What are the hopeless hearing from you, you, who as a believer, even if you had nothing else, should have hope?
“And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:23-25
We all have prisoners listening to us. You don’t have to be sitting in a jail cell to be surrounded by prisoners. The world around us is full of prisoners. Prisoners to fear, to hopelessness, to despair. Prisoners to addictions, to lusts, to greed—prisoners of their own minds or bodies that seem to behave and do things that make the person trapped within feel helpless and disconnected to themselves and everyone else.
Even believers may be temporarily imprisoned to certain afflictions, afflicters and circumstances as we struggle to keep moving forward in this present world of death and decay.
But we need to remember that we are not citizens of this world, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and our songs are not songs of despair, our prayers are not prayers of anguish. Our songs and prayers are spilling forth from hearts that are free, that are full of the joy of the Lord and His Holy Spirit, and any and all afflictions this sick twisted world or our own flesh could throw at us is only temporary and is all subject to the one in us who is greater that he who is in the world.
And those songs and prayers of joy and victory to a God who has overcome all of this world’s heartaches and death itself are the only thing the prisoners of the darkness around us are ever going to hear that may give them even a spark of hope and even set them free.
So what are they hearing? What are they hearing from you?
Paul and Silas had cast an annoying demon from a young slave girl who had been following them around. She had been serving her masters as an oracle of the gods. and making them money as such. They don’t appreciate this and they stir up the city against them. They are seized by an angry mob, dragged to the city council where they are given no right to defend themselves as they are accused of all sorts of sedition and trouble making, going against the social norms and speaking hateful and offensive things. ‘Who do these judgmental religious Jesus freak Jews think they are anyway!”
‘And look what they did to this poor girl who was only trying to help them. Making her look like she was doing something bad and ruining her ability to commune with the higher powers by casting some weird Jewish spell on her in the name of this Jewish God man they worship.’
‘These guys are ignorant, intolerant—they are a danger to society and must be done away with!’
“…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison,” Acts 16:21-23
So they are stripped naked and beaten with rods, at the order of the authorities, until they are covered with long red painful welts–or stripes as they were known in a crueler age–and thrown into prison where they are chained and left to suffer in the fetid darkness of a prison cell surrounded by the sounds of curses and the moaning of others who had run afoul of the magistrates and influential of the day.
But Paul and Silas do neither, curse nor moan, though they certainly had reason. ‘Who do these people think they are? They cannot treat us this way! We have rights, we demand satisfaction and justice! Curse them, curse them all! Lord strike them down and make them pay for what they have done!’
They didn’t do that. Nor did they moan and complain. ‘Oh woe is me, we are finished! We have no hope, no money, no friends. All have deserted us. We are laying here in filth bruised and bleeding, naked and hungry and my everything hurts!’
“Lord where are you!? Why have you abandoned us? —’Oh, oh agony on me, deep dark depression, excessive misery!’”
No. they didn’t do any of that. What would it have accomplished? What would it have helped? Or better, who would it have helped?
That’s what the prisoners of the world do. those who have no God, who suffer without recourse and cannot see beyond the straits they are in. Those who heed the warnings signs as they enter into whatever hell of a prison they find themselves entering—“All ye who enter here, abandon all hope.”
Hope is what the prisoners of the world and the flesh lack. But hope is the only thing that cannot be taken away from those who belong to Jesus. And when that is all that is left—that is enough.
It was enough for Paul and Silas as they lay there chained and miserable in that dark cell watching the darkness grow as the night falls, and as the night sounds of misery and unseen vermin begin to prey on their minds, and as the indescribable smells of unwashed rancid flesh accost their noses—and God seems to be very far away.
Their God knew exactly what was happening, where they were, and he was right there as close as the spirit within them. The hope that this knowledge gave them was enough to get them through what could have been the darkest hours of their lives, and welled up in them because of their prayers and songs, and in their prayers and songs.
Paul and Silas spent their sleepless night praying to their God and singing the hymns of their faith. And all the others sounds ceased. The moaning’s ceased, the incoherent babblings, the wicked laughter, fearful whimpers and angry curses—they all ceased and gave way to the sounds of praise—to the sound of hope.
And hope does not disappoint them, any of them.
The Prisoners are listening. What are they hearing from us? Hope or despair. They need hope, if we don’t have hope, if we don’t exude hope, then we the church have failed, and all is lost. But it’s not—not yet. Not as long as our God reigns and we keep looking up.
You are free, rejoice!