“What to do when life is miserable,” I suppose there are those of you out there that don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve never had a miserable day in your life. I will not tell you how I feel about you. But to the others, the normal among us, sometimes life can be downright miserable, and it just might be ‘round about now that you are feeling it. I am. So regardless of all the little tricks you may use to cheer you up…(put down that chocolate)…yes you, and listen. This is what I read this morning.
So what, you may ask is so unusual about praying and singing hymns to God at midnight in prison?
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:22-25 (NIV)
So what, you may ask is so unusual about praying and singing hymns to God at midnight in prison? Hmmmmm.
Let’s back up just a few verses, rewind before the insomnia, music and cold stone walls.
“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.” (Verse 22)
It was a mob attack of the most brutal kind. Paul and Silas suffered painful blows most likely done with iron bars. They were bruised and bleeding.
“After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.”
So, let’s get the picture. They were beaten with rods, then also whipped? Imagine criss crossed striped torn flesh, welts raw and swollen. Covered in painful bruises, they were thrown into prison. It wasn’t your weekend special equipped with latrine, bed, smooth floors or electricity.
When he (the jailor) received these orders, (verse 24) he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
You’ve probably seen the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. At this point I might title theirs: It’s a Miserable Life.
The jailor, with the order of guarding them carefully put them in the least accessible area of the prison, where neither light nor air reached. The farther inside, the more difficult to escape, and the greater the stench. But hey, why take chances? He fastened their feet in the stocks.
So what do we do when life is miserable? What did Paul and Silas do?
They reached into a miserable, painful, hopeless situation in the dead of night with prayers and songs.
Kinda bizarre actually.
They were mob attacked, stripped, beaten with rods, severely whipped, thrown into prison and put into stocks.
I’m thinking I would have been absolutely miserable, and completely self-absorbed in the moment. I get that way sometimes.
I don’t know the future. 2020 has surely taught us that the entire world can pivot in unprecedented and unexpected ways and our lives turn upside down. I don’t know how long faith will be tolerated, or gospel centered believers allowed to live and worship in freedom. I don’t know if persecution is around the corner, but I do know that only by the supernatural indwelling of the Spirit can we live through truly miserable situations in such a way that Christ is honored and His name proclaimed.
What do we do when life is miserable?
Paul and Silas were people like us, flesh and blood. In a dank dark prison cell singing and praying encouraged them. Although they had been treated unjustly, they did what they could to build each other up while testifying to those who had committed crimes in cells around them.
Is it possible we are a little spiritually soft and more self-aware than Jesus-aware? Can we face the upside downs in life with more commitment to doing what’s right than just trying to make ourselves feel better?
This wasn’t early Christian’s first dive into misery. Previously, in Acts 5, Jesus followers were flogged and persecuted for their faith. Those apostles determined to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name was cause for rejoicing.
That set of mind and heart is how to prepare for whatever misery waits ahead. It explains how they responded as they did.
What can we do as we look at the challenges of living out our gospel faith today?
Celebrate Jesus and rejoice that He is worthy.
Reach into a miserable, painful, hopeless situation in your dead of night with prayers and songs. Someone may be quietly listening. Brush away the rubble and start digging. Ask God to reveal His blessings in this odd time in our history and let’s celebrate them together. What are the blessings of 2020 ?