Peter sat in jail, guarded by four squads of soldiers. Herod wanted to make sure he couldn’t escape. Herod had just had James executed and, for all Peter knew, he was next. What Herod underestimated was Peter’s God. And what Peter didn’t know was that, across town, believers gathered to pray. You can read the story in Acts 12:
Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” (Acts 12:6-11; ESV)
I love the fact that Peter is sleeping! In this passage we see the two ways God works. Jerry Bridges in his work, The Bookends of the Christian Life, says that God works synergistically, combing our effort with his enabling power. In Peter’s predicament, the people prayed and God answered. The people sought God and God broke Peter out of jail!
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5, ESV)
Peter thought he was sleepwalking! Peter’s apparent passivity in his release reveals the other way God works: monergistically. God’s monergistic work is when “he works alone in us and for us but completely independent of us.” (Bridges, 88) Bridges adds:
We must understand both ways the power of the Holy Spirit is applied to our lives so we can discern how to contribute effort. The writer of Hebrews provides helpful insight:
Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
The two prayer requests here seem redundant at first, but upon closer inspection, we see that they aren’t. The first is that God will equip us with everything good we need to do his will. This is his synergistic work. Do we need understanding of God’s will? He’ll supply it. Do we need the power to perform it? He’ll provide it. Do we need providential circumstances, materials, people, or other resources? He equips us. But the writer’s second request is that God will work in us whatever is pleasing in his sight. This is his monergistic work. He performs it without our effort, and sometimes in spite of our effort.
God has no rival.