Critical times

“So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God” (Acts 12:5 NASB).

Nothing focuses our attention more surely than emergencies. Whether they are global, national, local or merely personal, when we are confronted with great need or danger, we tend to give our complete efforts and energies towards meeting and overcoming whatever the challenge is that we face. Counselors term this approach “Crisis resolution.”

Crisis itself may be a little tricky to define and identify. Several years ago I was given this definition of the term. A speaker said, “You are diagnosed with serious illness; that is not a crisis. You go into depression because of the diagnosis – now that is a true crisis.” In other words, crisis says more about one’s reaction to a situation than it does about the situation.

The popular self-help author Zig Ziglar told of visiting a realtor’s convention in Michigan during a time when autoworkers were on strike. One realtor said to him, “Things are terrible here now; no one is working so no one is buying houses.” He then spoke to another who said, “I am having one of my best years; people are not working so they have time to shop for a new house.”

The two realtors were experiencing exactly the same circumstances but one saw them as a disaster; the other found opportunity.

Problems will always be with us. Whether it is war, disease, economic downturn, or social upheaval, we will constantly face challenges and tribulations. Jesus himself said, “For the poor you always have with you” (Mark 14:7). Again he said,

“And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:6-7).

Fear, despair, anger, depression, and lethargy are all natural human reactions to problems. We feel overwhelmed, inadequate and therefore hopeless against forces that we do not understand and cannot defeat alone. We want to lash out with blame or retaliation against someone, or we simply decide to give up in hopelessness. Neither reaction is productive.

When “King” Herod (He was actually a Roman official governing Judea and Galilee) arrested Peter and executed James, the young church in Jerusalem faced what was probably the greatest challenge it had yet experienced. Notice how they reacted (Acts 12:1-17).

First, they came together (verse 12). Never is unity more important than in times of persecution or other suffering. Jesus built his church (Matthew 16:18), in part, because of our need for mutual support during difficult periods. This is when we most feel the need for our spiritual family. This is when we especially need to be encouraged to keep on keeping on (Hebrews 10:24). The church in Jerusalem was much smaller than it was before the persecution of Acts 8, but their need for one another was just as strong. And the fellowship of other believers was just as powerful as ever.

Second, they prayed fervently (verse 5). God knows our troubles and he cares. But we need the benefits of prayer and he desires to hear of our needs and our faith. Prayer is not just a ritual to be followed at particular times of worship or daily activity. Prayer is an open line to the heart of God. Fervent, believing (James 1:6) prayer should always be our immediate response to any difficulty. Of course, difficulties should not be our only occasions for prayer.

Third, they moved on when the crisis had been met (verse 17). Note that Herod’s attempts to destroy the church had not ended, but the real crisis – their doubts and fears – was over. God had answered their prayers and they were back in business, helping the needy and preaching the Gospel. When we are faced with such challenges let us not delay until all is well before we renew our efforts to serve God. Let us seek courage, increase our energy, and be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49 KJV).

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