What to Do when Things Get Tough
You might think that when a person gets their act together in ministry that everything would just open up ahead of them. After all, if God is blessing them in ministry then it makes sense he will bless them in other ways too. You’d be wrong if you guessed that! It’s not that God is being deliberately mean-spirited or trying to put brakes on anyone; it’s a dynamic of progress. When things are going well on one front it exerts pressure on another. Change in one area stirs resistance in other areas. When things get tough it’s for a reason. That reason might be that we have done something stupid and we are now getting clobbered by the consequences or it might simply mean we are in the middle of a chain reaction leading to breakthrough. If we aren’t aware of having done anything particularly ridiculous lately, it’s a fair guess that the tough stuff is the doorway leading into greater and better things.
Peter was on a roll. He’d beaten the odds (and his personal history) by boldly declaring the facts about Jesus to the crowds in Jerusalem. They had come from all over the empire and beyond for the Jewish feast of Pentecost and he’d been able to address the crowds producing a huge influx of people wanting to follow the Way. Soon after he and John had been instrumental in a significant healing and again used the opportunity to declare the truth about Jesus. Things were looking up.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For reasons which are too obvious to discuss here the Jewish authorities were not impressed with all this Jesus talk and stirring of the people. Power is a good thing if you control it and having the local cops to do your dirty work for you has advantages. In this case they played their hand by arresting Peter and John and then, after a night to make Peter and John feel the bite of reality, proceeded to intimidate them. They were experts and this method had served them well in the past. It didn’t work at all with sassy Peter and John. Finally the authorities were faced with a simple choice: either they had to physically punish these guys or they had to eat humble pie and let them go. They were no strangers to inventing charges if necessary but they sensed the swell of public opinion and took the less attractive path. To save face they threatened these two disciples with the direst threats they could muster before they let them go.
Back with their buddies, Peter and John told their story – especially the part about the threats made by the chief priests and elders. This news was a bit of a damper on the recent successes so they decided to pray.
What would we pray about at a time like this? Would we focus on our fear of the authorities? Or pray for protection? Maybe we would tell God what he needed to do about them, make sure he understood every detail and nuance of their threats . . . in other words, focus on the threats and our need for protection. That trail simply magnifies our fears and weaknesses and destroys our faith. Since God already knows everything he needs to know about the threat and the threateners, a prayer like that doesn’t achieve anything useful, it only serves to make us more afraid and grows the fear to fill our vision. We become the people controlled by the fear we are praying about. That can’t be a good outcome. What else could we pray?
How about praying for judgment and correction of these threateners? At some level they are accountable to God, It’s interesting that the persecution has come from the established religious people (it usually does and that can hurt all the more because we thought they would be our allies not our enemies – we feel the betrayal and feel indignant about them.) Since they talk about serving God, surely we can call down a tad of brimstone, maybe some fire with a spot of sulphur – give them a taste of where they are heading if they don’t stop messing with us! Even if it doesn’t actually achieve the answer we pictured in our minds, this method feels good. We get to spill our guts and frustration, say vindictive things (under the guise of prayer so it’s oaky to do that, right?), and if nothing else is achieved, we can at least feel smug about their doom. The problem with this approach is it puts us in the place of God. We become the judge and the jury and, if possible, the executioner. It’s based on hate and it only works if we can see the abusers as things not people. If they are people, then God also cares about them and desires them to understand his good news; falling brimstone doesn’t exactly convey that too well. Personal outrage makes a pathetic foundation for prayer, we need to let it go! Any other options?
How about this approach? They put the focus of their prayer on God – how great he is and how he loves to intervene in the lives of humans. They remembered how he’d helped people in the past, and how he had used these same leaders they were dealing with now to achieve his will (they had thought they were winning when they destroyed Jesus but God had won that round, obviously he could do something similar this time). So they prayed for courage to press on and to serve God despite the threats. They kept their focus on the task they had been given and they prayed for the wisdom and strength to do it well.
God evidently liked that prayer.
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Posted on February 22, 2012, in Active faith, Prayer and tagged Acts 4, challenge to success, change, faith and fear, opposition, persecution, Peter, Prayer, threats. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.