Many of us are do-it-yourselfers. We like to fix our own cars, reglue our own wobbly chairs, or file our own taxes. Some of us, on the other hand, would rather pay someone to do the things we’d rather not. For us who love the Lord, we need to keep a balance between what we can do for ourselves and what we need to leave in God’s hands.

In Acts 12:1-11, we are afforded an example of ours and God’s responsibility. During a time of persecution, Peter was held in prison by Herod Agrippa 1 (Acts 12:1-4). He was guarded by four squads of soldiers (a total of 16 soldiers). “Their watch would change every three hours in the night to guarantee they were alert” (Darrell Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Acts, p. 426). In verse 5, Luke writes to show the contrast in Peter’s helpless situation that can be translated, “Now on the one hand, Peter was being kept in the prison, but on the other hand, prayer was coming by the church earnestly to God concerning him.” Peter’s situation was impossible—humanly speaking. Peter was utterly helpless to free himself. Yet the church was praying for Peter.

The night before Peter’s would-be execution, he was sleeping between two soldiers (v 6). Again Luke emphasizes the hopelessness of Peter’s imprisonment. He was bound with chains (the strongest tense in Greek to point this out) with two guards before the door (this was the division of squad soldiers). This dark situation was illuminated by the glory of an angel who came to rescue Peter as a result of the praying church (v 7).  Peter was in a deep slumber as the angel struck Peter on the side and then helped to raise him. The chains dropped from Peter’s hands. Peter could not break the shackles. God had to do that for him. Peter was told by the angel to put on his garment, sandals, and outer garment. The angel did not carry Peter out of the prison but told Peter to follow him. As they departed the prison, passing two guards, or guard post, without notice, they came to an iron gate that was opened supernaturally (vv. 9-10). Once in the street, the angel left Peter to care for himself.

This portion of God’s Word shows us that God did what Peter could not do. Peter was responsible to do what he could. The angel only did what Peter could not do. This historic narrative teaches us about the power of prayer. The church prayed intensely for Peter, and God spared Peter death. But there is more to learn from this passage.

Often in their frustration, Christians cry out to God for deliverance but when that deliverance does not match their expectations, they become disappointed. There are saints who cry out for God to deliver them from the enslavement of tobacco. They want to quit smoking but the habit lingers. Some battle for sexual purity but are entrapped. Is it that God does not hear these prayers? The answer is the same as it was for Peter. “Peter, put on your garment.” Peter did. Peter, put on your sandals.” Peter did. “Peter, follow me.” Peter followed. Peter was given imperatives—imperatives he obeyed.

God tells us to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18, Col 3:5). Do we flee? God says to do all things without murmuring and arguing (Phil 2:14). Do we murmur and argue in the midst of doing our duty? God tells us to let no rotten words proceed out of our mouths (Eph 4:29). Do we watch our words? The angel did not clothe Peter and carry him out of the prison. He had to do his part. Many of us want God to clothe us and carry us out of the prison when the answer to our freedom from sin is obedience (Ps 119:9-11). God desires us to mature, and part of the maturing process is the pain of temptation and the submission to God. We should pray for freedom from our prison but be ready to obey God in addition to those prayers.