229. The pain-path becomes a praise-path

It could easily be misunderstood – praise and worship.  Why on earth should a person praise the Lord?  Does our sovereign, almighty, all-knowing, self-sufficient God need continuous praise and admiration?  Of course not!  He does not need any earthly words to execute his Will and Work.  His Word put creation in place.  How would the admiration of a mere mortal ever please God?

Looking a bit deeper, the believers, the saints, act really weird.  They praise God when things are rough, circumstances topsy turvy and misery  overwhelming.  There is no human explanation for this phenomenon.  After all, God should be available to answer prayer and provide for the long list of needs that humans present him with, so that they can live in ease and comfort in a world riddled with disaster and disappointment.  How then?  Children of God praise God in the toughest conditions.  Why?

We are taught to do it.  We have majestic and powerful examples of the consequences of a spirit focussed on the miracle-working Christ.  We are lovers of God not users of God.

In Acts chapter 9, God speaks frightening words to Ananias when he is commanded to seek out Paul and pray for him.  God himself would show Paul how much he had to suffer for the Name of Jesus that he persecuted.  In Acts 16 the persecution is a reality.

The owners of a slave girl, who operated under a spirit of divination, is liberated by Paul’s prayer to the Lord.  Her handlers are outraged since their income is shut off.  They thrived on the superstitious and superficial beliefs of their community and now they had nothing.  They accuse Paul and Silas of advocating customs unlawful for Romans.

The city authorities reacted quickly and stripped Paul and Silas for a beating with rods.

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 

When he received these orders, he put them in the 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.  (Acts 16:23-25)

In rigorous custody, without the possibility of escape and painful, bleeding bodies, Paul and Silas have to face the night.  Prisons in antiquity were not designed with human rights in mind.  They were horrific spaces where one had to struggle and survive in circumstances that were mostly a prelude to death.  Pain and unattended wounds, feet in stocks and the misery of their good intentions that were so crookedly judged, robbed them of their sleep.

In the silent hours around midnight, they did something so counter-intuitive that only a Bible-believing fellow saint would understand this outrageous contradiction of human behaviour.  Why did God not save them from the  unlawful and cruel sentence of pagan authorities?  It is after all the Gospel’s cause that would suffer by the imprisonment of God’s servants.  Did Paul and Silas grapple with this question?  Perhaps, but the Bible does not say so.  The report is given in an almost cryptic manner.

However, do not forget to read the short sentences at the end of the verse.  Paul and Silas sang, … and the other prisoners were listening to them.

What did they choose to sing as victims of barbaric conceit and harshness?   The hymnal of the time was the Psalms and the memorizing of a good number of them was part of the normal training for a Jewish boy.  The words of the “Sunday School choruses” flowed from their lips.  Their thoughts were now dedicated to the great things of God, rather than the pain in their bodies and the questions in their minds.  The words praising God’s miraculous deeds and the wonders of creation filled their space with power beyond their wildest imagination.

We do not know what they sang, but may I make a suggestion of a Psalm that transformed my pain-path into a praise-path. 

Please read with me a few verses selected from Psalm 145.  The whole psalm is a wealth of worship-words that declare the greatness and miracles of God.  Read is out loud so that the energy of the words fills your space.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

    his greatness no one can fathom.

One generation commends your works to another;

    they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—

    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

They tell of the power of your awesome works—

    and I will proclaim your great deeds.

All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does. 
The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.

I have to add the phrase, like other places in the Psalms, Selah – pause and calmly think about it.  The impact of the word-power will fill your soul with melody so that you sing the words over your circumstances.  

Everything you thought worked against you, will be turned into your favour in a manner and time that you could not imagine in your wildest dreams.

  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. 

The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 

  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 

  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” 

Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 

At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 

The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Washed wounds and a meal with a harvest of souls – what a marvel of grace from a situation that could only be described with hopeless incapacity. 

And the end of the story…

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 

 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

  But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

Note the audacity and boldness of Paul in the wake of the miracle.  His vision for more impact and more souls is an inspiration.  Who was filled with fear then?

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 

They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 

After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

Dust the hymnal in your mind.  Learn the words of your favourite worship song.  Sing your space into the highest gear of hope and faith that lifts you out from your dead situation and decorate your face with joy.

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