In Acts, chapter twelve, we learn an interesting lesson on prayer. The chapter begins with the news that King Herod had killed James, the brother of John, with a sword. Because the killing of James pleased the Jews so greatly, Herod took Peter into custody also. It was his intention to bring Peter before the people just after Easter. We read, “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5; emphasis added).
The night before Peter was to be brought forth before the people, something remarkable happened. Peter was in prison. There were four quaternions of soldiers to guard him. He slept between two soldiers, bound with two chains, with more men guarding the door outside. Meanwhile, many of the Saints had gathered together at the house of Mary to pray.
That night, an angel of the Lord came to Peter in prison, “and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands” (Acts 12:7). The angel told Peter to get dressed and follow him out of the prison.
It all happened so quickly that Peter thought it was a dream. The scriptures tell us that when Peter “was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me” (Acts 12:11).
After considering his situation, Peter came to the house of Mary. Now, we must keep in mind that this was the home where the Saints had gathered to pray for Peter’s release. It was the night before Herod was going to bring Peter before the people. In my mind’s eye I picture a group of people praying without ceasing, desperate for the Lord to hear and answer their petition. The killing of James was fresh in their minds; they knew what would happen to Peter if he went before the Jews. After having already lost one Apostle, they must have cried with particular earnestness unto the Lord, pleading that somehow Peter would be saved.
I love what happened next. Peter approached the gate of Mary’s home and knocked. Inside the home, a woman named Rhoda heard the knocking and came to investigate. It was the middle of the night, the condition was precarious, and obviously the Saints knew they were not safe from Herod and his soldiers. I am certain Rhoda was extremely nervous about who might be standing outside the door. So she listened at the gate to see who was there. “When she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate” (Acts 12:14).
It makes me giggle knowing that Rhoda left Peter, a wanted man, standing outside in the dark in a city that was unsafe. She left Peter, who had just escaped from prison, standing on the porch. In her gladness she forgot to invite him in!
When Rhoda ran to tell the other Saints that Peter was on the porch, they did not believe her. They told her she was mad. They didn’t have time for her distraction; they were busy praying for Peter’s release. But Rhoda would not back down from what she knew. So the Saints decided that Peter must have already been killed and that it was his angel standing on the porch. I find it interesting that within that very moment the Lord had already answered their prayers—they just didn’t realize it.
Meanwhile, Peter stood waiting and knocking at the door.
Finally they opened the door, and when they saw him there they were astonished. Great worry turned immediately into great rejoicing. I imagine this is a story the Saints laughed about for many years after the experience. How, in the darkness of the night, Rhoda had listened to hear the voice of the one who approached the gate. How, in her gladness, she had forgotten to let Peter in. How all of them had discerned that it couldn’t possibly be Peter, but must after all be an angel. And how, in unexpected and unanticipated ways, their prayer had been answered—but they hadn’t recognized it until they opened the door and saw Peter standing there. Suddenly, after all, it was a good day (see Acts 12:1–16).
This story teaches an interesting lesson on prayer. Sometimes we are so busy praying for the answer we want, in the way we envision it will happen, that we almost miss the answer the Lord is sending us. Although we are praying without ceasing, the answer almost goes unnoticed.
Our Father is completely aware of our need and the situation we are in. I love this thought from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. Of that I personally attest” (“‘An High Priest of Good Things to Come,’” 38; emphasis in original).
Throughout our lives, there will be times when we find ourselves praying without ceasing. Heavenly Father hears those prayers. It is important for us to remember that sometimes, instead of sending the answer we want, He sends us the answer we need. When our eyes and our hearts are open to recognize those answers, we will be led to see good days.