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After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison . . . he put them in an inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
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. All at once the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (Acts 16:23-26)
Severely bruised and lacerated by the rods used for flogging, their legs jammed into painful positions and immobilized in the stocks, Paul and Silas were in physical misery. Their crime? They had delivered a slave girl from a fortune-telling demon, enraging her owners, who lost a real money-maker. In retribution, the owners invoked the Roman law of emperor-worship, charging Paul and Silas with teaching that worship belonged only to God. The punishment was swift and severe.
Inside the prison, an amazing scene unfolded. Paul and Silas were responding to their suffering very strangely: with prayer and praise to God. No wonder they had the attention of the other prisoners! Their absolute faith and even joy in the midst of such an ordeal was a testimony to the undeniable strength and hope they had found in Jesus.
Our faith speaks loudest in times of great trial. We’re all prisoners in a fallen world, but we can choose to be free because we have been redeemed by our Savior, and are no longer shackled by sin, despair and death. As we take hold of faith with both hands and refuse to let go, the world can beat us up and chain us to a wall of adversity, but it can’t shut us off from the Holy Spirit or handcuff our hope.
No order or act of an earthly authority can confine God’s Word, His work, or our belief. On the contrary, prayer and praise shakes the very foundation of the places and situations Satan constructs to defeat us. Faith put into action breaks the chains with which sin has bound us, and throws opens the doors of real freedom through Christ.
We may be in pain from the lashes laid on by our lives or relationships. We may feel chained by our circumstances or the consequences of our wrong choices. We may be immobilized by fear or grief, unable to move forward. We may be locked up by our secrets or our shame, feeling isolated, depressed, and alone.
As foreign as it seems to our human nature, responding by prayer and praise can open the doors of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that have locked us up in the dark places where Satan flourishes. It is God alone who can shine light into this darkness, who can bind up our wounds and bring us out into His freedom and light. He is always ready if we are willing to let go and let God.
The imprisonment of Paul and Silas resulted in the conversion of the jailer and his family, and doubtless others came to faith because of his witness. God turned persecution into salvation because of the steadfast faith of His servants.
Despite my suffering, or even because of it, what will I let Him do in and through me today?