So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. Acts 12:5
As we review the events of Acts 12:1-19, a question comes to mind; Why was James killed (see verses 1-2), and Peter delivered? Could God not have saved James as well? There is no question that he could have. Well, why didn't he? The only answer that this chapter suggests is found in Verse 5. Peter was kept in prison, just as James. But the difference was that earnest prayer to God was made for Peter by the church, and as a result, Peter was set free. You say, What difference does it make? Couldn't God just have set Peter free anyhow? If God determined that James would die and Peter would be set free, what difference did the prayer of the church make?
But let us never forget what James (not this James, but Jesus' brother, who wrote The Epistle of James) says: You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). In his wisdom God has designed that his people shall participate in what he does. He is impressing upon his people here that when danger threatens the program of God, or the people of God, it is a call to prayer. God will hear that prayer and answer it and set people free, when he would not have done so otherwise.
This is the great lesson of this chapter. We are not to take the events of our day for granted, as though there were nothing we could do about them. Prayer becomes a mighty, powerful thrust on the part of the people of God, to change events. Prayer is the most natural response of a heart that is dependent upon God. If you are really counting upon God to do something, then you will pray about it. You will trust him; you will communicate with him. If you are not counting on him, you will not pray. If you are really counting on something else, or on someone else — if you think that by your own clever maneuvering you can get out of a situation, or if you are trusting other human beings to come through — you will not pray.
The basic motive of prayer is a sense of dependence. If you really think that God, and God alone, can work, and that there are elements of a situation in which only he can change things — then you pray. This is what happened to this early church. When they realized that James had been put to death, and that this vicious attack of the enemy could be successful, it suddenly crystallized in their minds that they had a part to play in God's program. They were to go to God in earnest prayer that Peter might be delivered. And God set him free in a wonderful way.
This passage highlights for us what prayer does, and that is basic for us to learn today. God works in the same way today as he did in these first century days, and he will respond to our prayers in very much the same way.
Father, teach me how to pray. I don't always need to know what to pray for, but I do so desperately need to pray. I need to pray for others; to pray about the dangers that beset us as a nation and as a world. Help me to open my heart and be honest before you. I know that in the mystery of prayer, a mystery that I cannot fathom, something is happening that makes possible the activity of your Spirit to work in unusual ways, ways that otherwise would never happen.
(A devotion for May 30th from Ray Stedman.org)