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"Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn't believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.
"Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: 'Don't do that! We're all still here. Nobody's run away.'" Acts 16:25-28 (The Message).
Paul and Silas had every reason to be angry. They had been falsely accused, unjustly treated, brutally beaten without a trial, thrown into a maximum security cell and shackled in leg irons like criminals, and that for releasing a slave girl, a nobody, from demonic oppression! Where was the justice in that?
They could have been just as mad at God. They were serving Jesus. They had given up everything for Him, hadn't they? They were deserving of better treatment than that. Why did He allow it to happen to them?
Why didn't He protect them? Can you hear your own voice mouthing these objections? The voices of your family, your friends? 'Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Where was God in all this?'
Paul and Silas couldn't sleep. Their backs were torn and bleeding; their legs were fastened in heavy iron shackles; the floor was cold and hard; the air was dank and smelly. They had two options -- stoke the fires of anger and bitterness or pray and sing away the hours until daylight. It all depended on their attitude.
They knew that suffering was included in the package and they were also aware that, no matter how tough it was for them, Jesus suffered more. They could be angry with God, but that wouldn't get them anywhere. The Israelites got mad when things were tough, and the consequences were not what they bargained for; God was angry and they felt it! Paul and Silas weren't about to follow their example.
These men were steeped in the Word of God as devout Jews. It was as much part of them as their breath. They prayed it, they sang it, they lived it, every day. How natural for them, then, to fill the long, cold hours with the word that was so precious to them! To where would they turn in their distress? To the psalms which so accurately expressed how they were feeling right then.
Others before them had suffered and trusted God, and written, prayed and sang about it for their own comfort and for the comfort of those who followed them. These two men unashamedly proclaimed their trust through the words of men who had gone before them. And the other prisoners marvelled. It was not cursing and complaining that they were hearing but praise and confidence in a God they did not know.
God also heard -- and responded with earth-shaking results! How could He leave His servants in that situation when He had opportunity to show the whole jailhouse what He could do for those who trusted in Him? Would He have done the same for them had they spent their time moaning about their plight? I think not.
It's easy to trust in God when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Real faith is only valid when the light goes out and we can see nothing. What's inside is only revealed under the pressure of unbearable circumstances. Why does God allow things like this to happen? He wants us to know what's inside.
Paul and Silas passed their test with flying colours! And God gave them their reward -- more freedom and greater confidence in the God who proved Himself to be utterly trustworthy.
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