New Living Translation
Paul and Silas in Prison
16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.
Wow! What a story, hey? I’ve been reading through the book of Acts recently, so coming across many amazing stories like that one. It can be easy to think incredible things like that only happened in Bible times and that we can’t expect them anymore. But as well as reading Acts, I’ve been listening to some of the interviews with Canon J John in his series Facing the Canon where I’ve heard amazing modern-day stories of faith. These have included Jackie Pullinger, author of Chasing the Dragon, who has worked for most of her life among drug addicts and criminal gangs in Hong Kong’s Walled City, Mike Pilavachi, founding director of Soul Survivor, and Paul Young, author of The Shack. These were all incredibly moving and inspiring stories from three very different people with very different journeys, but there were three things in common:
- They all had a radical, uncompromising love of God.
- This led them to a complete surrender and obedience to God’s call, even at great personal risk.
- Their lives were steeped in prayer and worship. It was worship born out of trusting God’s love and power, even when they didn’t feel it. Worship that did not ask God to bless their work, but instead asked to be a blessing in God’s work.
It struck me how much I have missed our communal worship these past few months. The word ‘worship’ means many things and ultimately involves our whole lives, but I’m thinking specifically about that combined mind, body and soul act of praise through singing, praying out loud and even dancing! – especially in the physical company of others.
So what does worship do? Thinking through the story from Acts, my own experiences and the testimonies of inspiring Christians, I came up with a LONG list of all the things worship does – for God, for us and for the world. As a start, here are five things:
- Worship reveals God – in his beauty, glory, goodness, splendour, power, majesty and love. It opens the door to heaven and to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Psalm 22 tells us that God inhabits our praises. He has promised to be with us always, and his presence becomes clear when we worship. In the Acts story, as Paul and Silas are praying and singing, ‘the other prisoners were listening.’ Imagine what was going through their heads: these two new prisoners have been severely beaten, thrown into an inner dungeon with stocks on their feet. It is midnight, so they must be exhausted as well as wounded – but they are worshipping their God!
- Worship shows us what is real. It dispels illusions, lies and false idols (like ourselves!) It not only opens the door to the Kingdom, but helps us walk through it. The story goes on: ‘Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations.’ A revelation of God has become a reality.
- Worship deepens our relationship with God. It is a flow of love both ways. Once we have walked through the door, we join him as our loving guide where he shows us how to be a part of his work. In the life of Jesus, the disciples and the apostles, we see how closely their worship is tied to their ministry.
- Worship releases God’s power. It strengthens us and works miracles. God does not need our worship to do His work, but he chooses to work with and through us and WE need to worship in order to do His work. The Acts story says: ‘All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!’ Note that is every prisoner, not just Paul and Silas. It reminds me of the words of Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” This story in Acts is a story of liberation.
- Worship brings revival. It brings personal renewal, healing and changing us because it opens us to the Spirit’s deep work. And it also brings revival to whole communities. After Paul & Silas witnessed to the jailer, he in turn ministered to them through healing and hospitality and then bringing his whole household to Christ. Through worship we are taken out into God’s beautiful world, on a mission with Him, co-creating beside Him.
Worship opens doors; worship breaks down prisons.
Here in Scotland we are moving out of lockdown, but perhaps we are still feeling locked down inside. Perhaps in a dark place, or even just a bit down. Or maybe we are aware of others who are really struggling. Although we can’t yet get together as a church community, let’s commit to giving voice to our worship, anyway, through singing, praying aloud – and even dancing, if you like! As it says in Chronicles 16, which was our opening prayer for today:
23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
24 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
May we see God revealed and his power released. May we walk with Him and work with Him in love.
Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with singing.”