Acts 16:25-26 (AMP)
But about midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.
The apostle Paul writes quite often about the mystery of the gospel. He reveals truths to us about why Christ came and what His Kingdom means. The disciples were short-sighted enough to think that He was going to overthrow the Roman government and bring the Jews back to power in Israel.
Jesus told them all along the way that they were made for more than an earthly king. He said, “The Kingdom of God is near,” repeatedly.
In Luke 21:34-36 (NIV), when Jesus speaks of the signs of the temple destruction and end times, he warns the disciples:
Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Paul understood why Jesus used this peculiar statement: “The Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus said it so that when trouble comes, we can access its power. It’s near because when you receive the gift of salvation, you become a member of the Kingdom. You take on the Spirit of Christ. That Kingdom lives within you.
Jesus wants you to access it when the “anxieties of life” weigh you down.
In today’s focus scripture of Acts 16:25-26, that mystery Jesus revealed to His disciples is exactly what keeps Paul and Silas going through a tragic time in their ministry.
They were en route to a time of refreshment and reflection at Lydia’s house (she was a businesswoman) and a servant woman with a demon in her followed them on their way. She’d been following them for days and kept yelling at them.
Acts 16:17 reports that she is following them, screaming and shouting: “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17, AMP).
That’s actually good news, but it was becoming a major distraction to Paul’s mission—to preach the Gospel. He reacts and casts out the demon.
The townspeople turn on him and Silas because they profited from this woman’s ability to tell fortunes. So, the two disciples are arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.
They’re in prison for preaching the gospel and freeing a woman from a spirit that twisted her spirituality. Paul and Silas are in an uncomfortable situation—beaten, under guard, and uncertain of their future because of what they preached.
However, instead of dwelling on their misfortune, they do something mysterious and remarkable. Let’s recall the second part of today’s passage, which reports that “…suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened”(Acts 16:26, AMP).
It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles here. Chains broken. Doors opened. A prison destroyed. But the really great stuff here is the peculiar thing Paul and Silas were doing in their circumstances of misery—they were praying and singing instead of fearing, worrying, doubting, or lamenting.
Our lives all have that annoying voice—circumstances, trials, emotional turmoil, physical ailments—following us around, yelling at us. It’s enough to make you snap. But Paul and Silas do something different. Here’s a guideline for all of us for how to find God in the midst of all of the distractions around us:
1. Fight for your position as a child of God. When you are saved, you are given an inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. Own that identity. When circumstances scream at you, scream back with this truth.
2. Live in the Kingdom of God. You are full of the Spirit. That’s His job in you—to remind you whose you are and for whom you were made—eternity with God.
3. Remember the Spirit is a permanent resident in you. Surrender to the Spirit and not your problems and circumstances. That’s how Satan grabs a foothold with you.
4. Make your eternity more important than your today. Take care more of eternity than you do of time. That means it’s your job to focus on faith today instead of the minutia of this world.
When you simply keep your focus on God, He will be your protector, and the troublesome days you experience will only be temporary!
1 Corinthians 13:6 (NIV)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
To feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people’s misfortune is downright diabolical.
This immoral approach to love is happening in the city of Corinth. The saints are taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes. Paul reminds them that love doesn’t rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Love doesn’t gloat when bad things happen to other people. Love doesn’t secretly rub its hands together in enjoyment. Love doesn’t enjoy misfortunes even in those who have done wrong. Love does not find satisfaction in the wrongdoings of enemies.
You should love your neighbor even when they fall.
However, pain always wants compensation. The wrong done to you causes you to lose hope in the person who has wronged you. But the presence of the Spirit in your life ought to be stronger than these wicked feelings. The Holy Spirit gives you the strength to take avoid finding pleasure in others’ failures.
Imagine driving down the road, and a car cuts in front of you. Then, a few blocks later, you see a cop has pulled them over. Maybe you hope they forgot their license that day or they weren’t wearing a seatbelt. At the very least, maybe they’ll spill coffee on their clothes or get an agitated cop who gives them a ticket. But Paul says your love shouldn’t gloat over the misfortune of those who’ve done you wrong. Even when it comes to an ex-friend or significant other—and considering all the pain and hardship they’ve put you through—Paul still stresses that love doesn’t revel in the pain of others.
Don’t search for contentment in your life through the misfortunes of those who have wronged you. God’s love in you provides all the contentment you need. When you understand the magnitude of the love of God that is in you and begin to truly value that love, nothing else will matter.
Find joy and contentment in God every day, not just seasons where you are winning and your enemies are losing. Wrap your future in the strength of His presence. Rejoice not in the misfortune of others, but in the love He puts on your life. God is enough!
