The study of Paul’s ministry is a study of heavenly focus. Paul’s eternal focus and his joy in serving the promised Messiah enabled him to sing in prison.
Prisons in Paul’s day were dark, cold, wet, and rodent-infested.
Paul and Silas had been imprisoned without cause and, as Roman citizens, illegally flogged. They could have been justifiably angry. But singing? Surely this was supernatural. Surely this was evidence of God’s grace. Paul and Silas were clearly not focused on their circumstances or the injustices they had suffered. They were focused on God’s glory and His eternal purposes for their circumstances. This focus opened the floodgates of their souls to God’s grace.
The passage in the book of Acts tells us that the other prisoners were listening to their praying and singing. After a while there was a violent earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, and the prisoners’ chains were loosed.
As I pondered how Paul’s and Silas’s focus on the Lord empowered them to sing in prison, I had to again examine my own life. I had never experienced even the threat of imprisonment. I had never known such suffering. Yet, I could not imagine singing hymns to God on one of my worst pain days.
I realized that pain was my prison. It had held me captive to negative emotions for years. I had to wonder if I could loose the chains of discouragement in my life through praise and prayer. Could a focus on God unlock my prison, unleash His grace, and enable me to walk in genuine joy?
By singing in my prison, could I impact other “prisoners” for God’s glory? This revelation to my soul brought me hope. I began to get a full view of the throne room, that place of intimate fellowship with Jesus that must have empowered Paul and Silas.
In Acts 16:27-28 we read, “The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’”
Paul and Silas did not escape. The passage goes on to say that the jailer rushed in to Paul and Silas, fell trembling before them, and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas led this man and his household to faith in Christ.
I find this passage remarkable and essential in understanding the journey to joy. Human logic and fleshly focus might have concluded here that since their chains had been broken and the prison doors opened, God was clearly providing Paul and Silas the way of escape. But Paul and Silas were not self-focused. They were not looking to God to make their lives comfortable. They chose to stay in prison because they were focused on the eternal purpose for their difficulties. Because of their actions, the jailer and his family came to faith in Christ. Paul’s and Silas’s joy was complete because God’s purpose for their trial was realized.
There is joy for those who walk with eternal focus and in obedience to God’s call. This joy trumps worldly comfort and convenience. I believe I can make this statement with some authority because of my own past focus on comfort. I once thought my greatest need was to be free of pain. But God has taught me that my greater needs were humility and eternal focus. I am no longer dependent on my circumstances for peace and joy. My joy now comes from sharing in His glory. This is an unchanging reality, resulting in unchanging joy.
How amazing is that? I am now thankful that my wise and loving Heavenly Father left me in my difficulties so I could learn to not be bound by them. Let’s not be so focused on escape that we fail to bring God the full glory intended through our trials. Self-focus is sin; it is the absence of genuine humility.
My guess is that few of us have actually spent time behind bars, but we likely have all been in prison at one time or another. Maybe we are there now. A prison is any situation that holds us in bondage to negative emotions, thus robbing us of joy.
Some common prisons are loneliness, financial instability, marriage difficulties, unemployment, any strained relationship, infertility, a move, the death of a loved one, difficult or sick children, chronic illness, etc. The list is endless.
Let me be clear in saying we are allowed our time of grieving, whatever the loss or difficulty. This is natural and often necessary. But we must ultimately choose to lay any anger, bitterness, and self-pity at the base of the cross. Then we can step into the throne room of grace for healing. Some sorrow may linger, but total trust in God’s sovereign plan will propel us forward.
Can we sing in our prisons? I believe we must. Does this mean literal singing? Maybe. It means we do whatever it takes to transport our hearts and minds to the throne room, be it singing, praying, praising, reading or reciting Scripture, or meditating on His majesty. This is a simple matter of changing our focus from self to the eternal. This is the key to joy.
Joy in Jesus,