Tonight we’re going to be starting a series I’ve entitled Paths of Praise. We’re going to be looking over these three weeks at three stories from the Bible that show us people that praise God in some rather trying circumstances.
Tonight we’re going to be going to hear that we can and must PRAISE WITHOUT PROMISE. We’re going to look at Acts 16 and see how Paul and Silas were able to praise God while in prison, with no promise or real expectation of deliverance. In fact, they had cause to believe that much more pain and possibly death lay just beyond the dawn.
Next week we’re going to be going to 2 Chronicles 20 and we’re going to see that in some matters, we do have the promise of deliverance from whatever dark prison we may be in, so we can MARCH WITH A MELODY – but even so we have to do the hard things and go through the rough patches until God brings about the end of our troubles.
Then in the third week we’re going to be going to Luke 17 and we’re going to see that after God has delivered us, we should turn back again to Him in praise.
I want to say to you tonight that we ought to be living lives full of praise to our God! When you first come to God in repentance and are brought into his family, your life may have been full of the darkness and the filth of your former life of sin; but a big part of GROWING UP in God is that praise becomes a bigger and bigger part of your heart, that your heart begins to be filled up with the praises of God.
We must grow in praising Him. Whereas before we filled our happy times with self-praise and worthless talk; now we fill it with praise to God and thanksgiving. Whereas before we filled our trouble times with self-pity and cursing; now we fill it with praise to God and declarations of trust in His mighty power and loving faithfulness in the storms.
What is praise? Praise is the truthful acknowledgment of the righteous acts of another. Praise is to draw attention to something good that someone has done. So I would praise Eddie here for all the hard work he’s put in to getting the Church camp ready. I would praise my wife because she cooks so incredibly well. I can praise some of you tonight on your fashion sense. And others of you, well…
To praise God is to draw attention to the good that He has done, and indeed the good that He is – you draw attention to His glory. You say, ‘Ah, God! You were so good to me today – even though I woke up this morning thinking I would get in trouble with my boss for the mistake I made yesterday, You gave me favour before him and he treated me graciously.’ You say, ‘Almighty God – what a beautiful sunset you gave us this evening. In fact, God, I usually enjoy those sunsets more than anything I can make or anyone can make in the whole earth. You’re amazing, Jesus.’
And so in all circumstances we praise God.
For tonight we’re going to be looking at two men who praised God in some dark circumstances. Please turn with me to Acts 16.
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain, by fortune-telling.
So Paul and Silas, along with the writer of the book, Luke, and also presumably Timothy, were in the great city of Philippi. And together, one day, they were going to the place of prayer – probably to the river where they had met and converted Lydia. And they came across this young girl who had a particular gift – given her by demons – for telling people’s fortunes.
She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
Now let’s stop there for just a moment. On the surface, this doesn’t look so bad. Sweet deal! I’d like to have someone following me around saying, ‘Hey look! This man right here – this is a man of God. He’s here to show you the way to be saved. Yes, that’s right – this man right here.’
And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Let’s understand that even the powers of darkness know who God is and what God has done. But the people associated this girl’s fortune-telling ability with the gods, or we would say with demons – these powers of darkness. Paul did not want his ministry and his message to be associated in the public mind with the powers of darkness.
So in a sense, Paul allowed this public testimony to go on for several days, and then made a public confirmation of the word of Christ by casting out the demon. This proved to all who heard of it that the Jesus, whom Paul preached, had no fellowship with demons, and was more powerful than the demons.
Even though this public display of power evidenced the truthfulness of the gospel message that Paul and his team were proclaiming, it wasn’t received well by the people around them.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Let’s just stop there for a minute and think about where we’re at in this story.
Trouble Times Will Come
What we have here is a pair of men who are in ten different kinds of trouble.
They’ve delivered a young girl from bondage to an evil spirit. This should be a good thing, but it wasn’t received that way. Can you imagine the market scene when the owners of this slave girl found them, and poured all kinds of verbal abuse on them, sprinkled – or probably quite covered– with a generous helping of threats on their lives.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like conflict situations. I would want to just crawl into myself and find my happy place.
But there’s no freedom for Paul and Silas to do that here. They are dragged off to the rulers.
Then, without a fair trial, without an opportunity for defence, they were stripped bare and beaten. They are tied up, and dragged off to prison, where their feet are clamped uncomfortably into stocks where they would remain until they were called for.
Paul and Silas were in trouble.
At this point, too sore to sleep, they sit in their jail cell and look around them. It’s dirty and uncomfortable, they’re being watched and they can’t escape, they’re hundreds of miles away from their friends and family or anyone who can defend them.
But worst of all, they are unlikely to get out of this alive. It’s quite likely that when the council reconvenes, they will be dragged out and beaten again or killed.
Or maybe they’ll be left here in the prison to die.
They have no control of what’s going to happen to them, and those who do have control are unlikely to show them mercy.
Paul and Silas are in trouble.
All they wanted to do was something good – they were heading to a prayer meeting when this all started, and now they’re facing death.
