"So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him' ... 'Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists'. ... 'When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. (Acts 12:5,7,12-16, NIV)
One morning during my prayer and devotion time, I ran across a scripture that stopped me in my tracks. There was something in the text that God wanted me to see. So I backed up and reread the text again. Then it hit me! These believers, who were praying earnestly, weren't expecting their prayers to be answered. I said to myself: "How can this be? How can we prayer "earnestly" for something and not believe our answer when it arrives?" God revealed to me that this happens all the time. He sends answers to our prayers and they are returned to Him stamped "Unclaimed."
Why is this? How can we take the time to pray and not expect our answer or recognize it when it comes knocking? I believe there are three main reasons why this happens.
First, is a "lack of expectation" due to "past experiences". In looking at the context of this scripture, these individuals had experienced fellow believers being killed, even after they prayed for their release. They had endured the stoning of Stephen, the slaying of James and now their leader Peter was schedule to be next. Those who were in the house praying, told the young girl who reported that their prayers had been answered, that she was "out of her mind". However, we must remember that our past experiences or failures do not determine or dictate God's present or future course of action. Many of the most difficult things that hinder our forward movement in life, are not the things that lay ahead of us, but those things that are behind us that distract us from what is happening in our lives now. We must expect God to answer our prayers and be on the look out for its manifestation in our lives, regardless of what happened yesterday. The Bible says that he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Secondly, prayer in the lives of many believers, has been minimized to being nothing more than a "religious activity or responsibility", instead of it being the heaven moving gift of God. When we lose sight of the fact that we are calling upon an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator God of the universe, who also happens to be "our Father", we can become overwhelmed by the severity of our situation. We must understand that we are not calling upon another human being or some distant disinterested deity - but our Father who has no limitations. If I can find it in His Word, and agree with what He has said, the facts of my situation will have to line up with the truth of His word. Facts change everyday, but the truth never changes. Because I've decided to believe the truth above the fluctuating facts, I have a legitimate expectation of manifestation (answered pray) in my life. Prayer is more than religion or a believer's responsibility, but a relationship with our Father!
Thirdly, "God's ways are not our ways". I truly believe, that part of the difficulty those gathered in prayer had in receiving their answer, was that it seemed "too easy". They prayed and God answered their prayer. It was that simple! Believe it or not, this happens more often than you think. I've discovered that many of us overlook our answers because we "feel" that we haven't toiled, labored or suffered enough to have earned an answer from God. Remember, you are a "son", not a slave! You don't earn blessings - you receive them! Jesus said, in Matthew 7:11, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
Therefore, what have you been praying to God about? Did you know that God is your Father and He wants to bless you? Do you expect your prayer to be answered? If not, you need to take a good look around, because the answer to your prayer may have already arrived, and waiting on you to receive it!