly for God to take care of Peter, but when he actually appears at their door as a free man they consider it to be too good to be true, so they don’t believe it!  They say Rhoda is delusional, because things like this just don’t happen, even when you pray about them. 

 

We set our sights low when we pray.  We pray for someone in a spot like Peter and we say, “Lord, keep his faith strong though his situation will not change.  Make him a witness to his captors.  Don’t let him linger too long.  And when he dies, make it quick and with little pain.”  You can almost hear God saying in response, “But what if I want to break his chains and lead him out of jail?  Why don’t you pray for something that will really demonstrate my power and my zeal to cause the Gospel to go forward?”  And our little faith sometimes replies, “No, that’s not necessary.  We will believe in you anyway.  No need to get fancy.” 

 

But how do we increase our expectant prayers?  Let me pass on a discipline that our forefathers, especially the Puritans, urged which I think will be of help.  They basically exhorted their people to keep a record of their petitions and then watch carefully for answers.  It was an accounting system of sorts.  Sometimes they called it keeping record of “returns”; others called it “open recompense.”  Thomas Goodwin, one of the Puritan intellectual giants, said in his book on this topic, The Return of Prayers , that to fail to keep such a record is to pray in vain and expresses little expectation that God will answer. 

 

Goodwin says that such record keeping is especially important because of our tendency to pray earnestly for something only to receive it and attribute the answer to something or someone else.  Sometimes we are even jealous of God’s glory because we want to take credit for the accomplishment ourselves.  It is another way to commit Herod’s sin by failing to give honor to God.  Goodwin said, “When you have put up a faithful prayer, God is made a debtor by promise and we are to take notice of his payment, and give him an acknowledgment of the receipt of it; he loseth of his glory else.”      

 

The main brilliance of Goodwin’s book is to provide Christians with diagnostic tools for discerning whether and how their prayers have been answered.  Perhaps the most helpful insights he gives are a series of typical characteristics of answered prayer which prove God has granted our request by his own hand.

 

  1. He provides despite numerous obstacles
  2. He also provides all of the means to get to the specific answer.
  3. He does it suddenly, before you are aware of it, though you have prayed a long time.
  4. He answers beyond need.
  5. Draws our hearts nearer to God by the way he answers.
  6. Answer encourages us to go to God for other things (384-391).

 

I encourage you to keep a record of your petitions in a journal or computer or in your Bible.  Don’t make it a legalistic thing where you feel guilty unless you make a daily entry.  Just start and record the petitions which especially stretch your faith.  Such a practice expanded the hearts of godly men in the past to believe more easily in a gracious Father who keeps his promises.  It developed for them a kind of athletic heart which through exercise beats more easily at rest. 

 

Because your Father is lovingly faithful to you, he delights in your keeping record of his answers.

 

One of the most remarkable examples of earnest and expectant prayer was George Müller, who lived practically the whole of the 19th century.  God’s great accomplishment through Müller was the establishment of the massive orphanages in Ashley Hill, Bristol, England.  Müller had only one strategy for Kingdom ministry—prayer.  Over the course of his ministry—purely in response to Müller’s prayers—God provided food, shelter, clothing, and education to nearly ten thousand orphans.  At the height of his service, Müller was ministering to twenty-one hundred orphans per day, supporting one hundred and eighty-nine missionaries worldwide, funding one hundred schools with nine thousand students, and sending out four million gospel tracts as well as tens of thousands of Bibles to unreached peoples.  Müller had no reserves, personal or corporate, and never asked for a penny, yet God provided over $7.5 million dollars during his sixty-some years of service.  Though there are numerous accounts of answers to Müller’s prayers, I will share only one for your encouragement as it comes through the famous evangelist, Charles Inglis:

 

“When I first came to America thirty-one years ago, I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew; and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland he said to me: ‘Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened that has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life.  Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians.  We had a man of God on board, George Mueller, of Bristol.  I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it.  I was startled by someone tapping me on the shoulder.   It was George Mueller.

 

“‛Captain,’ said he, ‘I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.’  This was Wednesday.

 

“‛It is impossible,’ I said.

 

“‛Very well, if your ship can’t take me God will find some other means of locomotion to take me.  I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years.’

 

“‛I would willingly help you, but how can I?  I am helpless.’

 

“‛Let us go down to the chart room and pray,’ he said.

 

“‛I looked at this man and I thought to myself, ‘What lunatic asylum could the man have come from?  I never heard of such a thing.’

 

“‛Mr. Mueller,’ I said, ‘do you know how dense this fog is?’

 

“‛No,’ he replied, ‘my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’

 

“He went down on his knees, and he prayed one of the most simple prayers.  I thought to myself, ‘That would suit a children’s class, where the children were not more than eight or nine years of age.’  The burden of his prayer was something like this:  ‘O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes.  You know the engagement You made for me in Quebec for Saturday.  I believe it is Your will.’

 

“When he had finished, I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray.

 

“‛First,’ he said, ‘you do not believe God will do it; and, second, I believe He has done it.  And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’

 

“I looked at him, and George Mueller said this: ‘Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King.  Get up, Captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.’  I got up, and the fog was gone.  On Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec.”

 

The father delights to answer our prayers. Therefore, let us pray expectantly, watching for him to work. The most important and compelling reason for believing God will answer and so praying expectantly comes from 2 Corinthians 1:20:

 

For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection prove not only God’s love but also the surety of his promises. Because of Jesus, we can believe God’s promises and so pray earnestly and expectantly.