Have you ever been in trouble like these guys are? Some of you have – maybe you’re feeling like them right now.
You’re trying to do what’s right. You’re trying to work hard and please God, but you find that in the midst of all of that life’s just hit you – and hit you hard. Yesterday life was sailing – your health was good, your marriage was good, your kids were obedient, your car worked, your house was being paid off.
But today is a different story. Today your health is not so good, today your marriage is in a storm, today your car is giving problems, and your previously stable financial situation has been shaken.
And all you were trying to do was the right thing.
Some of you may know the situations that my wife and I have been facing over the last several months.
Hit by a car while on my bike
Medical aid wouldn’t cover it
Then one car was broken into
Then the other car broke down
Then electrical problems at home
Then computer broke down.
If you’ve lived long enough, you’ll know that trouble times come – they come regularly. For a season you feel as if all is well and all has always been well – you can’t remember the last time you felt afraid. And then a season comes in which you feel all is not at all well, and hasn’t been well for a long time – in fact, you can hardly remember the last time you felt at peace and happy and your circumstances were good.
Trouble times come. You know this, and I know this, and it’s not something that we should be surprised by.
Trouble times come. And this doesn’t mean that the world is falling apart.
Trouble times come. This doesn’t mean that God has left you, or forgotten you, or that God has lost control.
Trouble times simply come.
But how are we to handle these trouble times?
I want you to understand tonight that when trouble times come, our response reflects our heart. Our response should be to praise God in the trouble – to praise God in the storms of life, or the prisons that we are thrown unwillingly into. Our response to trouble circumstances should be a natural, free-flowing-from-the-heart life of praise.
Let’s look at this for a bit, as we continue to read the story of Paul and Silas.
Praise God in Trouble Times
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
This morning, Paul and Silas woke up praising God for this new day. They went straight about their business, loving the people around them and seeking to make known the glories and mercies of God which are new even in this new morning.
With the day just starting to heat up, with all that promise of an exciting adventure, they head to their new prayer spot, where a small group of new disciples are just forming.
Along the way, they perform a miracle.
Then they are grabbed by the throat, dragged through the dust, judged without an opportunity of defence, roughly stripped, savagely beaten. Bloody and shamed and sore, they are thrown into a dark and dirty dungeon, clamped down, and left to await further punishment or death.
The hours tick on, maybe under these harsh circumstances they’ve fainted from the pain and mistreatment and woken up again, not knowing how long they’d been in there for.
But look at their response: they gather themselves together as well as they can – and they begin to pray.
I don’t know what they prayed about, but as they prayed, their prayers gave way to song. They began to sing hymns to God. Hymns that speak about how God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt; hymns that spoke about God’s forgiveness of their sins; hymns that spoke about God as Saviour and king.
They began to praise God in their prayers and their songs.
Have they lost their minds? What do they have to praise God about? Everything’s fallen apart, and fell apart all at once, and they won’t get out of this.
But their circumstances haven’t changed who God is, or what God has done. Paul and Silas’ circumstances didn’t change God’s worthiness to be worshiped.
What prison are you in? Maybe, like us, you’ve recently faced wave after wave after wave of trouble. It’s not fair, it’s not easy, it’s not nice, but when did that change who God is or what God has done for you? When did your discomfort disqualify God of worship?
Here I want you to understand my friends that praise, like love, is not an act of the emotions but an act of the will. You are married, you will love your wife, even on those days when you don’t feel loving towards her. You will treat her with respect when the emotions have died, you will be patient with her, you will be kind towards her, you will forgive her when your hurting – why? Because love is an act of the will; not, as Hollywood so wrongly portrays it, an emotion.
So the same with praise. You can be sitting there at your dinner table with a handful of bills that need to be paid, and a calculator that shows that you are well in the negative, and you can still praise God.
Let’s look at others that did this.
Joseph, when he was falsely accused and thrown in jail and forgotten – left to rot there – yet still he prospered as he set his hands to work with what he had and at all times praised God with his work, giving God glory when the opportunity came to speak to the baker and the cupbearer. He said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God?” ‘You know what, I’ve got no hope of freedom, my life is a mess and completely out of my control, but let me just tell you, O baker and cupbearer, my God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. He’ll help you with your problems.’
Again, Habakkuk, when he was faced with the destruction of his nation and the loss of all he held dear, said these beautiful words: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my saviour.”
My friends, there is never any reason not to praise our Saviour. There is never any reason not to praise our God.
Yes you may be in trouble, you may be in the world of trouble, your days may even end very soon, but there is never any reason not to praise Jesus.
God May Deliver, But He Also May Not
I don’t want you to go without hope. Let’s finish our passage for tonight.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Just on that, I don’t know what I would have done in this situation. You’ve just been freed, and you can make a run for it. But Paul and Silas stay put. They see that being available for God’s use here in this dark place is more important than their personal safety.
