When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.Acts 16:23-26
There is nothing unusual about an earthquake in this region. To this day, earthquakes are common in northern Macedonia. The earthquake was natural; the timing of it was supernatural. God released the earthquake precisely at the right moment and set Paul, Silas, and the other prisoners free. The most dramatic aspect of this story, though, is not the earthquake. It is the singing of Paul and Silas at midnight. Somebody has said that the gospel entered Europe through a sacred concert which was so successful that it brought the house down!
Imagine this, praising God! That is the meaning of the word
praying used here. They were not asking for anything; they were praising God and singing hymns. They were not faking either. Their backs were raw and bloody, they were covered with wounds, they had suffered a great injustice, but they exhibited no self-pity or resentment. They were facing agonizing uncertainty. They did not know this delivering earthquake was coming. But at midnight they began praising God and singing hymns. I do not know what they sang. I know what I'd be singing: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. But I think they were singing, How great thou art. Evidently they sang because they could see things that we, in our poor, blinded condition, seldom see. These men were men of faith. When you see what they saw, your question will no longer be,
Why did they sing? but,
What else could they do but sing?
They saw, first, that the enemy had panicked. They were conscious that they were in a spiritual battle. But they were delighted when they saw that the enemy had panicked and had resorted to violence. That always means that he has emptied his bag of tricks already. He is down to the bottom of the barrel, there is nothing left. They knew they had won. The second thing they saw was that God, in his resurrection power, was at work in the situation. Resurrection power cannot be stopped. All attempts to oppose it, or to throw an obstacle in its path, are turned around and used as opportunities for advancement. Paul and Silas knew that, and so they were assured that they had won. The third thing they understood was that suffering is absolutely necessary to Christian maturity. You will never grow up, you will never be what God wants you to be, without some form of suffering. When you learn that, you will stop griping and bewailing your estate so. When you run into some suffering you will start rejoicing. They saw that the foe had been defeated, that the work was established, and that they personally had benefited. So they began to rejoice and sing and to thank God for what they saw. And God was so excited by this that he said,
I just can't hold still. I'm going to shake the place up a little bit! It blesses the heart of God to see men act this way. And so the prison was opened.
Father, teach me the perspective that Paul and his friends had so that I might rejoice in my sufferings, knowing that you will use it to grow and mature me.
Do our comparatively minimal hardships produce self pity or genuine praise to God? What are three perspectives we need if and when we experience persecution for our faith? Are we spiritually equipped to experience severe persecution and/or life's inevitable hardships?