I love the study of biblical worshipers, because what we learn from them could have huge implications on our lives – if we let them. And the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:16-34 is no exception!
To quickly set-up the story (and if you know it, stick with me!), Paul and Silas were just doing what they do – casting out an evil spirit from a fortune-teller on their way to pray. (Just another day.) But that helpful move more than upset the men who were profiting from this poor woman’s affliction. So they seized the two God-proclaiming men, had them severely beaten, and then thrown in a guarded prison cell with their feet in stocks. Their pain is severe – physically and emotionally.
So what do they do?
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
That’s exactly what I would’ve done – I’m sure. (I wish I knew I would!)
Before we continue, I think we need a quick flashback: Paul, if you remember, was raised (as Saul) a devout, well-educated Jew. Beyond that, he was a hater, persecutor, and murderer of Christians – even watching and applauding Stephen’s stoning. And that history, leading up to his dramatic, Damascus-road-run-in with God, is why he called himself “the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Friends, Paul never, ever got over the unfathomable mercy and grace of the God that saved him. (Read his letters – he can’t stop talking about God’s grace! Ephesians 2:4-9; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10) And beyond propelling his ministry, it fueled his worship. It compelled him to his knees even in the very worst of times.
He never forgot where he came from. And more importantly, he never forgot who God was for him in that place or any new place life might (literally) throw him.
So back at the prison – this was a truly amazing moment. Their worship was not a response that poured out from any of their possible emotions. (Anxiety? Fear? Anger? How about hopelessness, discontentment, self-centeredness, powerlessness, faithlessness, and a whole slew of other negative responses that we could come up with?) This was the response of men who knew, loved, and still trusted their grace-filled God in spite of their circumstances.
This was the response of men who knew that their only source of strength in their weakness, and their only source of grace in their agony, was the God whom they worshiped with their whole hearts.
We can only imagine the intense prayers that poured from their lips that night. But we know that their God was present and attentive, and that He ministered to their battered bodies, minds, and souls. And out of that place of much-needed grace came their heart-felt songs of praise to Him. (We probably have David to thank for some of those!)
Of course, God responded to their grace-fueled worship other ways that night. (That’s another post!) CliffsNotes version – He sent an earthquake that unfastened everyone’s chains, and the jailer and his family were all saved that night! (Reminds me of David’s Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the LORD.” Wonder if they were thinking of that verse as they sang?)
What can we learn from grace-fueled worship of Paul?
We should pray that, like Paul, we never, ever get over the unfathomable mercy and grace of the God that saved us, and allow that to overwhelm our souls and fuel our worship. Whenever. Wherever.
Regardless of what our chains look like, God is still God. He never changes. His mercies are new every morning, and His grace is unending. And there is transformation power when we choose to remember who God is and worship Him.
He alone is worthy of our praise!
“I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 89:1).
What part of this story about Paul and Silas stirs in your soul the most?
*Portions of this post are from my book, Worship and the Word. To learn more from this great story of Paul and Silas, get the FREE sample download of Worship and the Word and check out Lesson 2!
**I highly encourage you to read this powerful story of Paul and Silas from Acts 16 for yourself if it’s been awhile.
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