Singing In The Cell
I received the upsetting news of a good friend's cancer diagnosis by telephone. She asked that this message be passed along to those of us praying for her, "What God gives us is always good. It may be hard, but it is good."
When we are in the midst of a difficult circumstance, what is our response? As believers, do we go silent about the goodness of God? Or do we even publicly question his power and his love? It is easy to be thankful when a hard season is behind us, or when an injustice has been resolved in our favor. But when the chains of a trial hold us fast and we still sing God's praises, it reveals a faith that can withstand being tested. That in turn, points to the God who is worthy of that kind of faith.
We see a great example of this in the book of Acts. The apostles Paul and Silas had been arrested on trumped-up charges, beaten, and restrained in stocks. What is recorded next astonishes me. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Philippians 16:25 (NIV)
Suddenly an earthquake rocked the jail that was holding them. The prisoners could have all escaped but, along with Paul and Silas, they chose to stay. The narrative doesn't tell us why, but I believe they were influenced by two men who could sing with welts on their backs and stocks encircling their ankles. This incredible series of events led to the jailer and his entire household putting their trust in Jesus. Paul and Silas' steadfast faith allowed God to use their hardship for great and lasting good.
This story reminds us of an important truth. As believers, we want opportunities to reach out and bless people. Those chances to influence people for Christ rarely come in our moments of ease and victory. To a great degree, they are forged in the fires of trials. Praising God in the midst of pain gives us a powerful platform to reach others who are themselves in pain.
In a broken world, people are looking for hope. Our lives can be used to display the truth that hope is never found in our circumstances, which change like shifting sand. Hope comes despite circumstances, when we look to the unchanging goodness and grace of our Father. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13 (NIV) As we overflow with hope, it spills over to others.
When it became apparent after 15 months that my friend was not going to be physically cured of her cancer, I asked her what was the best thing that had happened to her through her illness. Without a moment of hesitation she replied, "Knowing Jesus better." Her rock solid faith and steady pursuit of Jesus caused me to dig deeper in my own faith. I gained a new determination to study God's word and to live it. My friend's impact on me continues 13 years after her death, and my fervent prayer is that my life is in turn lighting the way for others. Imagine the effect on our world if we use the darkness of our circumstances to point the way toward the one who is Light and Life.