"Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
“Joy is distinct not only from pleasure--but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, and the inconsolable longing.” C.S. Lewis
Author Leo Buscaglia tells this story about his mother and their "misery dinner." It was the night after his father came home and said it looked as if he would have to go into bankruptcy because his partner had absconded with their firm's funds. His mother went out and sold some jewelry to buy food for a sumptuous feast. Other members of the family scolded her for it. But she told them that "the time for joy is now, when we need it most, not next week." Her courageous act rallied the family. Unlike Buscagalia’s family dinner party and joy, Paul and Silas were in the dark prison chained in a cold cell without any comfort, yet they could praise in prison. What made that possible? Because the Apostle Paul and Silas were empowered by the Holy Spirit and were in love with Jesus. They couldn’t keep silent. They were telling everyone about Jesus, and the power of Jesus was setting people free. Acts 16 tells us that Paul was in Philippi to share the good news about Jesus. He went by the river where some women were praying. He witnessed to them, and God opened Lydia's heart. She and her family accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Lydia invited Paul and his friends to stay with her, and they did.
A young slave girl followed Paul and Silas every day in town and praised them as men of God. Paul did not like the recommendation from Satan's source, so he commanded the demons to come out of the young lady. When that happened, she lost her power to predict the future. Her owners got angry with Paul and Silas and brought false charges against them, saying "These men are Jews and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the accusations. Paul and Silas were taken to the authorities. The officials ordered Paul and Silas to be beaten and flogged and thrown into prison. The jailer put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. The chains and fetters couldn't keep them silent from praising God, and the power of God set them free.
Paul and Silas turned their prison cell into a praise sanctuary. "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 everybody's chains came loose." Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom and joy. If you want to experience the joy of the Lord, praise him and let his Spirit comfort you. He is limitless, since he is present everywhere. What was true for Paul and Silas can be true for us, if we take time to pray and praise the Lord. Problems try to make God small. Our praise magnifies God’s greatness - we see that in Paul and Silas.
Paul and Silas' jailer became free by the Christ they praised. "The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come
to believe in God, he and his whole family."
Paul and Silas demonstrated that it is possible to praise God even in prison. Their circumstance did not determine their attitude. Their delight in the Lord made them praise him in prison, and those who witnessed their joy were attracted to Jesus. When a Christian is in love with Jesus, he becomes a magnet for Jesus! God is calling us into intimate relationships that happen when we spend time to study his word and time in prayer to know him. Like any loving relationship, loving God is a fulltime engagement, not an occasional visit in crisis! St. Paul and Silas modeled loving God in their trials and sufferings. May God help us to honor our Lord who sacrificed his life for our salvation.
Pastor Shim Habte
Willow United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St. Willows, CA 95988