About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25
Upon a recent reading of this text, I was struck not by Paul and Silas’s singing in prison, which in itself was remarkable, but by the little comment that “the other prisoners were listening to them.” Of course, they were listening. Never having occupied a prison cell for my Christian witness, I have no firsthand experience of what words and phrases would daily bounce off the walls of those cold, dark, forgotten places. But I do have a vivid imagination.
I can imagine that angry, bitter expressions and vile curses would be commonplace as the wicked, the innocent, and the politically disfavored wasted away hoping for rescue. And then these strange men are tossed in among them. Men who were thrown in prison for healing a demon-possessed woman. Of all those locked away, Paul and Silas had reason to complain.
And yet, “about midnight,” the time when all one’s aches and pains and worries and emotional angst are exacerbated, that time when the Prince of Darkness wreaks havoc in our bodies and minds, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Do you wonder that the prisoners were listening to them? Paul and Silas had been beaten and severely flogged. They were probably bleeding and were surely suffering. Instead of cursing and complaining, they were singing because there was a joyous melody in their hearts.
There was something beyond the realm of ordinary religion. Rather than comfort, the gods of the day made selfish, extraordinary requirements of their supplicants and were known to wreak havoc on their lives. Paul and Silas were praying and singing to the Almighty, Omnipotent God. What a mighty God they served, one who caused them to sing in suffering, one who brought joy to the darkest circumstance, and one who caused them to experience his presence in the hopelessness of their situation. Of course, the prisoners were listening.
Today people around us are watching, and they’re listening. Will we pray, will we sing in difficulty? Will we “count it all joy” when we experience trials that threaten to overcome us. Will we sense that there is a Fourth Man in the fire with us? And will we sing?
Father, only you are able to give us those songs in the night. It’s not a matter of putting on a happy face, but it’s rather a matter of absolute abandonment to your faithfulness. Strengthen us to keep singing of you, and cause our lives to be lived to your glory at all times. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.