By Matthew Reecer
“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 everyone’s chains came loose.” -Acts 16:25-26
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas (one of Paul’s associates) find themselves in a prison after casting a demon out of a female slave, who made money for her masters by predicting the future through the power of the demon. Her masters, angered that their source of income had been destroyed, brought Paul and Silas before the authorities, who then threw the two men in prison. “Be imprisoned” was probably not on Paul and Silas’ list of things to do during their time in Philippi. Yet there they were, sitting in a prison cell as darkness surrounded them.
You have probably never been put in prison, and neither have I — but does this, somehow, sound a little bit like our lives? Have you ever gone about your business, just to be thrust into a period of being trapped in darkness? Your prison and your darkness could be any number of things. They could be brought on by a variety of events in our lives, they could be spiritual attacks, or they could be due to chemical imbalances in our bodies. Based on the passage above, I want to take the next few paragraphs to discuss how we, as people of faith, might get through our nights in a prison cell.
First, we cling to community. It’s not lost on me that everything above, as Scripture says, happened “about midnight.” Night makes it hard to see. It’s when our guards are down, when we’re tired, and when we’re more vulnerable to the lies of the enemy. In the middle of the night, in the prison they were trapped in, notice it wasn’t just Paul singing and praying — he had another man, Silas, doing those things right beside him. Community gives us a way to see in the dark, but it also gives us people who are willing to pray and worship right alongside us until the night passes. This is, in part, why I think community is so important to our walks as Christians: we have people to celebrate with when things are going well, but we also have people to cry with, to worship alongside, and to pray with when nighttime hits.
Secondly, we pray and worship. Read through the passage above once more. What happens? In the midst of prayer and worship, the prison doors open. Chains lose their grip. In one of my own bouts of worry, a friend brought Philippians 4:6-7 to my attention: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” So, what does this look like for you and I? Turn up that worship music. Put your face to the floor. Let worship replace your worry, and let love replace your fear. When we find ourselves in the prison cell of anxiety and worry, we need to look up. We need to focus on our God, who is bigger than our prisons, who is stronger than the night, and who can cause our chains to fall.
Thirdly, we cling to the Word. This isn’t something I gleaned from the passage above, but it is something that should be one of our first reactions when life deals us a hand we think is too much. In 2011, the senior pastor of my church in Grapevine, TX, passed away unexpectedly. The morning after his death was a Sunday, and guess who was supposed to be preaching! In his place, one of our associate pastors preached on what she felt God needed us to hear in the midst of one of life’s unexpected turns, and one of those things was that we need the Word of God. In the midst of anxiety, depression, and confusion, the enemy is going to throw lies at us about the future, and as he raises all sorts of questions in our minds, we need a firm foundation to stand on. We need to know Truth in order to combat the lies Satan throws at us. We need God’s Word to comfort us. We need to know His promises.
God is not a god of hopelessness, or sleepless nights, or uncertain futures. He is, however, a God who leads us “by still waters.” He is a God who makes us “lie down in green pastures,” who leads us “beside quiet waters,” and who refreshes our souls (Psalm 23.) He is a God whose “goodness and love” will be with us all our lives — and yes, that includes our nights in prison cells.
None of this is to say that professional counseling services are a waste of time, but in the middle of the night in our prison cells, we need to make sure our souls are being nourished, and we need to make sure we remember the God who can break our chains and open our prison doors.
Dawn does come. Prison doors can be opened. Shackles can fall. Don’t buy into the lie that they cannot or will not, because there is One who is greater than all those things. The question is this: what is your response going to be when you find yourself in a prison in the middle of the night?