2 Kings 19:14-19
Countries of different sizes and military strengths all fell to Assyria. All of these nations believed in their own gods, though their gods were manmade. They believed in these gods to deliver them, and they discovered that their gods were powerless to do so.
Now, Hezekiah holds in his hands an arrogant letter from the king of Assyria. The letter says that Judea is next. Assyria will capture the people of Judea, destroy their belief systems, and dominate their will.
Hezekiah reads this letter and, instead of submitting to fear and panic, he went to the temple. He laid the letter out before God. Hezekiah knows that unlike the gods of the nations around Judea, his God is all-powerful. While Hezekiah knows that God can answer our prayers in any way that He wants to, Hezekiah prays believing that God will answer his prayer as requested.
Hezekiah’s actions teach us that prayer is, by definition, casting our wills before God. This means we are conversing with God and telling Him what our will is. It is a statement of faith, a confidence in God. Prayer is offering a gift to God, and it makes a difference and creates change. It is not just an exercise in eloquence or a duty that we have. We pray because we believe that when we cast our will before God and God hears our prayers, God answers our prayers and creates change.
Prayer defies what is evident, challenges what is obvious, and offers alternatives when there appear to be none. When we give our will to God, it receives God’s strength. It is taking everything in our minds and hearts and setting it before our God. We may not know how He is going to answer, but we do know that He will answer.
God’s response is always what is best for us. There is never no response, even if our prayers are not answered like we would want them to be. However, we do need to believe that praying can create the change that we need. For many of us, it is hard to believe that God is even stirred by our prayers.
The answer is, “Yes!” We know, because we love God, that God hears and answers prayer. When He answers our prayer He brings radical change to our lives.
Still another said, "I will follow you, LORD; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:61-62 NIV
The man in this scripture initiates this conversation and volunteers to follow Jesus. But before Jesus can even speak, the man raises an issue: abrupt separation from his family. He wanted to go and say goodbye to his family before he followed Jesus.
Elisha made a similar request to Elijah when he first entered his service and Elijah granted the request. Jesus does not. The request, in His mind, is out of line. Elisha and Elijah’s story was different. Elisha did not volunteer to be Elijah’s right hand man. However, this man did, so Jesus makes the point that “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is telling the man that by volunteering He has put his hand to the plow, and he’s now looking back. No one can plow a straight line while looking in the other direction. Jesus knew that the man would always be preoccupied, looking back at his family. He would always be reverse-focused; his attention would be compromised, and his path forward would never be straight.
He had a focus issue. His focus would always have competition. His attachments would cause his plowing to be curved, not straight. People around him would be confused. He would say, “I love Jesus!” but when people look at the field behind him, they would see zig-zagged with distractions and detours.
Our attention, too, can compromise our intentions. Our attachments can cause us to plow fields that are too bent and curved to reap any reward. We are loyal to the wrong things. We may feel obligated to stay connected to things and people that prevent us from staying focused on the straight line that Jesus has set for us.
We have to know, if Jesus let us go home and share a meal with our family, would we return like Elisha or disappear like this man?
But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the LORD, 'because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.'
Jeremiah 30:17 NIV
Healing is a matter of time, but it is also a matter of opportunity. This is an adequate description of Israel during this season of her pilgrimage with God. The nation has endured long and arduous captivity and this captivity was being used to purge the nation of open rebellion to God. God could have chosen other ways of discipline, but in His wisdom, He decided that this was the best way: captivity in Babylon.
When captivity had done its complete work in Israel, the nation was left desiring the spiritual covenant that they had once enjoyed with God. God then sent Jeremiah to announce a turn for the better.
The best part of God’s promise is that He will give the Israelites healing of all that they have been through. God wants the Israelites to enjoy their freedom from captivity but not at the expense of them being free yet still internally broken. God doesn’t want them changed yet broken.
Living in captivity is painful, but so is living free but in captivity to brokenness. However, God’s promise to us is that He will restore health to us and heal us. We cannot accept God’s change but not accept His healing. We need to let what we have been through change and mature us, but we also need to let Him heal us so that we can manage that change well.
The good news is that God knows how much we need to be healed. He makes it a promise, offering it before we even ask. God is offering to us not just success and progress. He is offering us healing. He wants us to be healed so much that God makes us whole by the passion of His own desire. He is offering what we aren’t even asking for.
God offers to change our predicament by lifting our oppression. He offers to change our position by taking us back home and restoring us. He also wants to change us so that after we’ve gone through something, we don’t pull our strength from our pain. God wants to heal us so that we don’t walk with skewed, blurred vision. He does this for us because he who the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).