At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
Acts 16.25 (KJV)
Flattery We Don’t Need
Acts 16 finds Paul and his colleague, Silas, preaching in Philippi. Their early efforts yield terrific results. Lydia, a dye merchant from a nearby town, and her family are baptized and she offers to house the evangelists. But trouble soon follows from a young psychic whose masters exploit her for profit. She trails Paul and Silas, loudly declaring them “servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul immediately reasons, “This is flattery we don’t need.” Her occult powers belie her words and risk the public’s mistaking Paul and Silas as her associates. She keeps on until Paul finally rids her of the devious spirit behind her behavior. When it leaves, her gifts go with it. This infuriates her keepers, who drag the men before the town leaders, charging them as outsiders who’ve thrown the city into chaos. The Philippians—an insular, highly suspicious community of miners—join the attack. Paul and Silas are tossed in jail, where the jailer shackles them in an inner cell so they won’t escape. Then he goes home.
Not Allowed, Yet Aloud
Let’s overstate the obvious here. Paul and Silas do the young woman a great service in relieving her vexation. By silencing her disruptions and exposing the men who used her to bilk the town, they actually restore order. The injustice of her patrons’ accusations—and the locals’ ungrateful support—border on preposterous. The most Paul and Silas are guilty of is discerning the deceitful source of the psychic’s praise. But in places like Philippi—established and run on long-accepted conventions—change of any kind, even for the better, brought by outsiders isn’t allowed. It isn’t what they do. It’s who they are (or aren’t).
We see this. Paul and Silas feel it. Shoved into the darkest corner and forgot for the night, they’ve every right to complain and fear what tomorrow holds. Yet instead of bemoaning the town’s backwardness or shrinking into the shadows of fate, they grow bold. At midnight, they start praying and singing aloud so all the prisoners get the point their situation is beside the point. An earthquake shakes the jail, chains fall, cell doors fly open, prisoners walk out, and the jailer rushes to the scene. He’s so terrified the prisoners have fled and he’ll face negligence charges, he’s about to kill himself when Paul stops him. “We’re all here!” he says. The stunned jailer falls to his knees, asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
The ignorance and antagonism leveled at Paul and Silas were so commonplace enduring hostility in return for kindness was a drumbeat in the apostles’ teaching and letters. The message is always the same: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3.9) Alas, things haven’t improved. When we follow Christ, it’s probable good we do will go unappreciated, our motives will be misunderstood, and powers that be will shove us into dark corners to forget about us. Sadly, many of us experience this most acutely from families, friends, and leaders also striving to follow Jesus. Like the Philippians, however, clinging to tradition and fear of outsiders goad them to conform to alarmists’ claims.
Paul and Silas teach us how to respond. They refrain from arguing their case in the court of public opinion. They know the local leaders’ authority is limited, while their Leader has universal jurisdiction. His final ruling supersedes all others and His ability to shake up earthly institutions can’t be counted out. We may not be allowed rights and considerations granted to the conformist majority, but neither can we allow ourselves the right to grumble about what we can’t control. When midnight comes, we disrupt darkness with prayer and praise. We ensure we’re heard. We make the point our present situation is beside the point. We serve a mighty big God. When He steps in, the ground rumbles, doors open, shackles loose, and people of every kind who’ve been buried from sight find they’re free.
Tonight, as we count down to midnight, let’s listen closely for the first tremors of groundbreaking change, fully expecting our God to move mightily in 2009.
Happy New Year!
At midnight, we disrupt darkness with prayer and praise.
(Tomorrow: The Year of the Lord’s Favor)
Postscript: A New Year’s Reflection
One of our regular readers, Rev. Harvey Carr, Interim Pastor of St. Luke’s Community Church—a vibrant, growing, inclusive congregation in Jacksonville, Florida—wrote the following reflection for his church’s weekly newsletter. It was just too good not to be shared.
Open Your Mind to God This New Year
“…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” – Romans 14:23 (NKJV)
Each new year is an appointment to become an authentic optimist.
Each new day is justification for being enthusiastic about life again. Each dawning is God’s invitation to start over and build a new life, beginning with the present moment.
Each new week is an opportunity to make new and noble resolutions! Every Monday morning you have a standing appointment to meet new opportunities!
What does it mean to have faith? Faith is opening your mind for God’s thoughts to flow in – “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). And when God’s thoughts flow in, life will change, for you will have a dream. You will see possibilities in the day – the week – the month – the year that is waiting to unfold.
Faith moves mountains. The greatest power in the world is a positive idea. And the most powerful positive idea is one that comes directly from God who created the world and broke sunshine through the black of night.
Today open your mind to think God’s thoughts. Allow God to shape you into a new and different person – freed to experience positivity in your thinking.
Fill your mind with faith and positive ideas will follow.
Thank you, God, that I am being born again. Your Holy Spirit is filling my mind with Your thoughts. I am excited about today, and I’m excited about my future because of You! Amen.
Harvey, thanks so much for this. And God’s blessings on your life, church, and ministry in 2009 and years to come.