And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:31 (ESV)
What do you do when you feel threatened? We hear about the fight or flight response. When someone threatens us, hurts us, or makes us insecure we either boil into a rage, ready to defend ourselves, or we withdraw and seek to distance ourselves.
Peter and John had already experienced this as part of Jesus’ Twelve. When Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and crucified, the other nine of the party scattered (flight). John stuck around but mostly kept out of the way (a type of flight) whereas Peter followed close but denied, even vehemently, that he knew Jesus (a type of fight).
Yet, something changed after the resurrection. Jesus commissioned them (and us) to take his gospel into all the world, even if it meant facing great dangers. And to empower us, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to be with us, strengthen us, and direct us.
So, in Acts 4, Peter and John went about healing people and proclaiming Jesus. This time, they were the ones arrested and taken before the leaders. There they were threatened and told to stop, or else worse would come to them.
After their release, however, they went back and joined their fellow followers of Jesus. They told of what had happened, and together they prayed. This time, though, there would be no fight to protect themselves and there would be no flight to escape. They prayed, the Holy Spirit strengthened them further, and they went out and faithfully spoke about Jesus, emboldened.
This is what prayer does when we’re threatened. When we feel tempted to fight or to flee, prayer takes the focus off our own anger, hurt, or fear. Prayer reminds us that we are helpless to be faithful in our own power. Prayer focuses and connects us to the God of all strength and grace. And God will answer those prayers for spiritual boldness because he loves us and he has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us away from fear.
Thus, we can be faithful to Jesus and we can say along with Peter and John, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:20)