There is a well-known story in The Acts of the Apostles (in the new Testament) where Paul and Silas find themselves locked away in prison. It is one of those which we remember as having a happy ending. We celebrate with both men, God answering their prayers, an earthquake releasing them and the conversion of the entire jailer’s family. A mighty story of transformation and change.
But I sometimes wonder whether we miss some of the teaching in this story in the way it unfolds. Paul and Silas are being faithful and proclaiming God’s mercy and grace, railing against the inequalities taking place in a place of prayer. Their orders to free a slave girl with a spirit of divination went against the interests of her owners, who stood to lose a great deal of money if this girl was healed. So, her owners accuse Paul and Silas and have them beaten and thrown into jail. Even though the story, set out in Acts, is described in a few words, we realise that those who oppose these men are serious and will do whatever it takes to get things back to normal. So, Paul and Silas suffer a mock trial, are stripped, beaten with rods and then receive a severe flogging.
For those of us wanting to imagine the whole story, this prelude, which gets us to the point of release and conversion must have been dramatic and frightening for the two accused. Of course, this makes the miracle of the earthquake and being set free, whilst they languish in jail, even more dramatic. But what would have it been like for Paul and Silas as they waited for their fate to be determined?
We have not been in anything like similar circumstances as we have worked our way through this pandemic. But to simply jump to a ‘normal’ situation, the good ending, would be to ignore what we have all gone through getting to this point. It has been difficult. Most of us have suffered loss. To put it another way, we lose so much if we simply focus on the good bits, of reunion and the joy of having a hug.
Think for a moment of what this period of confinement has meant to you. For those of us with a faith, I think there has been the added disappointment of people loosely connected with the church disengaging. We want all these people to return, but are not sure that they will or how to go about reengaging with them again.
And what of our own beliefs and faith? This prolonged period of absence has meant for many of us a loss of contact with those we feel most comfortable with – those in our church family. So, what will it be like to meet up again? Will they remember me and to what extent should I hope that our relationships can go back to something like there were?
We have been looking at unanswered prayer in our GWP services over the past few weeks, attempting to answer some of those difficult questions about God seemingly being absent and not answering our prayers. Ryan’s prayers in this week’s Reflection touch on responding to this in silence. It is about using our time not to ask and plead with the Father to act but, rather, to be still and to listen. I know the account in Acts talks of these two prisoners praying and singing to God. We know that these prayers were heard by the other prisoners. But did they also stop and spend time in silence, waiting for God to respond to their cry’s?
In our often busy and stressful lives there seems merit in offering to God our biggest fears, knowing that we do not have the answers, that it is only in the silence where we are really able to hear God speaking to us.
Prayers provided by Ryan
Following on from the service on Sunday, where Mark talked about using quietness when we pray and how there are many times when it is good to be quiet before God, the prayers follow that theme. There are times when it is appropriate to be quiet (and just listen!) whether that is as part of a time of meditation, in a formal or informal setting, in a church building or sat in the quietness of our own homes. It may be a quiet time by ourselves, thinking about our relationship with God, the blessings and struggles along our journeys of faith – knowing that the “unanswered prayers” are answered and we are always heard. In our often busy days we need to take time out to be quiet, to hear that gentle whisper of God’s Spirit, to be both blessed and strengthened.
“it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:26 NIV)
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
be still and remember
all the Lord has done;
in our darkness when
His word was our light,
in our gladness when
His joy was our song,
in our weakness when
His touch was our strength,
in our coldness when
His love was our warmth.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
be still, be still and remember.”
You are the whisper in the breeze,
the calm voice within each storm,
the lamp inside the darkness
and the guidance along this road.
You are the hidden treasure;
You are the pearl of great price;
You are the one who occupies
the God-shaped hole within our lives,
that no other can ever fill.
However busy we might be,
may there be moments
when we are alone, to think,
to pray, to hear Your voice
and know Your presence
within and beside us,
through this and every day.
Be the light we walk by
Be the peace we know
Be the truth we hold to and
Be the love we show.