Peter is in a real predicament. James is already dead, put to the sword by King Herod's men, and now Peter himself has been arrested and thrown into prison, guarded by sixteen soldiers as though he were a dangerous criminal.
The members of the newly-founded Church, however, are praying for him fervently. And a miracle happens! An angel lights up Peter's cell, taps him on the side, and awakens him. After Peter's chains rattle to the ground, he puts on his belt, sandals, and cloak and follows the angel past the sleeping soldiers, past the guards, and out of the gate into the street.
Peter doesn't even know what's going on for sure. He thinks he might be having some sort of a vision until he realizes that he really is outside the prison and free. The angel disappears, and Peter makes his way to the house where his stunned friends greet him gratefully. Their prayers have been answered.
Blaise Pascal once said that “God instituted prayer in order to give to His creatures the dignity of being causes.” When we ask God, the Creator of the Universe, for something in prayer, He always listens to us, and He always answers us. It may not always be the answer we want, but it is always the answer we need.
Take a few moments today to examine your prayer life. Do you believe in the power of prayer? Do you pray mostly for yourself, or do you intercede for others? Do you have faith that God truly hears prayers and answers them and that prayer does make a difference in your life and in the lives of others?
Tuesday – Looking Back
In today's first reading from Genesis 19, we encounter one of the strangest events in the Bible. Lot's wife, looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, turns into a pillar of salt. What's up with that anyway? Why does she suffer such a harsh punishment for something as seemingly insignificant as a backward glance? And why does she turn into a pillar of salt?
First off, let's examine the problem of looking back. Lot's wife directly disobeys God's explicit command: “Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain.” That in itself merited punishment. When God says not to do something, we shouldn't do it. Period. But there is probably more to the issue here. Why does Lot's wife look back? Is she curious? Does she desire to return to the city? Is her heart filled with a longing for what she has left behind? We'll never know for sure. Her motive could have been any or all of these.
On a spiritual level, we need to understand that looking back is the first step to backsliding. When we leave behind a habitual sin or sinful inclination, we must not look back lest we be tempted to go back to our old ways. When God sets us on a new path, we must keep looking and moving ahead toward Him. We must not divert our attention. We must not take our eyes off of God. That's the biggest trouble with looking back. When we do, we quit looking at God and His plan for our lives.
Finally, what is all this business about a pillar of salt? Scholars say that Lot's wife probably actually died by inhaling the sulfurous vapors that filled the air. She hesitated for too long because of her backward gaze, and she was overcome. Her body then would have been covered with ash and the salt that fills the air around the Dead Sea (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament). In any case, Lot's wife's backward glance proved fatal, physically and spiritually.
Wednesday – The Fear of the Lord
In today's excerpt from Psalm 34, we read, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” What is the fear of the Lord? It can be a difficult concept to grasp. Obviously this fear isn't just an emotion, for emotions aren't taught. They just happen.
Theologians identify two levels of fear of the Lord. The first is servile fear. This is a fear of the punishment we receive when we sin. This isn't the best type of fear, of course, but it's better than nothing. It can push us to avoid sin and honor God. The higher level of fear, however, is filial fear, i.e., the fear of a son or daughter for a parent. This kind of fear is a deep reverence and awe of God. It recognizes both His great power and His great love. This kind of fear produces in us a strong desire to never offend God by sin, for we realize that sin hurts God horribly, and we love Him so much and honor Him so much that we never want to hurt Him. God calls us to move from servile fear to filial fear because He longs for intimacy with us, His beloved children.