In Acts chapter 16, we find Paul in a pretty typical circumstance. Paul serves God, people get mad, people throw Paul in prison. Amazingly, Paul never bemoans the fact that God has allowed him to be put in prison. There’s no, “God, how could this happen to me? I’m serving you. Why am I being punished?” There’s no, “God, I could really be more effective at ministry if my feet weren’t in stocks. It’s in your best interest to release me.” Paul finds himself content in every circumstance.
Now. Here’s most people’s version of “content”:
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry about your offer on the new house falling through.”
“That’s ok. I can continue to live here in this ratty, run down, tiny, cardboard box of a home if that’s God’s will for my life.” (dramatic sigh)
“Well, you do know that God works in mysterious ways.”
“I know. I just hope that someone can see me as an inspiration in their time of suffering (start puffing up a bit). I’m not sure how long I can bear living here (in this middle America home with more amenities than half the world can afford), but I’m sure God will bring the right home in his perfect timing (but if that home doesn’t show up soon, I’m going to be pretty upset that God’s not recognizing how good an attitude I have about this whole thing).
A lot of times we say we’re content, and we talk the good Christian talk, but really we’re discontent and hoping to get a little sympathy. True contentment does not desire to draw attention to itself and garner praise. True contentment is just that. Content.
The shocking thing about Paul and his ability to be content in any situation, is that he wasn’t *just* content. Paul was joyful in his circumstances. Let’s go back to Acts chapter 16, verses 22-24, and see what Paul is up to during his stay at Chez Roman Jail.
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.
Did you see what Paul and Silas were doing in jail? They were singing. Not just humming to themselves, but singing loud enough for all the prisoners to hear them. And they weren’t singing, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. They were joyful in the Lord. Even though they were in jail, they were in God’s presence, and that was enough cause for rejoicing.
An interesting thing resulted from this experience. God miraculously freed Paul from his chains. But Paul didn’t run away. He didn’t take the emergency exit. Paul, resting in the joy of the Lord, felt God’s presence in his circumstances and chose to remain there by choice. As a result of his refusal to flee, the jailer’s physical life was spared. Not only that, but the jailer’s spirit was spared. He came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Better yet, his entire family became believers. Believers so enthusiastic, that they got baptized immediately- in the middle of the night!
As a parent, sometimes I feel in prison in my home. Not usually, but I do admit to having days where I feel isolated from everyone else in the world. Sometimes I feel imprisoned by my obligations. I look at my schedule and see: therapy at this time, doctor’s appointment at that time, birthday party on Saturday (which require pre-planning and fixing of own special allergen free goodies to bring- don’t forget to call and ask if there will be latex balloons there), nursery duty on Sunday, etc etc. I search for a time to fit in another activity, and realize there’s just no room for anything else. My life has been blocked in by things that are “necessary”. Am I supposed to skip my daughter’s physical therapy just to be able to go get groceries? Sometimes I feel that my ministry for God is being cramped by these imprisoning circumstances. I wonder how I can be effective or touch lives when I am spending so much time going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment- taking the hour in between to run an errand. I need to take a look at Paul. He literally had his feet chained to the floor. It doesn’t get anymore stuck-in-a-rut than that. But Paul was content. He was joyful, even. He was singing at midnight. (Don’t know about you, but I am usually not in the mood to be singing at midnight. I’m probably mad that I’m still up doing housework that didn’t get done during the day.)
Because of Paul’s joy in his circumstances, and his willingness to stay where God had placed him, multiple lives were touched and names were written in the Book of Life. Let’s conclude this thought by looking at Psalm 51:12-13.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
That’s exactly what happened with Paul. He rejoiced in the joy of God’s salvation. He was sustained by a willing spirit. As a result, he was able to teach “transgressors [God’s] ways” and “sinner’s turned back to [Him].” So, go and do likewise. See your prison not as a restriction, but as an opportunity to be sustained by God as your joy is restored. Let those around you see His ways through you. You may be able to lead someone else to the true source of all joy and contentment.