Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
This is from a sermon by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. You can read the entire text of the sermon and/or listen to it in full (only 12 minutes) at the link below.
…Prayer plays an interesting role in the divine jailbreak story we just heard from Acts, because it sort of feels like something out of a comic book – as if Paul and Silas have obtained superhero levels of faith. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and Spiderman has heightened senses but Paul and Silas can cause earthquakes that free them from prison just by praying and singing hymns.
I really really really want to see myself in Paul and Silas kind of in the same way that I realy really want to see myself in Wonder Woman. I want to think of myself as having that kind of super-hero faith. The kind that, were I falsely accused, stripped of my clothing, severely beaten with rods, thrown into the depths of a first century jail cell and shackled, that I too would respond not by crying like a baby or being immobilized with fear and hatred but like Paul and Silas I would respond in the dark of night by praying and singing hymns. I’ve not been in that particular situation or anything vaguely like it and maybe in true hardship I would surprise myself, but given how I respond to even minor irritations, that super hero response feels unlikely.
Because if I’m honest I have to admit that if I pull a muscle and can’t work out for two weeks or even if I just run out of coffee at home, I lose faith.
I’ve never known what to do with messages that tell me to “just pray and have more faith and everything will be fine”. Because those kinds of messages never make me have more faith. They make me have more guilt for not having more faith. And then I just feel more stuck in this feeling of spiritual inadequacy…
…So, as someone who is not unfamiliar with the feeling of spiritual inadequacy, which character do I really relate to in the story of Paul and Silas in prison? It’s not really Paul and Silas at all, it’s the other prisoners. Verses 25-26 tell us: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.
Everyone’s chains were unfastened. Not just the ones praying and singing. But everyone.
I love that it was only Paul and Silas who prayed and sang hymns and yet it was all the prisoners who were freed. Like somehow the faith of two was sufficient for the whole group. And later the belief of the jailer was enough for his entire household to experience salvation.
I relate to being in the dark. I relate to feeling shackled to certain ways of thinking and feeling and acting. I relate to not being able to free myself and yet still experiencing freedom. In other words, I relate to relying on the faith of others, the songs of others, the prayers of others.
So many of us have felt tortured by not knowing if we have enough faith or the right kind of faith. I’ve said this before but perhaps it bears repeating: faith is never given in sufficient quantities to individuals…it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Because this thing isn’t an individual competition, it’s a team sport.
God has provided in us all the faith sufficient for our freedom. We just have to take turns being the ones being lowered through the roof to Jesus and being the ones doing the lowering.
There’s enough. There’s enough faith. There’s enough love. There’s enough hymn singing. There’s enough freedom.
And for we who bear the name Christian prayer and love and faith and hymns are our birthright. Even if we don’t always know how to pray and we love poorly and have little faith and don’t like all the hymns…even then all of this is ours just as it has been the birthright of all the people I’d God for millennia. Even when we don’t have enough of our own, there is enough…
…There is just so much prayer and faith surrounding us all the time and affecting us in ways we don’t even know and for this abundance in the face of my own insufficiency, for your faith and prayer and song which unshackles me over and over and for the God who made it all possible, I give thanks. Amen.