On the spur of the moment I decided to bike uphill to a nearby park for my afternoon devotions. I had done devotions there a couple Sundays ago and had a good time, so I thought I might try replicating the experience. Once there, I went to the Pray As You Go app and listened to the Tuesday, May 28th entry. The text was Acts 16:23-34.
The Pray As You Go devotions always read the text twice, giving you the chance to give it a first pass and then a second, deeper listen. On both occasions, I realized there was an interesting chain of events here. I was even tempted to call it a “spiritual” chain of events, meaning it was a chain of events that resulted from and illustrated several spiritual truths.
The first spiritual truth is that God’s workers often suffer. Paul was flogged and put into prison. I was taught in Bible college that suffering in ministry was a result of some mistake the suffering minister was making. I see here, though (as well as hundreds of other places in Scripture), that suffering in ministry is par for the course. It is not a result of a mistake made by the minister or ministry team; it is just the way things go. It is not something to be ashamed of, in other words, but something that just happens.
The second is that God’s workers often suffer because of other people. Here, Paul is flogged and put in prison by Gentiles. Other times, he is flogged and put in prison by Jews. (In fact, I saw in the previous day’s reading, John 15:26-16:4, that some religious people considering the persecution of God’s workers as the right thing to do). So the suffering isn’t just an accident; it was an intentional attack.
The third is that Paul and Silas were witnesses even in their suffering. They responded to their situation with praying and singing (I don’t know what they were singing; I’ve always been taught they were worshiping, and I think there is a strong case for believing that, but it is possible they could have been appealing), and they were heard by their fellow prisoners.
The fourth is that only Jesus can rescue us from our suffering. Paul did not get himself out of this predicament; he was pulled out of it by a divinely-sent earthquake.
And the fifth is that Paul did the right thing after he was rescued. He did not only do the right thing; he did the above and beyond thing. While most people would have fled without concern for what happened to the jailer (especially if the jailer had been harsh to them during the jailing process, which I think is a good bet), Paul did not. He stayed, knowing what would happen to the jailer if he fled. As a result, the jailer was not only saved physically but spiritually.
This chain of events really touched me as I listened to it twice in the park. I’m not sure why. It might be the idea of being thrown in prison by others, which is something that happens to us all more than we would like (anytime anyone does something harsh to you which continues to make you angry or afraid, you have been “thrown into prison” in a sense). It might be the idea of Jesus divinely getting me out of that prison with an earthquake (which of all the ways to get out of prison is a pretty great one). It might be the idea of Paul doing what was above and beyond right for his captor, as that is something I’m not so great at doing (I always like to twist the knife on my captors a little bit). Whatever it was, it hit me. I realized that I will be thrown in prison from time to time due to no fault of my own, that Jesus will get me out, and that I need to do what is right once I’m let out.
That is what I saw on May 28th, 2019.