When Cornelius prayed to God in Acts chapter 10, the Lord answered his prayers by telling him: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” Then he told him to send men to Joppa and look for Simon Peter (Acts 10:1-5) who was lodging at the home of Simon the Tanner. God was preparing to change Cornelius’ perspective by revealing to him salvation through Jesus Christ.
The next day, God was also answering Peter’s prayers.
Acts 10:9 “On the morrow…Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour…”
The Bible does not tell us what Peter when up there to pray about, but it’s very clear on what the agenda became. Often when we go to God in prayer, we have an agenda, a list of things we would like to see God do in our lives or in the lives of others. God has no problem with that. The Psalms are full of examples of people coming to God with their burdens, and in many cases God hears the psalmist and answers the prayer. But then there are times when the psalmist begins with a premise and God steers him to a conclusion he had not considered.
This is what happened to Peter. He may have gone up on that housetop to pray for one thing, but God had a different agenda. We should not be surprised if God does that when we pray to Him. It is His conversation after all, and He reserves that right.
We are told that Peter went up to the housetop to pray at the “sixth hour.” In western reckoning this is about noon, so lunchtime. The Bible also says that Peter was becoming very hungry around that time and while his hosts made ready for lunch, Peter fell into a trance.
[Just as an aside: In Bible times – and where Peter lived – housetops were flat, rather than pitched, and it was not uncommon for people to use their housetops like people today might use a patio. That Peter would use it as a place for private prayer, away from the activities in the house of his host is also not unusual. ]
Taking advantage of the fact that Peter was hungry, God gave him a very unusual, but unmistakable vision:
(11) And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
(12) Wherein were all manner of [four-footed] beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
(13) And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
Answering according to his Jewish upbringing, Peter refused because the animals included in this vision were regarded as unclean according to Jewish law:
Acts 10:14 “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten [anything] that is common or unclean.”
Peter was not speaking out of line. He was speaking as any Jew would have at the time. That’s why God gave him this vision. He was changing the apostle’s preconceptions, not so much about food, but about people and the reach of the Gospel:
Acts 10:15 “And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Once more we have an example of God making it clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone and not just the people we think are fit for it. God’s scope is always much wider than our own.
What this teaches us about prayer is this: Sometimes we go into it hoping God will change our situation or the people we’re praying for, when God’s intention is to change us. To Peter’s credit, he did not resist the change in direction that God had introduced to him. He accepted it. When we go to God in prayer, or when we are awaiting His answer to our prayers, we need to be ready to let God change our agenda.