Jailbird or songbird…


Lockdown – the most far-reaching restriction of freedom of movement many of us have ever experienced. Not brought on by political reasons, or aggression but rather by Corona virus, an indiscriminate, virulent, invisible enemy. As we adjust to this strange new reality, it tests our faith, our relationships and our ability to adapt both as individuals and as a society.

For Christians, of course, our hope is in God. I’m truly impressed with the work of so many assemblies as they come to terms with live streaming and online devotionals and I greatly appreciate shared posts of encouragement, Bible verses, uplifting music and good humour.

But still, lockdown has teeth and it’s beginning to bite. I watch the world through the tv screen, via the Internet and from my living room window. And it’s not enough because humankind is made for community. I miss family and friends, I miss being in Church, I miss the physicality and immediacy of corporate worship, especially congregational song.

I’m so grateful that I’m living through this with my good man but, the truth is, we both miss wider human contact and interaction. How are you doing? While we may all be facing the same challenge, I’m sure your experience is quite different from mine. Perhaps you’re dealing with lockdown on your own and you feel as if you’re in solitary confinement. Or, maybe, you’re living in close proximity to others and relationships are coming under strain.

So what should we think about this? What should we feel? How should we react? As always, we turn to Scripture and there we find an extraordinary example from a rather unlikely source.

‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.’ (Acts 16:25)

These two men of God found themselves in absolutely dire circumstances that make our experience of lockdown seem paltry at best. They’d exorcised a slave girl and had, consequently, fallen foul of her owners. An ugly public fracas ensued and the magistrates were called. Justice in those days, under Roman law, was not exactly just but it was summary, so with the crowd baying in their ears, the magistrates promptly ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten with rods. We read that they were severely flogged and then thrown into prison. Having been commanded to guard the prisoners carefully, the jailer did exactly that by confining them in an inner cell, no doubt in the murky depths of the building, and added insult to injury by applying leg irons.

I don’t suffer from claustrophobia but I know I’d struggle with a dark, stinking, filthy, rat-infested cell. What’s more, having my feet secured would add to my panic.

And now it’s midnight… the darkest hour when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb. Really, it couldn’t have been worse.

So here are Paul and Silas; bloodied and bruised, in some considerable pain and discomfort, in some filthy, rank hole at the dead of night, not knowing what the morning would bring and their response was to pray and sing hymns to God.

Well, I have to admit, it wouldn’t have been the first thing that came to my mind. Prayer – and panicked prayer at that – maybe, but singing? Highly unlikely! And what effect would this have on the other prisoners who heard them? I can’t even begin to imagine how bizarre it must’ve been to hear singing in that seemingly God-forsaken place.

Of course, prisons aren’t just made of stone walls and iron bars and a dangerous virus isn’t the only thing that can restrict our freedom. There are lots of things which can lock us down and imprison us. Anxiety and fear, doubt, poor lifestyle choices, regret, disappointment… the list goes on and on.

Child of GodThese prisons are often of our own making – but not always; ill-health, abuse and abandonment are just some examples that spring to mind and I’m sure there are many others. All these situations and circumstances may make us feel as if God has forsaken and abandoned us.

But here’s the most wonderful thing, for the child of God there is no God-forsaken place.

‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Deuteronomy 31:6) This promise, repeated in Hebrews 13:5, is for us too, whatever our circumstances.

And, of course, Jesus Himself promised, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20)

It wasn’t just the others prisoners who heard Paul and Silas singing; God heard them and He was glorified by their praise and their witness. It seems to me that there’s never a better time to praise God than when facing challenging circumstance because it brings glory to God and, as we contemplate and worship our matchless Creator this, in turn, reinforces our faith.

‘Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.’ (Psalm 42:11)

Paul and Silas didn’t wait for deliverance before they praised God. They didn’t even wait for morning! So neither should we.

‘At midnight I rise to give You thanks for Your righteous laws.’ (Psalm 119:62)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.’ (Hebrews 13:15)

We may sometimes, for many and varied reasons, be jailbirds but that doesn’t exclude us from being songbirds at all times and in every situation.

The story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment is related in Acts 16:16-40 and I strongly encourage you to read the entire account in detail. However, I’ve purposely chosen not to ‘give away’ the end of the story in this article because for many of us, and certainly as far as the Corona virus is concerned, we’re still in lockdown. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to wait for resolution in order to praise God and, whatever the conclusion, He is always worthy of the highest and best praise we can bring.