American Christians are fortunate. It seems like every day we lose a little more freedom, but at least for now, we still have the right to public worship. Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t be picked on, but American Christians have no idea what persecution looks like. We think we do because a kid gets suspended because of a Christian t-shirt or you can’t have a Nativity Scene on your office desk at Christmastime, but little things like that can’t compare to what other Christ followers have to live with on a daily basis around the world.
When the times get difficult and things don’t go the way I want them to, it’s difficult to hold on to joy. It’s difficult to be cheerful when everything is wrong, but it’s not impossible. We just have to remember where that joy is supposed to come from. According to Galatians 5:22-23, joy comes from God. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
If you’re living a life filled with the Spirit, joy will be evident in every aspect of who you are, whether you are an American Christian who suffers in the court of popular opinion or if you’re a Christian around the world who faces real physical danger for your faith.
Today’s verses are Acts 16:22-26.
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.
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!
If I had just been beaten publicly and thrown in prison, I can’t tell you that I would be singing about it. I would like to think I’m that good of a Christian, but I don’t think I am.
This story has always thrilled me since I was a child. I can just imagine it from the perspective of the other prisoners. And remember this wasn’t a nice prison. Prisoners didn’t have rights at all at this time, and they weren’t treated well. The prisons were horrible dark filthy places, and that’s where Paul and Silas were taken after they were beaten.
You’ve probably heard of Paul. He’s the one who wrote the majority of the New Testament, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Silas was his mission’s partner. Paul went on many missionary journeys, and on this journey Silas went with him. And they were thrown into prison because they healed a woman who was possessed by a demon. They hadn’t done anything wrong, but the woman had been a fortune teller. And without the demon, she couldn’t make her masters money anymore, so they took Paul and Silas and dragged them before the town authorities. That’s where they were beaten and then thrown in prison.
Nothing like that has ever happened to me. But I have been in situations where my life hasn’t gone the way I wanted. I’ve been in situations where I had to make hard decisions. And I’ve been in that place where making the right choice has made others very angry with me. I’ve been the one people spread rumors about. I’ve been the one people tell lies about. I’ve been the one who becomes the brunt of someone else’s frustrations. And I never did anything to deserve it.
And when you get to that place in life, you have two choices. You can focus on the bad stuff that’s happening or you can focus on the good that God is going to bring out of it. Yes, that can be difficult to focus on the good because we don’t know what it is, but that doesn’t mean good won’t come.
I’m sure Paul and Silas had no idea that God was going to release them from prison. That was a miracle that had never happened before–or since at least that I know about. I mean it’s one thing for a prison to experience an earthquake that shakes the prison doors open, but I’m not sure how an earthquake can open chains and stocks too.
Beaten and humiliated and imprisoned, Paul and Silas worshipped God. They kept their perspective where it needed to be, and in their darkest moment they still had joy. And that’s where I want to be. I want to be that kind of person who responds to trouble with a smile. I want to be that person who isn’t shaken when people let me down or when life turns on its head. I want to be the kind of person who keeps moving forward cheerfully because I know that no matter what my life looks like right now, God is going to do something.
So let’s keep our heads on straight. And let’s remember that even if we’re going through a rough patch right now that God is still in control and He still knows what He’s doing and what He’s doing is good. We have the Holy Spirit, so God has given us joy. We just have to access it and making a choice to see the good in bad circumstances is the first step.