“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” Acts 16:25 (ESV)
I’m sitting at my kitchen table on a warm, humid summer morning. The sky outside is mildly overcast with a light breeze, and I keep thinking I should turn the air conditioner down a notch because my hands are getting sweaty. I haven’t eaten breakfast yet and I’m hungry, but I can’t stop typing. You see, I flipped open my Bible to have some quiet time with the Lord, the passage it dropped open to was this one about Paul and Silas in prison singing to God, and it just spoke to me. Deeply.
They had been going about their everyday life, preaching the Gospel and helping others, when they were seized by their enemies, unjustly accused, beaten severely and thrown into prison. Their response? Praising the Lord. What struck me was that when my day goes bad, chances are it isn’t anything close to that bad and it’s hard to rejoice, yet here they are, in prison, up all night, singing hymns to God. Talk about a joy that transcends circumstances, and this is normal! Paul writes to the church at Corinth,
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:8-9, 16-18 (NIV)
… and to his friends in Philippi,
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Phi. 4:11b-13 (NIV)
When Paul struggles, his reflex is praise. When he suffers, his reflex is joy. Not only that, but he’s not alone in this response. In Acts 5 we read how Peter and the other apostles were also preaching Christ, were also arrested and beaten viciously, and their response was to leave “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41)
Do you see what’s happening here? In their midnight in prison, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God, and their spirits were lifted to His in communion. In their “midnight” of false accusation and beatings, Peter and the apostles “shared in the sufferings of Christ” and their spirits were lifted to His in communion. For these Christ-followers, the Good News had so taken hold of them, had settled so deeply into their soul that they not only understood, but lived in the reality that the truest, deepest joy in life comes not in success, accomplishment, or freedom from suffering. It comes only in communion with God, when the lines that divide the temporal from the eternal are blurred and the Holy Spirit breathes fresh life into our being. With that understanding rooted in our heart, there is no darkness that can drive away our peace; no circumstance that can take our joy.
When “midnight” comes in my life and yours, it will take different forms. The death of a loved one. The loss of a job. The end of a dream. We live in a broken world and we are broken people. BUT, when God gives us eyes to see every situation as a chance to draw near to Him; when we truly begin to live in the reality that as Christ-followers, our sins are forgiven, our guilt is gone and we have an irrevocable hope in Christ; and when our “midnights” move us in to communion with God, then we can know deep in our bones the joy that God promises us, and that whatever road brought us there, was worth the journey.
Be still my soul, and wait for the Lord.