Acts 16:22-24 (NLT)
A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
Paul and Silas were thrown into prison not for something they did wrong but for something they did right. They were building the early church and telling people about the love of God and the hope of Jesus. Not everyone agreed with their teaching, so an angry mob formed and imprisoned them. A jailer was placed to punish Paul and Silas and ensure they did not escape. So he put them in the most secure part of the prison, the dungeon. It says that they also put their feet in stocks, like giant wooden handcuffs that stretched their feet out to torture them. So here they are, being tortured at the bottom of a dungeon.
Acts 16:25 (NLT)
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.
Paul and Silas chose to pray and sing hymns to God in the midst of their suffering. I can understand praying, but singing is not always my first response when hurt. Their response also caught the attention of the other prisoners. If they were whining and complaining, no one would think anything different. But how they responded during this incredible hardship got the attention of all the other prisoners around them.
Christian atheism is to believe in God but complain like he doesn’t exist.
I’m telling you, there’s nothing worse than a complainer. Complaining does not make anyone’s day any better. Here in the story, the prisoners listened because of how Paul and Silas responded during their incredible hardship. If they had been responding like everybody else, do you think that would have gotten their attention? No. We believe that when we’re doing well in life, that’s when we’re succeeding and getting people’s attention. But can I tell you something I’ve learned? Nobody cares. The world leans in when they watch you going through a hard time, just like them. But you’re responding differently than the way they respond. Christian atheism is when we believe in God but complain like he doesn’t exist. When we complain, we act like the world around us.
Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
The author of Philippians tells us that if we want to shine in a dark world, then don’t complain like everybody else. Maybe you feel like you’re in a dungeon because of your finances, family, health, or strained relationships. You could be crying out to God for deliverance, and He loves it when you cry out to Him. Know that the world is listening. When you keep your mouth shut, the world listens. You will shine bright in a dark world if you don’t act like everyone else by complaining and arguing. If you want a life that demands an explanation to the world around you, don’t act like everybody else when you go through hard times. Act like Jesus and watch the prisoners lean in all around you. I want the honor of going through something hard and other people watching me. Even in those challenging moments, I want to the point that situation back to Jesus and give him worship. I want to reflect on the season I was in and be like, “You know what, I wouldn’t have chosen that for myself. But it was worth it.”
About a year ago, I mountain biked with my friends and parked my truck by the trails. When I came back to my truck, it was gone. My friends were like, “Dude, where’s your truck? How come you’re not freaking out?” At that moment, I was able to, in the briefest way, point them to Christ. I didn’t freak out like others would have, and my friends noticed. One of them said I want to come if that’s what church is like. The following week, they were at church and later gave their lives to Jesus.
The early church was going through much worse hardships than we currently face. Yet, I wonder if what was said 2000 years ago is still relevant to our lives today. When we keep our mouths shut, don’t complain, and just endure, we will shine like bright stars in a dark world looking for hope. God knows we wouldn’t choose hardships for ourselves, but what if it is meant to point others to Him? Following Jesus is not about where I want to go; it’s about following Jesus where He wants me to go.
Everyone’s got hardships in their life. The difference between our ups and downs is that God’s always with us. He can take our pain and use it for His glory. He doesn’t have to waste it. So we can look back and say, “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not who I used to be.”
4 Hardships We Face
James 1:2 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
How do you know if you’re in a trial that’s coming from life or if the devil is attacking you? We know that the world sends trials your way, and sometimes God allows things to go on in your life on purpose. How you determine what kind of trial you’re facing is called discernment. Discernment to pray about and to get God involved. God cares about even the smallest of our problems because God cares about you.
Scriptures tell us to pray about everything. Often, we think that God is too big to care about our minor problems. I’m willing to bet it’s important to Him if it’s important to you. Prayerful discernment will help you determine the type of hardship you’re facing and what’s really happening in the spiritual side.
Wisdom + The Holy Ghost = Discernment
Wisdom is knowing a thing or two and having experiences. The Holy Spirit is your helper. You put those things together with discernment, and it’s not just some magical feeling you get. If you are wondering if you should do a business deal, you would want to get some wisdom before you make the deal. Part of due diligence as followers of Jesus is having wisdom. The scripture says wisdom comes from the counsel of many experiences. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, go to Him and pray about it.
