Acts 16:25-26

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 10, 1998

Introduction

Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy have arrived in the great city of Philippi, where among other things, they had attracted the attention of a young demon possessed slave girl. She would follow them around and cry out to people that these men were servants of God. After putting up with this for a few days, Paul turned and cast the demon out of the girl. The young girlís masters became upset because they would no longer be able to make money off her, and they had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped naked, beaten with rods. Their bodies still bleeding, they are thrown into a dark, smelly prison cell, where their feet are locked up in stocks.

:25-26 Songs in the night

:25 And at midnight

midnight Ė mesonuktion Ė midnight; literally, "middle of the night"

In our society, midnight is just when you stay up extra late at bedtime. But the middle of the night is that part of the night when everything seems darkest. When itís been a long time since everyone went to bed. When the dawn seems like an eternity away.

Paul and Silas are sitting in the dark, bruised and bleeding. They hear the moans and groans of the other prisoners in the dark. It is a time for despair.

Lesson:

Trusting in the dark. Songs in the night.

For some of you, itís midnight. You wish the night would be over.

This morning I want to talk about trusting God in the darkest times. I want to talk about how to sing those songs in the night.

"Any fool can sing in the day," said Charles Haddon Spurgeon. "It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by. Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of men."

One mom who trusted through the night: (The Smell of Rain, Author Unknown)

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. Still groggy from surgery, her husband David held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news. That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24-weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency cesarean to deliver the couple's new daughter, Danae Lu Blessing. At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound and nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature.

Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. "I don't think she's going to make it," he said, as kindly as he could. "There's only a 10-percent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one."

Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk; she would never talk; she would probably be blind; she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation; and on and on. "No! No!" was all Diana could say.

She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

Through the dark hours of morning as Danae held onto life by the thinnest thread, Diana slipped in and out of drugged sleep, growing more and more determined that their tiny daughter would live - and live to be a healthy, happy young girl. But David, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter's chances of ever leaving the hospital alive, much less healthy, knew he must confront his wife with the inevitable.

"David walked in and said that we needed to talk about making funeral arrangements," Diana remembers "I felt so bad for him because he was doing everything, trying to include me in what was going on, but I just wouldn't listen, I couldn't listen. I said, "No, that is not going to happen, no way! I don't care what the doctors say Danae is not going to die! One day she will be just fine, and she will be coming home with us!"

As if willed to live by Diana's faith, Danae clung to life hour after hour, with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana.

Because Danae's underdeveloped nervous system was essentially "raw," the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort - so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl. There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger. But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there.

At last, when Danae turned two months old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later Ė though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero - Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

Today, five years later, Danae is a petite but feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She shows no signs, whatsoever, of any mental or physical impairments. Simply, she is everything a little girl can be and more - but that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving, Texas, Danae was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers of a local ball park where her brother Dustin's baseball team was practicing. As always, Danae was chattering nonstop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby when she suddenly fell silent.

Hugging her arms across her chest, Danae asked, "Do you smell that?" Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, "Yes, it smells like rain." Danae closed her eyes and again asked, "Do you smell that?" Once again, her mother replied, "Yes, I think we're about to get wet, it smells like rain."

Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, "No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest."

Tears blurred Diana's eyes as Danae then happily hopped down to play with the other children. Before the rains came, her daughter's words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along.

During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest - and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.

God knows what time you think it is. He wants you to learn to trust Him through the long night hours.

:25 Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God

prayed Ė present participle, they were continually praying, or, "while they were praying"

sang praises Ė humneo Ė ("hymns") to sing the praise of. Donít be thinking of songs in a hymnal. Those hadnít been invented yet. These are simply praise songs to God. They might have been singing some of the Psalms, though the word is not limited to Psalms.

Imperfect tense Ė "while they were praying, they were singing praises to God".

Lesson:

Reasons to praise.

I donít know about you, but I have a hard time with understanding how Iím supposed to be rejoicing when Iím having a bad day. Itís important for me to understand why I can praise Him, even in the middle of the night.

1. Persecution

Paul and Silas are in a unique circumstance where they could actually praise God for their circumstance. Jesus had said,

(Mat 5:10-12 KJV) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. {12} Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Paul and Silas could actually look at the trouble they were in and know that they were acquiring rewards in heaven.

But thatís not always the case for our bad circumstances. If youíre in an auto accident, or have a severe illness, itís not likely that it happened directly because of your being a Christian. There are more reasons to praise God.

2. His love

We have a rather twisted idea of love, at least compared to Godís kind of love.

We so often make our love such a conditional thing. When a person does something that we perceive to be hurtful, we shut off the love valve and start pouring out the hate.

God isnít like that. His love doesnít stop.

Jer 31:3 The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, [saying], Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

This is what Godís love for you is like (according to Paulís definition of agape) Ė

1Cor.13 Ė He is patient, willing to suffer a long time with you; always doing kind things for you. Heís not envious or jealous of you. He doesnít put you down just to puff Himself up. He doesnít behave rudely or inconsiderately toward you. He isnít just seeking His will for His sake, but because itís best for you. He isnít easily ticked off at you. He doesnít keep a list of your sins youíve done against Him. Heís not pleased when thereís sin in your life; but is totally stoked when you learn to face the truth. He doesnít spread gossip about you but instead keeps your sins to himself. He believes you have a future. He is willing to stick it out with you, through thick or thin.

