Acts 16: 22 – 26
22The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose.
When this passage is talked about or preached about people tend to concentrate on the moment that the chains fell off. I want to point out something different.
Paul and Silas had been attacked. I am certain that right before and during the attack they prayed to God for deliverance. And in that moment, it looked to them like God didn’t answer.
Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothes. I am sure they asked God to spare them. Being without clothes in front of a jeering crowd is a horrific thought. But in that moment, God let it happen.
Paul and Silas were beaten. I am positive that they begged God to still the hands of the person holding the whip. To change the heart of the magistrate who had ordered this. But in that moment, from their perspective, God did not answer. He allowed the beating to happen.
Paul and Silas were thrown into prison. I need no one to tell me that they were pleading with God in their hearts, and perhaps out loud to deliver them. What possible ministry could they hope to have in a prison? But in that moment, God was still silent.
Paul and Silas lay on the probably filthy floor of that prison. Their skin flayed open, dirt, grit, sweat, blood, and tears all mingling. They were hurting. And the hurt had been going on for hours. At some point they have to have beseeched God “please Lord, if you must leave us in jail, heal our wounds! Then our jailors will see your glory when they come down here and see that you are our Protector!”
Everyone focuses on the deliverance from prison and I too tend to forget that they went through a long process of hate, attack, fear, beatings, and pain. I cannot for one minute believe that the songs that night around midnight were the first time God had heard from Paul and Silas that day. The Sunday school image of a cheerful Paul and Silas with their limbs semi comfortably arranged in chains is just so wrong. They were praying and singing hymns to God the bible says. Do you imagine that they were singing “clap your hands all ye people”? Or something more akin to “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” ???
It would have been so easy for them to cry out to God “You let us down! You let Your enemies attack us, beat us and now you have left us here to rot!” How many times do we go through trials (infertility, joblessness, hate and harassment, ridicule) and when God doesn’t answer the way we were expecting we assume that means that He has abandoned us or that we did something wrong. “Lord, I’ve prayed and prayed and you haven’t delivered me yet!” But what if the reason was so that you could cross paths with someone further down the path? Someone that needs to see you trusting in God.
On the other hand there is only so much we can learn from seeing others trusting God while they suffer. I really think the reason God needs us to stew in a particular problem for a while is that WE OURSELVES need time to learn. Time for the lesson of God’s sovereign care for us and over our lives to sink in. Time for us to, in effect get spiritually tenderized. No roast ever got tender by watching another roast cook. eh?
So it’s time for me to apply this lesson to myself.
No matter how much I learn from reading or hearing about other people’s lives and trials and tribulations, there will be things I can only learn from going through it myself.
I hold up pretty well in emergencies. Quick disasters. High heat, short cook time. Those are no problem for me. It is the long drawn out situations - like infertility, and learning to hold my tongue at work – those are my bugbears. The ones that completely trip me up. The slow cooker situations are the ones that get me in trouble. I’ve always just accepted that I’m not good at them.
Recently I’ve been coming to the conclusion that I don’t have to be good at them. I just have to remember that God IS Good at these long slow drawn out situations and learn to trust Him.
Also it finally hit me that the best way to tenderize my soul is to put it through a long, slow, low heat scenario. The end result is a tender, gorgeous, tantalizing meal. Much better than charred steak.
The scent wafts through the house on a Sunday afternoon…you know what I’m talking about. A portion of beef, potatoes, onions, celery, and carrots. Seasoned just right. The beef was seared this morning, then put in a large pan and seasoned. Vegetables were cut up and tossed in. The whole thing is covered. They have been cooking slowly in your mother’s oven or crock pot the whole time the family was at church. And now the gorgeous aroma fills the house.
I want the aroma of my soul to fill God’s nostrils with that type of scent. Warm, promising, delectable and oh so tender. Just like Paul and Silas.