Remember in Sunday School when we learned about the story of Paul and Silas in jail after they had been severely beaten and how they prayed and sang praises to God and then God sent an earthquake that opened the prison to let them out? No? Well, check it out in Acts 16:16-40. Anyway, every Sunday School picture that they had of that incident showed Paul and Silas smiling and almost giggling while they were singing and praying. In fact, they might as well have been in a first century Disneyland for all we knew!
But is that what it was really like? Let’s face it, these guys had just been beaten to a pulp and probably could barely move, but yet were still chained up to make sure they didn’t escape with all that spare energy they had. The blood loss had to be impressive, leading to weakness and fatigue. Their happiness level had to be sitting somewhere around –25. Yet, they prayed and sang hymns. How does this happen?
I’ve never been beaten to a pulp, but I have been in so much pain that I wished for unconsciousness. I know how pain can make you seriously unhappy. And I didn’t even have the added stress of suffering purely for sharing the Gospel and wondering if God was REALLY on my side!
Yet, they did it. They ignored the happiness level of –25 and prayed and praised anyway. They took the objective truth of God’s love and said, “This is what we know and this is what we will rely on.” And, maybe they did eventually get some smiles on their faces and maybe their happiness levels did come up a few notches.
But, I do know that their JOY levels were high. Why? Because joy is not dependent on circumstances, but on God. In fact, James tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds [even the –25 happiness level kinds – CCM] because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3). (BTW, James has a lot more to say in that first chapter about trials, so take a look sometime.) Paul spends the whole letter of Philippians telling us about joy. My favorite section is 4:12 – “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
And that is true joy – relying on Jesus for our needs, to be able to pray and praise through severe physical and mental pain – beatings, migraines, divorce, whatever. It doesn’t come naturally – and I seriously doubt it came naturally to Paul and Silas. I really think that it was a supreme act of obedience on their part to start those prayers and songs. But, what honor they brought to the God of the Universe!!!
Here’s the question? Can I do that? I’m fighting a migraine tonight. Will I have the discipline to pray not only for my own pain relief but for the hurting and hopeless in my neighborhood and around the world? Will I have the persistence to praise the God who got me through yet another day? The God who deserves so much more than I give Him? What about you? What is your reaction to your struggles? Is it easy to pray and praise? Do you think it came naturally to Paul and Silas and does it come naturally to you? How do you make it work in your life? All comments are welcome!