In Acts 12, author Luke provides somewhat of a funny scene in the middle of serious one. James, one of the church leaders, has been murdered. Peter is arrested and waiting the same fate. But the church goes to prayer for Peter. This is the same church that had seen tangible displays of God’s power. They had witnessed God at work in remarkable ways. They were people of great faith, great works – bold, brave, energetic and heroic. In fact, back in chapter 5 they were all set free from prison.
Here is the church in Acts praying earnestly for Peter’s release when suddenly Peter miraculously shows up at the house where they are praying. And here is Rhoda, so excited that she somehow forgets to open the door. ‘Hello . . . Peter here. Remember me? I’m the one you are asking God to set free! You can stop praying now. Let me in.” And here is the church, so full of faith; they tell Rhoda that she is out of her mind.
You know I find this scene oddly encouraging. Aren’t you glad that God answers earnest but sometimes faithless prayers? Aren’t you glad that God answers and works on our behalf despite the fact that we are often full of doubt? Don’t you find it encouraging that God loves us and works on our behalf when we feel inadequate and distant and when we don’t have everything together? I know I do.
I find this so comforting, as N.T. Wright comments, “partly because Luke is allowing us to see the early church for a moment not as a bunch of great heroes and heroines of the faith, but as the same kind of muddled, half-believing, faith-one-minute-and-doubt-the-next sort of people as most Christians we all know. And partly I find it comforting, because it would be easy for skeptical thinkers to dismiss the story of Peter’s release from jail as a pious legend—except for the fact that nobody, constructing a pious legend out of thin air, would have made up this ridiculous little story of Rhoda and the praying-but-hopeless church. It has the ring of truth: ordinary truth, down-to-earth truth, at the very moment that it is telling us something truly extraordinary and heaven-on-earthish.”
God answers earnest but faithless prayers. My prayers are sometimes like that. I sometimes pray not really expecting much to change. I’m guilty of seeing the glass half empty. I sometimes have more zeal than faith, more doubt than belief. But like a loving Father, God whose eyes are full of grace, works on my behalf anyway. You see, the believers, while praying for Peter, may have lacked faith, but they still loved Jesus.