And then they see the jailer pull out his sword and ready himself to off himself. “Oh no, jailer, don’t do that…” I’d whisper quietly. “Oh no, he did it…too bad.”
But Paul and Silas again see that being available for God’s use here is more important than just getting out of their discomfort, and so they cry out to save the lost and scared pagan jailer.
God may deliver you out of the trouble you find yourself in. Next week we’re going to be talking about some of the troubles that God promises He most definitely will deliver you from. But for tonight’s message I want us to be true to story.
Paul and Silas are sitting in this dark and ugly prison cell, and they have wounds on their backs and not much hope of things getting better any time soon.
You and I with hindsight can say they had a lot to praise God for – because very soon they would be delivered – but they themselves in the time of their praising had no knowledge that that would happen.
You may look at the story of Joseph in slavery, and Joseph in prison, and say it’s easy to endure all that because he would be second to Pharaoh one day – man of power, wealth and fame.
But Joseph didn’t know that. He remained faithful to God in the jail. He praised God in that jail.
You may look at the story of David as he faced Goliath and say it’s easy to fight Goliath because his throw would hit the perfect spot and fell the giant.
But David didn’t know that. He remained faithful to God in the battle. He praised God in that battle.
You may look at the story of Esther as she faced her own death for going and speaking to the king and say it’s easy to step out because her scary task would bring salvation for herself and her people.
But Esther didn’t know that. She remained faithful to God in the task. She praised God in that task.
You don’t know what lies just around the bend on your journey. Your life may take a turn for the better – like it did for Joseph, David, Daniel, Esther, and countless others.
But your life may take a turn for the ‘worse’ – like it did for Jeremiah the prophet, or Stephen in Acts 7, and many, many others.
You don’t know what lies just around the bend on your journey. But where you are now, in the dark place or in the light place, you and I can praise God. Our circumstances don’t disqualify God from the praise He so rightly deserves. Your ability to praise the Lord has very little to do with the circumstances that you are facing, but rather, it has everything to do with who God is and continues to be even in the midst of those circumstances.
What do you have to praise God for? So much, so much!
Praise God for: He is full of glory (Psalm 138:5); great (Psalm 145:3); wise and powerful (Daniel 2:20); good (Psalm 107:8); merciful and faithful (Psalm 89:1); and much more.
Also, praise God because He is the One who saves us (Psalm 18:46); keeps His promises (1 Kings 8:56); pardons sin (Psalm 103:1-3); and gives us our daily food (Psalm 136:25).
We can praise God because Satan has already been defeated by Jesus (Col 2:15; Eph 1:17-23); we share in Christ’s victory over the forces of darkness (Eph 2:6).
In fact, to list all the things God has done is impossible, there’s a never-ending stream of reasons to praise God. And we can sing and shout these praises when there’s money in the bank, and when there’s not. We can shout these praises when our bodies are healthy, and when they’re not. We can cry out these praises when our cars work and when they don’t.
I want you to understand that Paul and Silas’ praise party preceded deliverance. They didn’t wait to get out of the trouble before they began to praise God. You and I should not wait to get out of the trouble before we deem God worthy of our recognition of God’s holiness and righteousness.
But what did this praise result in – in this case, miraculous delivery. In response to their praise, God brought about deliverance for them from their prison, and even – in an incredible way that only God can do – it also brought about deliverance for the jailer and his family from their eternal prisons. Isn’t our God good?
Now, praise is meant to be a celebration, it’s meant to be a boasting of God – and when we boast, we do it in an exuberant, unrestrained manner. As we sing our closing song, and as you remember this message through the week, I want to encourage you to really give your praise horns!
Oh Lord I praise You! I praise you because You are mighty and You are powerful. Even the kings of the earth will sing of Your ways, for great is Your glory, O God. I praise You because You are wise and act wisely towards me in all situations. I praise You because You are POWERFUL – You do what You want with the powers of heaven and with the people of earth. I praise You because You are good! Your love is steady towards me. You satisfy my longing soul, and the hungry soul You fill with good things. I praise You, God, because you have acted mercifully towards me, and faithfully led me through many difficult times.
I praise You, Jesus because You are the One who saves me. I praise You because you always keep your promises – not one have you ever failed to keep. I praise You because in saving me You pardoned all my sins. I praise You because this morning You gave me food to eat, and this afternoon too, and this evening. In fact, You’ve given me all things I need for life and many things I need for comfort. I praise You, Jesus, because You are the mighty Conqueror, who has already defeated Satan and his forces, and allowed me to share in Your victory. I praise You because You will reign forever and ever, and no-one can pluck sovereignty from Your hand.
I praise You because regardless of my circumstances, You never change. Your attitude towards me never changes. Your faithfulness never changes. You are good, You always were good, You always will be good. You deliver me from troubles, You lift me up and settle me on the Rock for my safety. I will never be able to count all Your positive attributes, nor be able to thank You for all Your gifts and acts of kindness towards me.
I praise You, I worship You, I give You thanks in the matchless and powerful, glorious and eternal name of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.