Have you ever felt prompted to go and pray for someone, but the circumstances didn’t seem right? It can be very intimating to go up to a stranger and ask if you can pray for them. Years ago, I was traveling from Big Bear in San Bernardino, California, back to Santa Barbara when I stopped at a convenience store to pick up some snacks. It was crowded, and there was a long line of people. While waiting in line, I felt prompted to ask the cashier if I could pray for her healing, but I didn’t. When I got back in the car, I knew I had missed an opportunity, but instead of going back to pray for her, which didn’t occur to me, I regretfully got back on the road. 

Instead of listening to that prompt that day, I looked at the circumstances and let them dictate my actions. While it wouldn’t have been entirely out of character at the time for me to stop and pray for a stranger, I didn’t do it. Perhaps I allowed the circumstances to be my excuse. 

As I was reading Acts 10 today, I noticed something about circumstances and how we ought not to allow them to dictate what we do if God tells us to do something counter to them. 

In Acts 10, we are told about Cornelius, a Roman Centurion who loved the Lord and served him faithfully. When an angel of the Lord appears to Cornelius, he tells him to send for Peter and have him come to his home (Acts 10:5). Cornelius was a Gentile and knew that Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles. Yet, Cornelius obeyed the Lord and sent men to get Peter. 

When we read Acts 10, it’s essential to realize the contempt Jews had for Gentiles and how the timing of these circumstances was perfect. If we miss that, then we miss the tension of this encounter. 

If Peter had been in the same town as Cornelius, and Cornelius had sent the men to meet Peter that same day, Peter would have had nothing to do with them. However, Peter was staying in Joppa, a two-day journey (about 30 miles away). Since the men had about two days’ worth of travel ahead of them, there was still time for Peter to have a change of heart. 

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray (emphasis added).

Acts 10:9 (NIV)

The messengers were closing in on the city, but Peter still wouldn’t have received them if they had knocked on his door at that moment. 

While praying, Peter gets hungry and has a vision. 

He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:11-16 (NIV)

While Peter was thinking about the vision, the three messengers from Cornelius arrived, knocked on the door, and asked for him. The Holy Spirit tells Peter to receive them, so he does. They tell Peter why they’ve come, and then he does something incredible. 

Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

Acts 10:23 (NIV)

Peter invited the three Gentiles into the house to be his guests! This was a great act of faith and obedience. Not just on Peter’s part but on that of Simon, the tanner. Both of whom were Jews that didn’t associate with Gentiles. 

After Peter returns with the messengers to Cornelius, Peter speaks plainly about the situation. 

He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

Acts 10:28 (NIV)

If you’re unfamiliar with the rest of what happens, I encourage you to finish Acts 10. What I’d like to point out here, however, is that God worked the situation out despite the circumstances.

If we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to do something, then we should do it. Like Cornelius, who faced thousands of years of Jewish law but did what God told him to do, we might face imposing circumstances. However, we don’t know what God has done to prepare the way. Yet, God can change the circumstances when we have faith and obey God.