How do you feel about your faith? Is it a source of deep joy and contentment to you? Are you excited about being saved? About being part of God’s plan for humanity? I hope so but if I’m honest, you know what? My joy level fluctuates a bit – periodically I get a blasé about my faith, a bit ‘ho hum’, and often with that a bit lazy. I can’t really be bothered to pray. Read the Bible? Err… Let’s just have a look at ‘i-player’ first shall we? Is it just me? No? I didn’t think so.
So what might help with that? Let’s consider Rhoda.
After Peter’s miraculous rescue from prison by an angel…
Acts 12: 12-17
“As soon as he [Peter] realized this [he was free], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered and were praying. When he knocked on the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter’s voice she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “it is his angel” meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.
So…Rhoda – One mention, one verse – not a lot to say really is there?
She’s a maid, in the house of a Christian mistress – Mary, and in the middle of a crisis she had a ditzy moment. Not that inspiring eh? So – a maid, forget - ‘girl in a little black dress with a frilly white apron,’ – a maid in the ancient world is a slave; part of the underclass – owned by someone else, powerless to determine her past, present or future. And get this – a Christian owns her! What is interesting is that it’s her mistress not her master who is named. I suspect that means her mistress is a widow, so it’s a house led by a woman. One woman owned by another woman. (Are your 21st century values screaming yet?)
Another interesting thing is the fact that the text implies that she was also part of the prayer meeting her mistress is hosting. That suggests that she’s not just a slave but a Christian too.
Paul in his letters often addresses relationships between Christian slaves and masters – clearly it was hard to work out how you relate to someone who owns you and yet is your ‘sister in Christ’.
So Mary, Rhoda and a group of others are praying for Peter – who has been imprisoned. We have to bear in mind that Christians are being martyred – first Stephen and now James - this is a desperate situation.
Can you imagine the intensity and desperation in that night of prayer? The tears and cries to the only one who can do anything now. The God who didn’t save James from Herod, who didn’t save John the Baptist, who didn’t save Stephen or even his own son? Can he, will he, save Peter?
In the middle of the night there is a knock on the door – and Rhoda, (who presumably hasn’t been to bed) goes to do her duty and answer it. Now – let’s think for a minute – who do we think she thought it was?
Now, we go ‘what a ditz’ – but seriously – what would you have done? The text says that she was “So overjoyed” that she forgot to open the door and ran back in to tell the others. For me that is both funny and spontaneous. She has been crying to God for a miracle, and faced with it she is so delighted that she forgets her duty, forgets her training, forgets she’s a slave and in her joy rushes to tell the others. She runs in to her social superiors, she interrupts their earnest prayer – she forgets herself in her delight!
God’s done it – he’s answered – Peter’s here – it’s a miracle!
I bet Peter laughed, I bet Jesus laughed, I bet her excitement was so infectious that once the rest had grasped the truth (which took them a while) they laughed too! (The joke was good enough to put in the bible!) I bet she was embarrassed though. To leave Peter on the doorstep!
I think that is what we can learn from Rhoda. Not to be ditzy, but to be delighted in God, in what he’s done, in answered prayer. Ok, I accept these were exceptional circumstances. Desperate times caused desperate prayers and phenomenal gratitude to God’s intervention. She may not have always been joyful or spontaneous but on this occasion she was.
One student I know was healed, seeing her leg grow. Seriously – it grew an inch to match her other one! And I was struck when she shared that in church that there was a mild interest and a ripple of applause. I wanted to stand up and shout, “It’s a chuffing miracle people! We should be cheering and swinging from the chandeliers! (Well – light fittings – it was a Baptist church!) Not giving it a polite round of applause before the next worship song.
Why don’t we cheer and yell when someone gets saved?
Why don’t’ we rush to tell everyone when our prayers get answered?
Why don’t we celebrate?
Why are we so joyless so often?
I bet Rhoda would have cheered. She might have forgotten to answer the door but I bet she’d have got excited. I don’t know how much of our joylessness is cultural (British stiff upper lip and all that!) I don’t know how much of it is that we’re not really that desperate. I don’t know how much is that our memory of God’s faithfulness to us is about as long as a Goldfish’s because we always want something else. Or that we think he owes us somehow. (Wasn’t the cross enough?) I met a woman once who sat on my sofa and told me that she’d been a ‘good Christian’ for 13 years and that God owed her a husband. I was taken aback, but you know what – she just said what lots of us think.
Instead of embracing what we have we focus on what we don’t.
Instead of praising God we are bored and disillusioned.
I think we need to repent and ask God to make us grateful, joyful, spontaneous people who celebrate life, who forget what others might think and tell them how God has answered our prayers and is on our side. I think enthusiasm and joy would draw people to Jesus a lot more effectively that reticence, cynicism and defeatism.
God has given us SO much. Let’s ask him to help us be like Rhoda – excited, grateful, and overwhelmed by how amazing God’s love for us is. Let’s look for the answers to prayer and celebrate them. Tell people about them – no matter who they are, how foolish it makes us look. Let’s aspire to be spontaneous and enthusiastic.
We have so much to celebrate – we are forgiven, free, loved – that’s a lot to give thanks for!
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 15 October 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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