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JULY 2024

We’ll start in Acts 16:25–26: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 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.”

Paul and Silas were in a dark situation, even though Paul had preached the gospel in churches only a few verses before. Acts 16:5 says, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” His ministry was going well, but his heart told him to change locations to reach more people. Verses 6–7 say: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”

Paul considered two locations, but being spiritually sensitive, recognized neither was God’s will. God often puts us not where we’d like to be but where we need to be. Verses 9 and 10 show God’s plan: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Paul and Silas obey God and go to Macedonia. They encounter a woman named Lydia at the riverside, and the scripture tells us the Lord opened her heart to hear Paul’s message. Her family is baptized, and she begs the men to stay at her home. A fellowship is established, and Paul sets a slave girl free from demonic power. All is going well—until it’s not. Verses 19–24 tell us what happens next:

“But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, ‘These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.’ Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Paul and Silas are behind bars, and they have a choice to make. Will they complain and sing the blues like everyone else in prison? Or will they take a page out of David’s book? In Psalm 40:1–2, David said: “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.” David knew he had a divine purpose. Romans 8:28 tells us: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Paul and Silas could have easily given up. Instead, they chose a different path. The men decided to praise God even though they were imprisoned, accused, and beaten. As they began to sing, something in the spiritual realm started to move. The powers of Hell holding them captive began to shake and be broken. The scripture says the doors all opened. Didn't Jesus say the Spirit of God is upon me to set the captives free?

All the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas’ song, and every man behind bars witnessed the miracle and was set free. God gives everyone a unique song, so the men in prison had never heard what Paul and Silas were singing. Our most powerful message today as believers is to praise God amid our terrible circumstances. When you lift your voice and give God glory, many will see it, fear it, and trust in the Lord. The Spirit moves, and doors begin to open. Acts 16:26 says, “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.” Everything that put those men in jail in the first place was healed. The inabilities they thought they had to change and how they felt they had to live were in the past because Paul and Silas decided to sing a song of victory. Hallelujah.

I remember one day I came into Penn Station, and it was a nasty New York day. Do you know those times when people are cursing on their cell phones and shoving past each other? Suddenly, it hit me. I said, “God, I am in this world, but I am not of it. Thank you, Lord.” Then, I began to sing out loud, which, in New York, doesn’t even turn heads. By the time I got to the church, I had a whole song written. Here are some lyrics: “I walk in the presence of God, where the saints all before me have trod. Day to day, by victory, greeted, here I'll never be defeated as I walk in the presence of God. In the presence of God, I walk where I share the joys of Heaven as I give my Jesus reverence.” I don't know who heard my song that day, but somebody did. I was singing loudly!

Back to Acts 16, verses 27 and 28: “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. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’” To the jailer, this was a miracle. Why would these imprisoned men stay where they were? Verses 29 and 30: “Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” Can you see the ripple effect of Paul and Silas deciding to praise God in jail? They trusted their Lord, blessing those around them and future generations.

Verses 31–34 say: “So they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 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.” The jailer saw God’s miracle in the prison, and then his family saw a miracle in their father. The mean prison guard now compassionately cared for Paul and Silas and rejoiced. It was easy for his family to come to Christ after witnessing such a radical change.

The next day, Paul and Silas returned to the prison voluntarily. They went there for the jailer's sake; if the men had left, it could have cost him his position or life. Paul and Silas remind us we're not called to live for our benefit. The prisoners were still there. Why? I believe once they experienced God's presence, it became so precious to them that they were unwilling to forego it even for their greatest desires. They once thought freedom would come when they got out of the prison cell, but through the praises of Paul and Silas, they saw God's freedom go to them. It was unlike anything they had ever experienced. Freedom is where God is. Fulfillment is where God is. Life is where God is.

Having studied this chapter of scripture, I think the man who appeared in the vision was the prison guard. The “us” when he said, “Come to Macedonia and help us,” were the prisoners. Your attitude makes a difference. Your faith, joy, and victory in your circumstance will influence those around you and teach them that they, too, can find the freedom of Christ right where they are. Many people around you think the same thing: I would be happy if I could just get out of this neighborhood/family/job/fill in the blank. When you praise God while living in the same circumstances, you bring something of God into their situation. Suddenly, they realize victory is right here, where I am. I don't have to be elsewhere, and I don't need another job. I can have that song, too. I heard a song that changed my life and removed the shackles. It brought me the hope I needed in my struggle.

God, help us to find that song in this generation. We must start singing that victory song and bloom where we're planted. We need to learn to glorify God in our pain. If you find yourself in a hospital bed one day, sing! If you are miserable at your job, worship! You can always say, “Thank you, God, for your plan. You put me here. I want to be in Asia, but you sent me to Macedonia. You sent me into prison because somebody there was saying, ‘God help us.’ They needed to hear my song.” Your testimony matters. Don’t just sing in church. Sing at home, sing at work, and sing in bed. Praise God all day long for saving you, and give Him all the glory. Let every one that crosses your path hear your song. Hallelujah!

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