About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:25-26, NIV
This is a familiar story from the Book of Acts. Paul and Silas were constantly followed and interrupted by a demon-possessed slave woman. They put up with it for a while; then, finally, Paul cast the demon out. When the owners realized it had cost them their profit, they had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison.
Paul and Silas were bound in stocks and chains in an inner cell. In other words, there was no outside light. Maybe they had the dim light of a smoking torch. The air was stale. The rats scampered across the floor. Their backs were bleeding and sore. They were in pain, and they hadn’t even done anything wrong.
I am not sure how you would have reacted in such a circumstance. I know singing hymns probably would not be the first thing on my mind.
Many of us would have been whining and complaining about how unfair it was when all were were doing was serving God and helping people. Maybe some of us would even be doubting our faith. If God truly loved us, would we be here? Were we somehow out of the will of God? Always the big Why. Perhaps the more spiritual among us would be pleading with God for deliverance.
Paul and Silas had a different reaction. It is almost as if they didn’t realize that anything was wrong! After all, God loved them; they loved God. Somehow this was part of a bigger plan. Since God had allowed it, it had to be for their ultimate good. Therefore, there was only one proper response: joyful praying and singing.
As I am sure you can imagine, joyful praise and worship were not what they felt like any more than you or I would have felt like it. But the Christian life is not lived by feelings. It is lived by making choices of faith. It is a matter of the will. We choose to believe God and act as if what He says is True, even when our emotions and circumstances appear to be telling us the exact opposite.
So they made a deliberate choice to praise and worship God where they were and regardless of how they felt. They offered the sacrifice of praise. While we can and should praise God at all times, it can only be a sacrifice when we don’t feel like it. Praise and worship are not based on who we are, what we are feeling, what is happening to us or around us, or even on whether we feel worthy or not. Praise and worship are based on Who God is; therefore, it is appropriate at all times, for He is always worthy.
When they offered this sacrifice of praise, God got excited and came down for a visit. Their prison doors were opened, and their chains fell off.
However, I want you to notice something significant. As Paul and Silas were singing, other prisoners were listening. You may be going through some tough things, but around you are other people who are also experiencing painful circumstances. They don’t want your sympathy; they want to know if you have an answer. If all they hear from our cells is whining, complaining, and pleading, they have no reason to think that we are any different than they are. But when they hear our voices raised in praise and worship despite all we are going through, then they pay attention. Which leads to the next observation…
God came down, and Paul and Silas were set free. But did you see it? The other prisoners had their prison doors opened, and their chains dropped off as well. The praise of Paul and Silas not only released them from their prison, but also it released all the other prisoners as well. When you and I are going through tough things, it is about more than us and our circumstances. God wants to bring freedom and deliverance to those around us as well. However, it all depends on whether we will make a faith choice to praise and worship God no matter what.