Rock the Jailhouse, Loose the Chains
Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit nudge you in a certain way, and when you followed the nudge you met nothing but negativity and trouble? Perhaps you took on a leadership position in your church or community and soon felt the pressure and stress of decision making. I know of a missionary who quit her job and moved her family to a third-world country to minister to people who had never seen the Bible, only to lose her son to a sickness he got while living in that country. In times like those, it’s natural to wonder why God would ask you to work for him only to give up so much.
You’d think Paul would have had the same feelings when he heard the call of God in a dream to go to Macedonia. One night Paul had a dream that a young Macedonian man was standing before him saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:9, NLT). So he got up and went, no doubt full of excitement and nervousness at what was in store for him. After all, Paul knew there were enemies around every corner who did not want him preaching that Jesus was the Messiah.
Paul’s arrival in Macedonia started off well. A woman named Lydia became a believer and invited Paul and Silas to her home. (Read Acts 16:16-40 to provide some context.)
Paul and Silas’s trouble began with a miracle Paul performed. A demon-possessed slave girl began following them around, repeating the same message over and over: “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved” (16:17, NLT).
Paul became annoyed with the girl and finally cast out the demon by saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (16:18, NLT). Instantly the demon left the girl.
What’s interesting is that the demon-possessed girl was telling the truth. Paul and Silas were servants of God and were telling people how to be saved. So why was Paul so annoyed? If the people of Macedonia believed in the girl’s fortune-telling talents, would they not have believed in Paul even more? Paul’s difficulty, according to the NLT Study Bible, was that if he let her continue to speak the truth, people might see the Good News of Jesus as linked to demon-related activities.
The owners of the slave girl became furious because they had lost their income stream. They grabbed Paul and Silas and took them to the authorities, accusing them of creating an uproar in the whole city because “they are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice” (16:21, NLT). They were stripped, beaten black and blue, taken to prison, and put in shackles. Yes, these peaceful men were put in shackles meant for dangerous prisoners—that’s how much they were feared for their “weapon,” Jesus Christ!
We might wonder how our heroes would escape from such a situation if it were a movie. Would they pick the locks, beat up the jailer, and make a spectacular escape? No. Paul and Silas sang. They sang hymns of praise in the jail for all the prisoners to hear.
Really? Skin red, bodies aching, Paul and Silas’ joy in Jesus Christ never left them. They continued to sing praises to God despite his leading them to Macedonia to face certain public humiliation and maybe death. You’d think they would be sitting in the dark prison lamenting God’s nudge that brought them there. What good are we in jail when we could be out preaching in safer towns? Instead, they sang.
If you read the entire book of Acts, you’ll see that the Holy Spirit led Paul and his fellow missionaries into some significant danger zones. At other times, the Holy Spirit blocked their passage to places where they wanted to go. Isn’t it awesome to know that God’s plan for his Kingdom cannot be altered? This story shows us that we need not worry about where the Holy Spirit is leading us. You may encounter negativity and despair, but God has a plan. In places where we least suspect it, we have the power, when we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts, to change the lives of those around us. If you read on in Acts 16, you’ll find out that an earthquake threw open the jail doors and loosed the prisoners from their chains. The jailer became a believer, as did the rest of his household after he took Paul into his home!
You too may hear an unexpected, seemingly impossible call. Don’t just dismiss it. Just as he did with Paul, God wants to use us in his plans to further his Kingdom and spread the news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Ron DeBoer is a father, writer, and educator living near Toronto, Ontario.