Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered September 10, 2005 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Freeing the Flame

(RealAudio Version available)

Several years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead studied a group of aborigines in Australia and concluded that they seemed to communicate telepathically. For example, a mother would summon her child to her side by placing her thought "on the wind." The mother would want the child to come home and would concentrate on the child and then maybe the child would appear. The aborigines refer to this as the language of the wind or the voice of the wind; it is a common form of communication among the people.1.

Christians have another word for that kind of communication Prayer. Not with other humans beings of course, but with God. How is your prayer life doing these days? Is it a satisfying experience for you? Or a stale religious exercise?

The book of Acts unveils for us the kind of faith that opens the door of prayer to free the flame and connect us with God. I invite you to open your Bibles to Acts 12. When we come to chapter 12 in the book of Acts, we read of events that must have seemed to happen in rapid succession to the early church. James, one of the inner circle of Jesus' closest disciples, is arrested and quickly put to death by Herod's henchmen. And now it's Peter's turn. The church, now anticipating Peter's execution, feels that irreparable harm will take place to the church. Acts 12:4 tells us that when Herod arrested Peter, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. He had killed James in a rather private manner. But this time wants the full public benefit for himself, to publicly execute. But not during the Passover. So Peter is under heavy guard until that time. There is no possible way of escape. No human help is possible. Herod had taken double precautions to make sure of that. To prevent all possibility of release, Peter had been put under the charge of sixteen soldiers, who, in different watches, guarded him day and night. There were four soldiers for each of the four watches of the night.

In his cell he was placed between two soldiers and was bound by two chains, each chain being fastened to the wrist of one of the soldiers. So Peter was unable to move without their knowledge. All chance of rescue or escape through human means was absolutely cut off. But here's the wonderful truth: Our greatest difficulties are God's opportunities. Don't you love that? Our greatest difficulties are God's miracle-working opportunities. And Peter must have known that. What is he doing on the night before his execution? I like the way The Message Bible puts Acts 12:6. That night, even though shackled to two soldiers, one on either side, Peter slept like a baby.2. He is chained between two Roman guards, but is he worried? No doubt he has already prayed to God and then gone to sleep in trusting rest. Could you sleep if it were your last night? Peter has given everything to God. He trusts God no matter what. Whatever happens will happen according to God's will.

Quite understandably, the church is praying earnestly for God's intervention. They are praying all night and into the early morning when God gives the order to His angel. But they are not aware of the moment that God makes His moves.

Meanwhile Peter peacefully sleeps. I wonder if he was snoring. No, that wouldn't be very restful. But seriously, think of the transformation that has occurred in his life. Before the crucifixion, he was driven by fear and dread of what might happen to him. Under that fright, he denied knowing Jesus. But on this night, he's not afraid. I wonder if in his mind he remembered that night of his denying Jesus, and when he denied Jesus that last time and the rooster crowed and he looked at Jesus. And Jesus looked at him. And on Jesus' face was such gracious loving pity. I imagine he remembered that look. And so this night he's not afraid. Peter has learned the secret of freeing the flame! He chooses to leave his fate and his life totally in God's hands.

The church is up all night praying for Peter; and Peter is sleeping soundly. Just thinking of that contrast makes me wonder about something. Is it possible that the way we pray sometimes can be an indication that we don't fully trust God? Of course, we always need to be in conversation with God and listening to Him. And I'm not implying that the church didn't trust in God. But do we sometimes go over the same ground in prayer with God, without making a decision to trust it all into His hands? And without letting it change us? Do we even sometimes expect our staid prayer life to be a breath of fresh air? Whatever it is, we have to decide what's more important. Saying the right words, or having an conversation with our heavenly Father? Having a formal prayer that always begins with the right words and ends with "In the name of Jesus. Amen," and perhaps reciting the Lord's prayer for extra points. Or would it be best to merely listen to God and thank Him with appreciation and admiration for His wisdom and His unfolding directions?

During World War II, a famous ocean liner, the Queen Mary, was making its first voyage across the Atlantic as a troop carrier, ferrying American GIs to Great Britain. The waters were submarine infested, so the ship was blacked out at night. Six WAACs Women's Auxiliary Army Corp members were bedding down in hammocks for their first night at sea in a cabin meant in peace time for three. For hours they tossed and turned in the stuffy cabin, unable to sleep. Finally, one of the women got out of her hammock and went over to the porthole. "I know we are not supposed to do this," she announced to the others, "but I am going to open the porthole; nobody light a match or turn on a flashlight." "Yes, do it," the others urged. When she cranked open the porthole, they all breathed a sigh of relief and slept like babies that night. In the morning, when they went to close the porthole, they saw it was sealed with an outer glass pane. No fresh air had entered the cabin that night.3

What that story actually shows is the power of positive belief upon our thinking. It's also true that what we believe about our God can have a powerful influence on our lives. When there is genuine respect for what God is like, and, because of that, admiration and friendship and trust, we will be changed. And the truth and authenticity with that kind of relationship with God will keep our prayers from being just merely dry, stuffy whisperings and placebos of self-convincing talk.

There certainly was no dryness or stuffiness in Peter's relationship with God. He's talked to God as His greatest Friend in te Universe, and then gone to sleep.

Not a creature is stirring later on when silently the gate opens without the aid of human hands. And there lies Peter, still sleeping the peaceful sleep of complete trust. In Acts 12:7, we read that the angel had to nudge him awake. "Hurry! Get up!" So Peter wakes up to see his cell illuminated by the light of heaven and an angel of great glory standing before him. So sleepy that he thinks he is dreaming, Peter obeys the angel's command, and as he lifts his hands he is dimly conscious that the chains have now fallen from his wrists. Then he hears another command. "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." And very groggily, Peter goes through the motions.