Picture the difficult thing you’re going through. Is it a trial? James chapter one tells us to consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. The first trial, I think of, is a health trial. Maybe you are reading this and have a sickness in your body, an undiagnosed situation, or you’ve been dealing with chronic pain. You might wonder how long you will have to do this. When am I going to go back to normal? Is it always going to be that way? When I think of trials and health situations, I remember James telling us the secret to trials is joy.
James 1:2-3 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Joy is an attitude. Perseverance is an attitude. How you decide you will go through this trial is a choice. I didn’t choose this trial, but this trial chose me. I can choose my attitude and perseverance, which means not giving up. You might be close to giving up. This trial has been going on way longer than you thought it was. You could never imagine going this far with this thing, and here you are. At this point, you are tempted just to break down. You’re always tempted to break down before you break through. Breakthrough is coming for many of you, so make sure that your attitude is lined up with the character of Christ.
I have people in my life that are going through a hard time. Some of them are pastors on our team. My friend, Pastor Mike Johnson, got cancer a few years ago. It was just awful. The first time he got cancer, he conquered that thing. I watched the way he handled it. Mike brought people close to him and didn’t push people away. You’ll notice others leaning in when you go through hardship and act like Christ. Mike continued to work in ministry, running men’s events and Christian conferences. About a year after overcoming cancer, he gets cancer again. Instead of pulling back, he kept going even while having chemotherapy. After one year, he overcame cancer again. That year, during the greatest trial of his life, God used him in one of the most fruitful seasons of his life. I talked to him this week, and he now has cancer for the third time. When I asked how my friend Mike was doing, he said he was focused on getting his attitude right. He said, “My attitude has to align with who my God is. It has to be a reflection of who he is. Because that’s how you get through trials.”
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
God knows the best thing for you to do is just to get through this trial and draw closer to Him. That might require looking at the areas in your life that are immature and eliminating them. I wonder what would happen if we prayed, God, change me instead of change my circumstance. Your circumstances are temporary; you’re gonna be around, you’re gonna be his son, and you’re gonna be his daughter for a long time. And going through these trials, you wouldn’t choose this. Nobody chooses hardship for themselves, but we all get it. If you can figure out if it’s a trial, then you can figure out how to respond.
My friend, Pastor Lisa, has been with us for 11 years. We have done ministry together for a long time. She has rheumatoid arthritis in every joint in her body and recently shared with Maria that she was playing worship songs like Paul and Silas amid her pain. I’ve watched Lisa keep an attitude like Christ no matter what she was going through in her health trial. This week her house was filled up with people for life group, and I wonder how bad her rheumatoid arthritis was right before that life group. I wonder if she was having a horrible day that day. And she couldn’t get out of bed. And she’s like, You know what? It’s just a trial. These are people’s lives. God deserves to be worshipped. I’m not going to let this trial slow me down. I will get my attitude like Christ, and I will persevere and not give up.
I want to be like Paul, Silas, Pastor Mike, and Pastor Lisa. These people look like Jesus, and that’s who I want to look like. I don’t want to complain about stupid stuff. The more we complain about little things, the more that messes with our testimony to the world. Trials are part of life. But how we respond is what people are listening to. Nobody cares when we’re winning. But when we’re struggling, their eyes are on us. Do you know why? Because they’re struggling, and they need hope. And they can see hope in you. Let’s be the kind of people who glorify God in every area of our life, season, and moment.
Acts 16:25-28 (NLT)
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
People are watching your life, and they’re listening to it, and it probably is not even the moment you’re thinking. We don’t worship God because of what he’s going to do. We worship God because of what he’s already done. He’s always been faithful, even in their darkest hour. That didn’t change who God is. So they were worshipping in response to Jesus and for being saved by His grace. The prisoners heard them, and that’s when the earthquake came. No one ran away because nothing was more shocking than Paul and Silas singing during their trial. Their lives demanded an explanation that others wanted to stick around and be near.
God, we believe you’re a miracle-working God. We pray that your kingdom come and your will be done in our bodies. We know you can touch us right now and bring a healing power from none other than the person of Jesus Christ. So we ask that Jesus, the healer, would touch us right now. I pray the Holy Spirit would overwhelm us, that every part of our body would sense right now that you are with us, that it’s going to be okay, that you’re never going to leave us. In Jesus’s name. We pray for this healing. Amen.