“About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James with the sword, and… proceeded to arrest Peter also. He put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him,.. but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
“Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands. The angel said to him, ‘Dress yourself and put on your sandals… Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out.., and immediately the angel left him.
“When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod…’ He went to the house of Mary,.. where many were gathered together praying.” Acts 12:1-11a,12b
The early church was growing in numbers and power, but so was sentiment against it. New converts meant increasing suspicion among government and religious leaders, and consequent persecution. None of this was lost on our sovereign God. He was working all things- even death and imprisonment and the prayers of His people- for the ultimate good purpose of all who loved Him. (Romans 8:28)
We do know not know why the Lord takes some young and others later in life. We wouldn’t order the desperation or injustice we encounter. We cannot fathom God’s broad and mysterious and sometimes painful ways. But even when we do not understand, we can trust His intentions and believe He is actively fulfilling His purpose. He appoints the number of our days, our place and pattern of service to Him, and whether it means martyrdom, public teaching, serving tables, or praying behind the scenes, we are called to follow Him. (John 21:18-21; Acts 17:26)
Following may lead to prison- literally, for those under oppressive regimes, or figuratively, for those condemned or constrained at work, or among friends or family. Our faith may imprison us loneliness, or being misunderstood. But in these places, as we pray, we learn contentment, and God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. We trust Him for deliverance, discernment, strength, and hope. God uses it all to accomplish in us and others what He desires. (Philippians 4:11-13)
In my hard place, from what does He intend to unshackle me? What is He teaching about His trustworthiness, or expectant prayer? How can I follow Him more closely to join in His work?
Lord, you have set me apart for specific work, in this specific time. Fill me with your Spirit to fulfill that call, and to encourage others to do the same, for the building up of Your kingdom and the magnifying of Your glory. (Acts 13:2-5)