“A devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts 10:2)
Prayer is a mystery, deep and wide and way beyond us all. We attempt to fathom its meaning, to discern how it works, but we come up short time and time again. How is it possible for God to hear the prayers of a multitude of people all at once? Does our posture matter when we pray? Should we kneel, or stand, or fall on our face before him? Is there more power in dozens praying for the same request or can one solitary soul lifting a burden to God’s throne bring about the same result? Does God hear and respond to the prayers of those who do not even know to call on the name of Jesus?
The account of Cornelius sheds some light on our questions. His story is found in Acts 10 where his life intersects with the apostle Peter. Cornelius, a God-fearing centurion in the Italian Cohort stationed in Caesarea, gives generously to the poor, prays continually to God, but doesn’t have a clue about Jesus. Yet Christ knows all about him, has heard his prayers, and dispatches Peter as a direct answer to them. Cornelius is not a Jew, he is not in Jerusalem, he is not on anyone’s radar but God’s!
When Peter gets the message from God to go to this Gentile’s home, he promptly obeys. Cornelius, still ignorant of the truth of the gospel, throws himself at Peter’s feet in worship. “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; for I too am a man’” (Acts 10:26). Peter’s response clears up the misconception that particular human beings can be the focus of worship or prayer. Regardless of their proximity to Christ while he was on earth, no one but God is worthy of worship.
Peter shares with those gathered in Cornelius’ home how he was an eyewitness to Christ’s remarkable ministry on earth, to his death, and to his resurrection. He concludes his sermon with the grand declaration: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). And right there, with Peter’s Jewish companions looking on, God pours out his Holy Spirit on this gathering of Gentiles and they become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God delights in answering prayer and desires that we make prayer a priority even if we do not fully understand how it all works, perhaps especially then. The story of Cornelius reminds us that the Lord answers the prayers of those seeking him, those wanting to know him. When we are puzzled by unanswerable questions about those at the ends of the earth who have never heard the gospel, let us realize that our God hears the cries of those seeking him and will make a way for them to find him.
Just like he made the way for us.
“O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come…the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas” (Psalm 65:2,5).
Elizabeth Karram Mitchell
Photo Credit: Bill Mitchell