Sunday, June 16, 2013

God must love to do some of His best work in the dark of night.

I must admit to impatience with Him in that. Too many times, when admonished to “have faith,” I think on just how often  He delays to work until after we’ve passed that point of no return where hope is concerned. Where cheerfulness and trust just seems ridiculous, because after all, God let us get into this scrape to begin with.

Case in point: Paul and Silas. Here they were, ministering in Philippi, enjoying the hospitality of a wealthy merchant woman named Lydia. (Who says women couldn’t become anything in the ancient world?) But then things got weird. This slave girl started following Paul and his entourage around. And she didn’t just follow them, she announced, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem so creepy, except that she kept it up. Loudly. Day after day.

Paul put up with it for a while—I guess they thought she’d just go away on her own? But finally he turned to the girl in irritation and told the demon inside her to come out.

Well, that’s interesting.

Not only did the demon leave (Scripture says she was possessed of a spirit of divination, which brought her masters much money), but her masters became so furious at their source of income being gone that they hauled Paul and Silas before the authorities on trumped-up charges of teaching things that Romans weren’t supposed to do. (Who knew ancient Rome was so righteous?)

The crowd became so worked up over this that the authorities stripped off Paul’s and Silas’ clothes, and the whipping began. At last the two men were dragged off to prison and put in stocks.

Now, the average believer would, at this point, probably say, Thanks, God, I was just minding my own business and trying to minister to people, when this weird chick starts following us, and look what happened. Why didn’t You do something about it?

They’d been beaten, for crying out loud. Then put in stocks.

So what did they do?

Scripture says, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”

Praying, I can understand. But singing?

That’s what stops me with awe ... that’s where the power of God starts leaking through. Two men who had just been beaten at the hands of a mob, singing with enough presence to make a whole prison attentive. I would love that kind of faith and fortitude, you know? I just don’t want to have to endure a beating, or more, to get there.

But the story doesn’t end there.

26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

God doesn’t just leave them there. He sends an earthquake and sets them free, but not even that was really the work He sought to do through this. The end result was so much bigger, and deeper, than anyone could know ... and it wasn’t about Paul and Silas.

I want that kind of grace, the next time a situation goes horribly wrong and it feels like God has left me in the lurch.

The end of the situation is pretty interesting, as we’re told that the magistrates decided to tell Paul and Silas the next day that they could go. Paul’s reply is nothing short of sassy ...

35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.”

36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”

37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.”

38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. 39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. (Acts 16, NKJV)


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