Have you ever walked in your sleep? Peter is just about to do it. Acts 12:8, Wrap your cloak around you and follow me. And so the usually-talkative-but-now-very-speechless Peter follows the angel. They pass through two more gates before they get out. There is no creaking of hinges or rattling of iron bolts. And then they find themselves out in the open street. The angel glides on in front, encircled by dazzling brightness, and Peter, very bewildered, still believes himself to be in a dream. They go down the length of one street, and then the angel suddenly leaves Peter standing there. And now, with the heavenly light gone, Peter is in profound darkness waiting for his eyes to adjust.. He is alone in the dark on a silent street, with the cool fresh night air blowing upon him. Peter now fully realizes what's happening. He is outside the prison and his aching and swollen wrists are now free from the chains. He's definitely not sleep walking. He's not even disappointed that he isn't.

His freedom is no delusion. It's not a dream or vision, but a wonderful reality. Acts 12:11 says: And when Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.

The apostle made his way at once to the house where his fellow believers were assembled and where they were at that moment engaged in earnest prayer for him. His friends expected him to be killed that very day. Having spent the night in prayer, they're still praying for God's intervention.

Let's notice Acts 12:13, 14. After Peter realized what was happening, it says, And as Peter knocked on the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. I wonder what she said to the others, and how she said it. So what did Rhoda say to the others? "Oh, by the way, I think that might be Peter knocking at the gate. I think that's his voice." No, it was more like, "You'll never believe it. Peter's here! He's knocking at the gate. God has answered our prayers."

And she was right. They'd never believe her, but they were wrong. Let's read Acts 12:15 and 16: But they said to her, "You are beside yourself." Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, "It is his angel!" But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

What a scene! Peter is outside knocking, hoping no one sees him. But Rhoda and the other disciples are arguing about whether Peter is really there or not. And after all that praying, does it not seem strange to you that when God answered their prayers, Except for Rhoda, they all were slow to recognize that God had answered their prayers.

Think of that. They're praying to God as long as a whole week, the Passover week, for Peter and all through the night and God lands a miracle right on their doorstep and they don't believe it! "Rhoda, you are crazy!" Is that strange? Or is it just like us? What about you? Are you praying to God about something and waiting for God's answer? I don't know what you're waiting for, but are you trusting God? How long have you been waiting for it? Might I suggest that God has already set in motion events that will lead to your prayers bing answered far beyond your greatest dreams.

Is it sometimes hard to recognized God's working in His timing? Yes it is. Of course, if we are unaware what God is doing, we're being human. But as Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, ...when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"

So, what is the secret that Peter learned? How can we free the flame of faith? I believe this Bible story teaches us is that while we pray and wait for God's answers, we must do two things. While we wait, we must first trust God for His timing and His choice of events. Peter had learned that lesson. And now, it's our turn.

The only way we can do that is to learn that the One to whom we are praying is the dearest Friend that we could possibly imagine. He is Someone who loves us deeply, Someone that we can absolutely trust and admire. That's how Peter knew Him. That's how Peter experienced Him. Peter knew Him as the One who would rather call us His friends, not His servants,4 because He wants us to understand Him. And that means we can know Him as our Friend, the best friend we'll ever have. We can know as Peter did that He is infinitely powerful, but an equally gracious and a humble Friend. That's our God.

And then the flame of faith can be freed. And God can use us to do great things for Him. But we can't get to that place unless we've invested the time to know Him.

One thing else I believe this story teaches us is that we must remember that the connection between us and heaven is very close, much closer than we dream of. Ellen White talks of a ladder, as it were, of angels who connect us to God. She says these "heavenly messengers are passing through the length and breadth of the land, seeking to comfort the sorrowing, to protect the impenitent, to win the hearts of men to Christ. We cannot see them personally; nevertheless they are with us, guiding, directing, protecting."5 They are also constantly "bearing the prayers of the needy and distressed to the Father above, and bringing blessing and hope, courage and help, to the children of men." Don't you like that?

Peter's escape from prison freed the flame of truth and faith for all to see it burning brightly. Ultimately, as I reflect upon this, I ask, isn't the most important thing in life to have this life- changing trust in God?

In 2002, Becky and I adopted a 3-year old cat whom we christened Kitsie. Our first recollection of Kitsie was as a young and skittish neighborhood cat hanging around where Becky worked, looking for food. At first she seemed fearful of our touch and so we guessed she'd been mistreated early on. But we consistently provided for her needs. We were gentle with her. We spoke kindly to her. And then we learned the truth of the saying that dogs have families but cats have staff. It's been said that the cat is the only animal that accepts the comforts but rejects the bondage of domesticity. I think what has surprised me the most in being Kitzie's caretaker is the joy of being someone this little furry feline can trust. We first noticed that when she began to plop her side in front of us and at our feet, purring and kneading her claws as she does. Sometimes even dragging herself to us.

But the ultimate test was when she first climbed up onto my lap and curled up. I perceived it as a demonstration of trust. And from that first time it has always made me wonder how God feels when we demonstrate our trust in Him. Wouldn't God want us to trust Him enough to come to His lap? He doesn't want us to be afraid of Him, does He? He wants us to know Him and understand Him. That's the kind of relationship that I would like to have with my God. Wouldn't you?


1. Ingnite Your Intuition, Improve Your Memory, Make better Decisions, Be More Creative, and Achieve Your Full Potential, by Craig Karges, Health Communication, Inc., 1999.

2. The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO 80935.

3. Life without Limit, by Robert B. Stone, PhD., Lewellyn Publications, St Paul, MN., 1998, p. 115.

4. John 15:15.

5. Acts of the Apostles by E G White, pp.152, 153.

Hymn of Praise: #12, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
Scripture: Acts 10:1-5
Hymn of Response: #509, How Firm a Foundation

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