About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Imagine the scene; two dishevelled prisoners – you’d expect them to be angry – but they’re singing and praying at midnight and calming the other prisoners. The jailer is content; all is well and everything under control, he’s pleasantly surprised by these two and he sneaks off for a little sleep. Then he’s woken by an earthquake, the prison doors have opened and he is sure the prisoners have gone.
At that time, a jailer who lost a prisoner had to serve the sentence himself, so rather than suffer shame and humiliation for himself and his family, this poor man decided it was more honourable to take his own life…until Paul yelled that everyone was still there.
What a roller-coaster ride for the jailer! Small wonder that he asked Paul and Silas how he could learn to cope with life the way they did, which offered Paul the opportunity to talk with him and his family about Jesus.
There’s a lesson here for us as disciples in the 21st century:
Our response to difficult situations can be an active demonstration of our love for Christ. At its simplest, we can be sorry for ourselves and complain, or we can be like Paul and Silas, giving thanks and praise to God, whilst believing that God will help us out.
However, it’s not that simple. Trusting, thanking and praising God in tough times is a truly difficult thing to do. There are times when it’s inevitable that we feel we’ve been dealt an unfair blow and feel sorry for ourselves, but our love for Christ shines through when we manage to handle these times with grace – serving and loving other people and refusing to be beaten by circumstance – like Paul and Silas did in the prison.
We never know when someone who is observing might start to think; ‘I’d like to know how they do that’. Then we too can grasp the opportunity for a conversation about Jesus.
Lord, Help us to trust, thank and praise you always, even when life gets tough. Help us to respond to difficult situations in such a way that we share your love; and guide us as we try to grasp every opportunity to start conversations about your love in our lives. Amen
Linda Rayner is the URC national Co-ordinator for Fresh Expressions.