Our associate pastor was talking this past Sunday and brought up Paul and Silas. He was referencing the time when they were in prison and were shackled down. At midnight they began to praise God and to sing. During that time of praise that all the other prisoners could hear, an earthquake hit under the prison and freed all the prisoners from their shackles. Instead of leaving, every prisoner stayed put. The pastor then said, “Sometimes God will free you from your chains, but leave you in the prison in order to minister.”
That has stuck with me this week. We’ve all heard sermon after sermon about praising God in your midnight, but I never heard anyone talk about what he mentioned. We’re so eager to get the chains off that when they do fall off, we run out of the place God had us. We never stop to think that just because we’re free of the chains it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily free from the prison. There may still be work to do there.
The prison guard heard the chains fall off. He knew the prisoners were free and that he was no match for them. He assumed they had gotten away or were going to. If that was to occur, he would be killed. As his mind raced through every negative scenario, he decided to take his own life. As he drew his sword and held it up to kill himself, the very men that were set free called out to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We’re all here!”
The guard called for lights and went down into the dungeon where Paul and Silas were, fell on his face before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The quake that night wasn’t about freeing the prisoners, it was about saving a soul. Paul and Silas were in tune with God enough that they knew not to run in their freedom. Instead, they used their freedom in that dungeon to minister to someone who wouldn’t have listened to the Gospel any other way.
The guard got his family so they could hear the message. They too were saved. Then he took Paul and Silas into his home, cleaned their wounds and fed them. The next morning they were freed from the jail by the city. Even though the chains that bound them had been released, they were still prisoners until the night was over. Had they fled when the shackles fell off, they would not have been legally free and would have been considered fugitives. The story would have had a different ending.
How is your story going to end? We’re all prisoners to something. When we’ve learned to praise in our prison and we’ve been set free, we shouldn’t be so quick to run out of the prison. There may be others who need to be set free as well while you’re there. God can set us free from the things that bind us in order to minister in the place He has us. Where does God have you now? Are you so concerned with getting your chains off that you haven’t noticed others who need your help? Ask God to teach you to open your eyes in the prison you’re in and then start to praise.