"How did we end up here? We were faithfully serving God, at great cost to ourselves, and now we're trapped in this horrible situation. We'll never get out of here!"
Paul and Silas could have said those words, and justifiably so, . . . but they did not. After having been severely beaten and thrown into prison, they prayed and sang hymns to God!
Why had they been imprisoned?
They had commanded the demons to come out of a fortune-telling slave girl. Now that she had been freed from demonic slavery, her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, so they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities and lied about them (Acts 16:19-21). A crowd gathered and joined the attack against these godly men.
After being used of God to free the captive slave girl, they were now taken captive. As if being imprisoned weren't enough, their feet were fastened in stocks, adding to their physical miseries. Trapped among thieves, murderers, and political prisoners, they raised their voices to God in prayer and sang hymns to Him.
The fact that they prayed may not seem so remarkable to us. After all, most people pray desperate prayers or bargaining prayers when they find themselves in dire circumstances, even if they have seldom prayed in the past.
But how could they sing?
Their backs surely must have been bleeding and painful. Why didn't they just groan and pray, instead of singing? Perhaps they realized that the joy of the Lord was their strength, that in worshipping Him they would find the strength, peace, and comfort they needed (Nehemiah 8:10).
Paul and Silas also remembered something that we often forget when we find ourselves facing great difficulties: People are watching and listening. The other prisoners heard these two captives worshipping God. If we think about the type of language and behavior that are usually found in a prison, we can imagine how amazing the actions of Paul and Silas must have seemed.
If the story had ended at this point, Paul and Silas would have been merely wonderful examples of how we should respond during a painful crisis. However, God intervened through a violent earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, opened the doors of all the cells, and broke the chains on every prisoner.
Although the prisoners had been listening as Paul and Silas prayed and sang, the jailer had been sleeping. Now, shaken awake, he prepared to "kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped" (Acts 16:27).*
If Paul and Silas had been angry and vengeful, they could have remained silent and allowed the jailer to take his life. But, once again, they did the unexpected.
"'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!'" Paul cried out. How did the jailer respond? He "rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (16:29-30).
Although the jailer had been asleep earlier, he apparently had heard enough to know that he needed the God of Paul and Silas.
How often when we have tried to tell others about God's gift of salvation, have they appeared not to be listening?
The jailer's response reminds us that the Holy Spirit can, at a later time, bring to mind the message we have shared. Sometimes God has to shake a person by allowing a tragedy, illness, or crisis, before the person is ready to respond.
After accepting Christ as his Savior, the jailer of Paul and Silas became their host, washing their wounds and serving them a meal. The jailer "was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family" (16:34).
Even if we don't experience an earthquake that frees us from our trial, when we trust God and draw our strength from Him, refusing to become bitter and self-centered, He will use our life to reach those around us, no matter who they may be.
© by Howard W. Stevens
* All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.