When we read incidents in the lives of Bible characters it is necessary to remember that they were not finished articles. Usually each of them had made some spiritual progress, but still had a good way to go. This was true of Simon Peter, whether in the stories in the Gospels or those in the Book of Acts. It was also true whether he was involved in little decisions or important occasions. Peter was always a disciple in progress.
In the final verse of the previous chapter (Acts 9), as we noted in yesterday’s reading, Luke tells us that Peter went to stay with a man called Simon the tanner. This was a strange choice in at least one way because a Jew would be regarded as ceremoniously unclean if he came in contact with dead bodies. Of course, Peter had been taught by Jesus that the ceremonial law would be abrogated and would no longer be binding on his people. Yet Peter made slow progress in this regard. Nevertheless we can also say that Peter’s choice was a spiritual one, that his decision-making was based on his understanding of God’s truth, even if he had a long way to go. We can even say that he was exercising his Christian liberty.
What is Christian liberty? It is not that Jesus has freed me so that I can do as I like. Nor is it merely that Jesus has freed me from man-made laws, although it is an application of that reality. I would say that Christian liberty is the freedom to live in any manner that furthers the gospel. If the neutral activity that I want to do will hinder the gospel in my current location, then I am not free to do it. But Jesus has set me free from doing things that will hinder the gospel. And obviously the Jewish ceremonial law was a barrier to Gentiles, so Peter on this occasion chose to ignore it. But there were other reasons why Peter chose to stay in that location.
One was choosing a place where he would have time to pray. The time he chose to pray was six o’clock in the morning, and he made it his priority for the day. It was even more important to him than his breakfast. Luke is not saying that all of us should pray before breakfast, but he is saying to us that our lives have to be arranged so that we will have a regular, daily time of prayer.
When we think of prayer, there are two inadequate responses. The first is that it will happen automatically and the second is that it will happen spontaneously. Both these suppositions seem spiritual but in reality each is an expression of spiritual laziness. Obviously there is a sense in which a Christian automatically prays, such as when he speaks to God when driving a car or walking along a road; there is also a sense in which he will pray spontaneously when matters come to mind suddenly without any prior hint. But neither of these responses is a substitute for real prayer. The only adequate alternative is organised time for prayer.