Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
One of the great benefits of vacation is that there are no deadlines for being done with devotions. I can start and go as long as I want. If the Bible plan says four chapters (which it does), I can read eight. If it takes 20 minutes to read four chapters, I can take two hours. That’s the way I really like to read the Bible. Roll it around in the mouth of your mind before you swallow it down into your soul.
So one morning in the book of Acts, I was reading chapter 12 where Peter is about to be killed. Herod had just killed one of the Sons of Thunder, James, with the sword (Acts 12:2). I suppose he beheaded him like another Herod did John the Baptist. Just like that, James is gone. James! As in Peter, James, and John. You’d think time would stop. But everything moved on.
Killing James pleased the people—at least some of them (Acts 12:3). So Herod decided to do the same thing to Peter. Peter was put in prison with four squads of soldiers keeping watch (12:4–5)—two chains on his hands and a soldier on either side—and more at the door.
The night before his execution, an angel from God woke him, and “the chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7). Just like that. The soldiers stayed fast asleep. Peter thought he was dreaming. But he obeyed. That’s a good sign. I hope I obey God in my dreams.
But here’s the part that slowed my devotions way down. “The iron gate leading into the city opened of its own accord” (Acts 12:10). Of its own accord? Gates don’t have any accord. No will. No desire. No decision. No accord. Is it an odd translation? Actually it’s a pretty good translation of the Greek automatē. You can even read that. Automatic. Auto: self. Mate: an impulse. So, the gate opened of its own impulse.
And, of course, we know it’s a figure of speech. Gates don’t have impulses. God opened the gate. I wonder if that figure of speech was used to remind us that even if the gate had a mind (like the soldiers had minds) those minds would swing on the hinges of God’s will. The soldiers’ minds slept. The mindless gate opened. That’s the way it works—mind or no mind—when God means to get something done. Peter’s work was not done. So, no mere king (and no mere soldier, or mere gate) could stop Peter—not yet. His hour had not yet come.
So I sat there a long time thinking. Gates. Locks. Iron bars. All mindless, decision-less, volition-less. They can’t decide to do anything. How many of these are between me and God’s call on my life? How many of these mindless obstacles are between you and God’s call?
A good friend had just been hospitalized with a virus attack on his heart. That’s dangerous. So I thought, and later wrote, “I take heart and pray for you that this mindless virus will, like the gate, ‘of its own accord’ get out of your way. I’m counting on ten or twenty more years of camaraderie in the great warfare before we give our account.”
Here’s the point. God has a good plan for every one of his children. No exceptions (Romans 8:28–30). But there are innumerable bars of iron in the way. Gates. Fallen trees. Canyons. Maybe it’s money. Maybe disability, cancer, virus, aging, hostile adversaries, lack of training, discouragement, fear, anger, unjust policies, prejudice, lost hope.
But these obstacles do not have a mind of their own. The gate didn’t. And they don’t. Why is that story in the Bible? It’s there to show that, until God’s good purpose is done for you, or for our church, mindless obstacles will not stop us.
The soldiers did not wake up. Peter’s chains fell off. And the gate opened. Mindless material obeys the mind of God. Mindless states obey the mind of God. If God has a good purpose for you—and he always does—every gate will open of its own accord. That is, we can’t make it open. We pray. We work. And we wait. The accord belongs to God.
Let’s trust him together. Let’s believe that there are no locked gates he cannot open. Let’s believe that he will open them because he loves us and has an amazing, Christ-exalting plan for us and for our church. Don’t look at the locked gate and despair. Look at the locked gate and say, “Excuse me, I have work to do.” Look at the soldiers and say, “Sleep on.” And then move forward. You may think you’re dreaming. You’re not.
I am eager to be back this Sunday. I believe God will meet us in power this Fall. And locked gates will come off their hinges.