I left to go to church last Sunday morning, and couldn't find my keys. I always hang them by the door, and after looking in a couple of other spots they were nowhere to be found. I had one last spot to look: in the truck. I had got in the habit of leaving them in there, even in the ignition. This is only possible because I live in a small town and have a 27 year old truck no one would want to steal. But when I got to the truck, in a hurry now to get to church, I saw that I had locked them inside the cab. With only one set of keys (because the closest place to get a copy is about 1/8 of mile away), I quickly found a coat hanger and set to work.
I knew what the problem was, and so I set out to fix it by unlocking the door. I had to try for about 20 minutes and two coat hangers before finally getting it open. I had a problem, I found a solution. But one thing I never did was pray over my locked door. My problem wasn't spiritual, it was physical, and I could take care of it myself.
We all encounter problems, and we all seek solutions. But often we seek the wrong kind of solution to the problem that we face. In Acts 12, James the brother of John has been arrested and beheaded by Herod, and after seeing it that it pleases the Jews, he makes plans to do the same to Peter. Acts 12:5 lays out the problem, and the church's solution.
"So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God."
Acts 12:5 (NASB)
We are not blind to our problems. It doesn't take a keen eye to see that many churches in America are sick today, and yours might be one of them. But while we see what the problem is, we fail to see what kind of problem it is, and then seek the wrong answer. Peter being in jail could have been seen as a political problem, so the solution is to call in political favors, to pull some strings, and get him out. Someone might have seen it as a physical problem, so the physical solution is to bust him out of jail, Ocean's Eleven style with all the apostles. But the church saw Peter being in jail about to be beheaded as a spiritual problem, and so they sought a spiritual answer through prayer.
If your church is struggling financially, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one? If your church is comfortable and doesn't want to reach out to it's community, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one? If a pastor or leader is is struggling because attendance is down, is it a spiritual problem or a physical one. We often think that we have the answer to all our problems, if people will just listen to us. If these are physical problems, then there are physical solutions out there to help you. Ways to raise giving, to boost attendance, ideas to stir a comfortable church can be found by the hundreds. But if these problems are spiritual ones at their heart, then God alone has the answer, and prayer must be made "fervently by the church to God."
Use common sense. If your parking lot has weeds, pull them. If the sanctuary needs painting, paint it, don't just pray over it. If the keys are locked inside your truck, go find a coat hanger. We would never seek spiritual solutions to physical problems. So why do seek physical answers to spiritual problems?
Ask yourself what is the root cause of your problems. Recognize that many (if not most) of the problems that plague churches and families are spiritual problems at their core. And then seek the one who has all the answers, no matter how big the problem might be.
Peter ends up out of jail in Acts 12. Neither he nor the church could seem to believe what God had done. But when we get the right solution for the right problem, even the jail doors can open.