Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!
It was dark in the jail cell. So dark, in fact, that the guard had to call for a light to check on the prisoners. The darkness couldn't hide the filth of the jail. The smell was rank. Being underground made it easy for waste and rodents to accumulate. Even the guards didn't want to be there. Only the poorest, lowest-ranking guards were assigned to this place.
One can barely imagine, these days, what a place like that really must be like, much less how anyone who ended up there through no fault of their own could stand it for even a short time. Paul and Silas were there after being unjustly beaten and chained into the stocks. In fact, the punishment was so undeserved that the Roman government tried to let them go quietly the next day. They refused to leave that way and were actually apologized to by the officials, who then asked them again to leave the city.
What happened the night they were in jail, specifically in those two verses, says a lot about the way we should handle our own negative situations, the chains that are binding us.
Focus on Jesus
First, note that Paul and Silas were UNJUSTLY imprisoned. Yet, did they continuously call for the guards or the government officials? Did they complain about their imprisonment while locked in the stocks? Did they tell their story over and over, hoping for some cell-mates or the guard to be on their side? There is no note or mention of Paul and Silas complaining about anything. What does it say they DID do?
"Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God..."
They didn't focus on what was holding them down. They already had faith that He would work things out for the good of those who loved Him. So, what was left to do? Rest in His presence with prayer and praise, beginning early and continuing until the earth quaked at midnight.
How long were Silas and Paul singing before the chains fell off?
What are the chances that this pair had just started their singing when the earth began to quake? If you've spent the day in a dark, filthy prison, does midnight seem like the time of day you'd feel like striking up a song?
When surrounded by negativity, it is easy to feel despair yourself. As night fell and hopelessness set in for many of the prisoners, Paul and Silas knew that to keep hopelessness from setting in for themselves as well, they had to fight the best way they knew how: Prayer and praise.
What would have happened if there had been no change to the situation? If their imprisonment had gone on for days or weeks, would they have stopped praying and singing? While they spent this one night in prison, Paul actually spent a total of about 6 years of his ministry in prison. He wrote between eight and thirteen books of the New Testament, depending on who you ask, many of them from prison. I don't doubt they would have continued to sing, even if their miracle hadn't come that night.
Who is watching you?
There were others in the jail with Paul and Silas. While some of them may have been imprisoned unjustly as well, there were likely thieves, murders, and outlaws of all kinds mixed in. Yet, Paul and Silas didn't spend their time preaching to the other prisoners. They didn't order them to repent or to confess anything. They didn't tell them, "Pray with us and be saved!" They knew that nothing they said would make an impact for the other prisoners. The other prisoners merely listened as Paul and Silas dealt with their own burdens in praise and prayer... and what happened?
"the chains of every prisoner fell off"
When you focus on Jesus instead of your struggles, instead of the injustices dealt to you, instead of your chains... it not only impacts you. It impacts those who see it. Your praise could be the thing that breaks the chains of those around you.
How in the world could anyone go through what Paul and Silas went through... or what you are going through right now... and continue to pray and praise the Lord?
Paul knew who he was in Christ, trusting Him fully. Paul also knew what understanding that would do for you as well.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
He sees you sitting in the dark, feeling chained to the floor. He knows what you need and want. He knows how you feel. Know this... He will break the chains. And when He does it, you will feel them break, but you won't see it happen... because your eyes will be on Jesus.