Clay Lein might be forgiven for not expecting his prayer to be answered. His wife had begged him to go to church with her. He went, even though he was an atheist, because “that’s were nice people go.” Then, he even volunteered his services as a chaperone for a youth camp. He was quietly minding his own business as a chaperone, when someone asked him to pray. He was an atheist. What did he know about prayer? Still he prayed. He mentioned every child by name and the prayer lasted 15 minutes. At the end of the prayer, one little girl was sobbing. Her uncle had been abusing her and she hadn’t been able to tell anyone until that moment because of that prayer. Reverend Lein is now the rector of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston – a journey that began with that surprise answered prayer.
As followers of Christ, we tell others that we expect God to answer our prayers. Sometimes we piously pre-explain by noting that sometimes God says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Then, it seem like we expect to answer with either “no” or “wait.” Very few of us are like the little girl who ran back into the house to grab an umbrella as the family was headed to the church to pray for rain to end the crippling drought. The early church had that same problem and one example of it is what I consider one of the funniest stories in the Bible. “Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’” (Acts 12:13-16)
Here’s the scene. Peter has been captured and given a death sentence. He’s sitting in jail chained between two jailers. An angel hits him in the side, wakes him up, causes the chains to fall off, and leads Peter out of the jail. Peter’s thinking, “Wow! What a dream!” when the angel leaves him, and Peter realizes that this was no dream: he was free. He went to the first place he could think of – Mary, the mother of Mark’s house. He knocked on the door, and the verses I chose tell the rest of the story. I imagine that most of the people knew who Peter was – he was already prominent in the city. The Romans patrolling the streets would probably have noted this strange guy running around after hours. Peter gets to the house and knocks. Rhoda recognizes the voice, and instead of letting him in, leaves him out in the danger and rushes to tell the people praying for his release that their prayers have been answered. The people praying told her she was crazy, but the knocking continued and soon, someone opened the door and they found Peter standing in front of them. Needless to say, they were amazed. It was the answer they were hoping for, but didn’t expect.
Maybe I should be so hard on those early followers of Christ. I don’t know how long after the resurrection this was, but even though they had seen great miracles, they might not have seen them in answer to their prayers before. Today we have Christians who have been able to ready about these answer prayers and have often experienced God working miraculously in their own lives, and still are surprised that God would answer their prayers with a yes. Perhaps it’s a good thing that we don’t take God’s answers for granted – if we did, prayer might become nothing more than a shopping list of what we want God to do for us. We need to experience the answers God gives to us with a sense of awe and wonder. When we pray, the God of all creation is listening and responding to us. Let’s experience God’s presence with great joy, surprise even, but let’s not leave anyone out in the street when we do.
Oh Lord, I can’t understand why You listen to our cares and concerns, but You do. Thank You for hearing my prayers and answering them. Let me experience Your answers with gratitude and praise.