You can praise Him for His love for you.

3. His faithfulness

He will not let you down. You can count on Him.

(Deu 7:9 KJV) Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

He is the One who said,

(Heb 13:5b KJV) ÖI will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

The problem is that sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusion, thinking that our bad situation is a result somehow of God loosing track of us, or worse yet, that weíve said that one thing that really ticked Him off, and now Heís out to get us!

Illustration

Listen to a teacup tell itís story:

"There was a time when I was a red lump of clay. My master took me and he rolled me and he patted me over and over and over. I yelled out "Let me alone " but he only smiled and said, "Not yet". And then I was placed on a spinning wheel, suddenly I was spun around and around and around. "Stop it I'm getting dizzy," I said. The master only nodded and said "Not yet" Then he put me in an oven, I'd never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door and I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips. As he nodded his head he said "not yet." Finally the door did open "whew", and he put me on a shelf and I began to cool. "That's better" I said. And then suddenly he grabbed me and he brushed me and he began to paint me all over. I thought I would suffocate, I thought I would gag, the fumes were horrible. And he just smiled and said, "Not yet". And then suddenly he put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. And I begged and I screamed and I yelled , and all the time I could see him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, "not yet, not yet . And then I knew that there was no hope, I knew that I wouldn't make it . I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out an he put me on a shelf .Then an hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror and he said "Look at yourself". And I did. And I said, "That can't be me, I'm beautiful "

Itís not fun getting patted, spun, shaped, painted, and fired. But itís because of the Potterís love for the clay, and His faithfulness to finish what He starts. Heís making fine china.

Peter writes,

(1 Pet 4:19 KJV) Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

You can praise Him for His faithfulness.

:25 and the prisoners heard them

heard Ė epakroaomai Ė to listen to; to listen to with pleasure

Lesson:

People are watching.

I donít say this to make you paranoid, but itís true.

(Mat 5:16 KJV) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Illustration - A mother invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to
her six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"
I wouldn't know what to say," she replied. "Just say what you hear
Mommy say," the mother said. The little girl bowed her head and said:
"Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?

Illustration - Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident over 30 years ago, and who now paints with a brush in her mouth wrote,

God is a Master Artist. And there are aspects of your life and characterógood, quality thingsóhe wants others to notice. So without using blatant tricks or obvious gimmicks, God brings the cool, dark contrast of suffering into your life. That contrast, laid up against the golden character of Christ within you, will draw attention . . . to him. Light against darkness. Beauty against affliction. Joy against sorrow. A sweet, patient spirit against pain and disappointmentómajor contrasts that have a way of attracting notice. You are the canvas on which he paints glorious truths, sharing beauty, and inspiring others. So that people might see him.

Did you notice that it was the other "prisoners" who were listening with pleasure to their song in the night?

Some of the people that will observe you the closest are those who are going through the very same things that you are. They need to know that there is a God who is there to hold their hand as well as yours. They need the hope that you have.

:26 the foundations of the prison were shaken Ö every one's bands were loosed

Lesson #1:

Praise breaks chains, not circumstances.

For Paul and Silas, their actual chains fell to the ground. But as youíll see later, they are still considered prisoners.

Not everyone comes home from the hospital with Danae.

In a way, not all their circumstances changed. But the chains were gone.

Chains of depression.

For some of us, the worst things we face are not what we perceive to be the reasons for our depression, but the very depression itself.

(Prov 15:15 KJV) All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.

There are many of us who quickly label ourselves "the afflicted". All we can focus on is our own problems. And when we get done looking at our problems through our microscopes, boy are they big!!!

Instead, we need to turn our focus to the Lord, seeking His presence, and tasting His joy. And we find ourselves surrounded with a feast, just as David wrote,

(Psa 23:5 KJV) Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Chains of fear.

I think that one of the worst chains we face in life is that of fear, the "what ifs". What if it doesnít work out? What if I get hurt? What if nobody likes me anymore? What if Iím laid off?

David wrote,

(Psa 27:1 KJV) The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When I get a hold of His love and faithfulness, I realize that I am safe in His arms, perhaps I even begin to catch the slight smell of rain.

Lesson #2:

Everyone benefits from your praise.

Did you notice that it wasnít just Paul and Silasí chains that fell off?

Everyone else in that prison, everyone else who was also shackled with the same things that Paul and Silas were shackled with, received a release from their praise.

You may be going through intense hardship right now. But if someone were to turn a light on in your prison cell, youíd find that you werenít alone.

It may be a difficult boss at work. There are other prisoners in the cell with you. They all have the same boss as you, but they donít all have your God!

It may be other friends who have a difficult marriage situation like you do. But the more you cling to God and praise Him despite the circumstances, the more you will free them from their fears.

When you decide to trust God, even when your feet are shackled, you will see others drawn to Christ. You will see their chains broken as well.