Friday, October 14, 2011

“Breaking Into Prison”

In the book of Acts chapter 16, we find the apostle Paul and his sidekick Silas caught in the middle of a very riveting tale.  They were out preaching the gospel when they encounter this slave girl who was possessed by a demonic spirit that enables her to fortune-tell.  She followed Paul around for many days shouting after them.  Troubled by the situation, Paul cast the demon spirit out of the girl in the name of Jesus after which, she could no longer fortune-tell.  The owners of the slave girl having lost their source of income became very angry with Paul and Silas and stirred up the city against them causing them to be severely beaten, thrown into the inner prison and their feet fastened in stocks. 

I don’t know about you but if this had happened to me I would probably be sitting in that dungeon cell sulking, asking God “why” he had allowed such a horrible thing to happen to me while I was out doing “His” work.  My prayers would probably be very “ME” focused, pleading for freedom to escape my dreadful situation.  

We find a different spirit in Paul and Silas however as we pick up the story here starting in Acts 16:25, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”  In their midnight hour, in the middle of their unjust imprisonment, in the middle of their pain (their backs black and blue, swollen, and bleeding from the rods they had been beaten with) in the middle of being rejected and looked down upon by their peers; we find Paul and Silas singing, worshiping, and lifting up prayers of praise to their God.  Their focus wasn’t upon their wounds or upon their present prison, but their focus was upon Jesus.  Their gaze was upon the one who had come to take their wounds and captivity upon himself at the cross. (Isa.61:1-3)  Their eyes were not upon what they could see or how they felt but were upon the unseen realm of the spirit.  No one, including the most faithful of Jesus followers, gets through this life without wounds and imprisonments but be assured that the other prisoners are listening, watching to see if our response to our problems is pouting or praise, worry or worship. 

The most incredible thing happens next in Acts 16:26, “and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”  In the middle of their praise and worship God causes a great earthquake; the prison doors were opened and their shackles fall off.   Our immediate thought is that God had come to set them free.  But as you will see in a minute, God had not come so much to break them out of prison, but God had come to “break into their prison.”  He had come to break into their painful circumstances bringing His glory and presence.  Praise and worship in the midst of our pain will capture God's heart and he will come in power to break into our situation, bringing with Him peace, comfort and revelation of His higher purposes. 
“When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened; he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”  (Acts 16:27-28)  The prison doors are opened but Paul and Silas didn’t leave.  If it would have been me, the minute the door popped open and my chains fell off, I would have been out of there.  I would be gone before the guard had a chance to come and shut me back in.  But Paul and Silas weren’t focused upon their freedom, for they must have had a revelation of Jesus that we all need.  In John 10:9 Jesus says of himself, “I am the Door,” and in Revelation.3:7-8 Jesus says He has put before us “an open door that no man can shut.”  Paul and Silas understood that if Jesus is the “door” that no man can shut, they were free men no matter what their physical situation portrayed; all they needed to do was cling to the “Door.”  As the door that no man can shut, Jesus could physically set them free any time He chose.  Therefore they weren’t looking for the escape route but were looking for God’s higher purpose in all that had happened to them.  Because they didn’t go dashing out the first chance they got, as their flesh would want to do, that higher purpose was immediately revealed.

“And he (the jailer) called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (Acts 16:29-30)  There you have it, the higher purpose.  Paul’s temporary physical prison was for the spiritual freedom of this jailer and his entire family.  How many God encounters do I miss because I am so focused on getting out of my personal pain and prison that I miss the purposes God want to accomplish through me to help set someone else free.  When Paul and Silas praised and worshiped in the mist of their pain and prison, focusing on God's purpose of spiritual freedom being of higher value than their own physical comfort, they were shortly physically set free as well. 

The sooner I can learn to stop sulking over my problems, stop dwelling on the whys, and stop staring at my wounds and prison walls; and instead start staring at Jesus, lifting up praise and worship to Him regardless of how I feel.  When I start diligently seeking to know God’s heart and looking for opportunities to meet God’s highest purpose of setting spiritual captives free, instead of constantly looking for comfort and an escape route; then Jesus will comebreak into my prison” carrying with Him supernatural peace, revelation, and purpose.  As an added benefit, Jesus will unlock my chains and release me from my prison as well.