Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As I was contemplating what to share with you this month, I was drawn to this familiar passage. The story as told in Acts 16 goes like this. After casting an evil spirit out, Paul and Silas were beaten, thrown into jail, put under close guard, and placed in the inner cell with their feet bound in stocks. It was not a pleasant situation. So what do you do when you have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, placed under guard, with your feet bound in stocks, for nothing more than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ? If you are Paul and Silas and it’s midnight, you start praying and singing hymns of praise to God. (Acts 16:25) In that lonely moment, you discover your theology. You find out what’s real and what’s purely theoretical.
There was nothing easy about being accused of disturbing the peace, being publicly disgraced, maligned and vilified. Nor was it pleasant to be beaten or thrown into prison alongside men who were truly criminals. Certainly having your legs in stocks meant you could hardly move. So what would you do in that situation?
If you don’t believe in the sovereignty of God, then you’d probably be bitter, angry and very discouraged. But if you do believe in the sovereignty of God, then you will know that nothing can happen to you by accident. In that case, your reaction is likely to be quite different. You pray and sing hymns at midnight. You don’t learn your theology at midnight, you discover it! It’s in that moment you find out what you really believe. Paul and Silas weren’t praying and singing in prospect of some great miracle. They simply bore witness to the goodness of the Lord in a most difficult situation.
Evidently they prayed and sang loud enough that a crowd of prisoners listened to them, amazed that two men in stocks, having been beaten and roughed up, would seem so cheerful and full of faith. How could this be? Well, they discovered their theology, and it carried them through the darkness of the night. I wonder what Paul and Silas prayed at midnight? I wonder if it was something similar to what Paul wrote several years later in second Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 16-17.
Anyone can sing “Shout to the Lord” when life is good. You might have money in the bank, your marriage is strong, your kids are doing well, you’re happy in your job, you love your church, and all is well with your world. If you can sing praise to God at midnight in jail, then what you’ve got is real. Not only will you discover what you believe in times of trouble, that’s also when the world discovers what you really believe. In those moments, when you cry out to the Lord, the people who watch you will know for sure that you really believe what you say you believe. And having seen the difference that the Lord Jesus makes in the worst moments of life, that’s when they will want to have what you’ve got.
Lord, We thank you that you know what you are doing in every situation. Grant us grace when you call us to bear witness to your goodness. Help us to stand fast, trusting in you, now and forevermore, until the day comes when we see Jesus face to face. Amen.