It is a small room. There’s probably about 30 to 40 people inside. All the people in the room are praying. Fervently. Faithfully. Resolutely. Unceasingly. You see, one of their own has been thrown into prison. And they are praying for, if not his release, at least his well being. That he won’t be killed like James, the brother of John. The Christians in Mary’s house are praying for Peter, who had been thrown into prison by Herod. Their prayers are so loud and passionate that they can barely hear the knocks at the gate to the house.
But Rhoda, a servant who was probably standing near the door, hears the knocks and rushes out, towards the gate. When she recognizes Peter’s voice, she is so overjoyed that she forgets to open the gate and rushes back into the house. She announces that Peter is at the door. Everyone thinks she’s crazy. And some are probably not happy that she interrupted their prayers, their communion with God.
“But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.” [Acts 12:16-17]
This scene reminds me of what is currently happening in Kenya. We are practically in the middle of the electoral process. The final results are yet to be announced. We cast our votes into the ballot boxes yesterday, but we seem not to have cast our anxieties onto Christ’s shoulders yesterday, or even today. Many are still worried about what might happen. Fingers are still crossed as fears of a run-off between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga increase. Will the outcome be peaceful? Will the loser keep his promise of conceding peacefully? Will the disgruntled take to the streets or to the courts as promised? No one really knows for sure, so we are anxious. We are praying for peace. But our prayers seem to be driven more by fear than faith. Our fingers are crossed rather than clasped.
We are afraid that the losers may not concede peacefully, so we pray. We are afraid that there may be unrest in case of a run-off, so we pray. We are afraid that disgruntled losers may resort to violence, so we pray. Yes, our prayers seem to be driven more by fear than by faith. But an even more disturbing possibility is that the same fear is what is sustaining the prayers. Why do I say so? Because we are currently applying that pragmatic principle popularly known as P.U.S.H. We are Praying Until Something Happens. We are praying until God interrupts us with an answer that corresponds with our requests. We are praying until we are well clear of any possibility of violence. And when something happens, when we are sure that there will be peace, when we know that the unrest is over, we will stop praying (?).
Ours seem to be therapeutic prayers. Something to calm our fears until the rough stretch is over; An opiate to numb our anxieties until the possibility of violence is no longer there; A magic wand to keep away any bad omens until it’s safe to stop praying. We are not really praying because of who God is, but because of what we think prayer will do. We are not really praying because we believe God will hear our prayers, we are praying to make sure that He did hear our prayers. We are afraid that God could be sleeping in this boat called Kenya and we just want to make sure He stays awake long enough to calm any waves that may arise. We are not really praying because we believe. We are praying because we want to live.
Now, lest I be accused of an unfounded generalization; this may not be entirely true for all of us, but I am persuaded that it is partially true for most of us. I can see it in the updates of many Christians on social media. I can discern it within my own reservations and doubts. And that is why I’d like to remind us that Paul’s words to the Philippians are God’s words to us, His children:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”