“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.”
– Acts 16:25–26
As a Chinese Indonesian, I grew up reading some Kungfu comics and watching many Kungfu movies. Not the Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan’s type. But the ones where the guys adorn man buns with long smooth silky hair and the girls always use their big long sleeve to dab dry the droplets of sweat off their foreheads (think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie, but with a much worse visual effect). While Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan have their Wing-Chun or Wushu skill to defend and to attack, the crouching-tiger-type ones would also have their secret move before unleashing an earth-shattering chi-releasing move that will incapacitate their enemies (think Kungfu Panda but without the cute fluffiness).
Well, Acts 16:25-26 records literally an earth-shattering move of Paul and Silas. They had been beaten up with rods and thrown into a deep dungeon with their feet chained. Paul was schooled not in a kungfu academy, but in a Rabbinic education system under Gamaliel. Silas was a prophet and a church leader. So, in that dungeon, kungfu moves would not come to their mind at all. However, they knew some ‘moves’ that would unleash an even greater power. They prayed and they sang. Yup, that’s right. Instead of mouthing some secret magic spell, they talked to God. Instead of screaming, ‘Jiaaat! Haiyaaaa!’, they lifted up scriptural songs and praises to God. Little that they knew, their moves would literally shake the earth, opened all the doors of the prisons, and unfastened all the prisoners’ chains.
Now, just like many miracles in the Bible, this episode is not to be taken as a formula or a recipe for an earthquake. If you were imprisoned because of some petty theft, or if you were detained because you arrived in Indonesia illegally by boat from Australia (which seriously would bring your entire being into question), or if you were locked out from your apartment because your flatmate took all the keys, you cannot expect the doors to be opened automatically simply because you pray and sing. Surely, Paul and Silas did not expect those things to happen when they prayed and sang. But they know one thing. Although praying and singing to God would not open all physical doors and unfastened physical chains, praying and singing to God would usher the heavenly peace into their hearts and would strengthen their spiritual resolve in the midst of persecution as they recount God’s greatness and His promises in the Scripture.
In his book The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken tells of his interview with a Russian Christian, named Dmitri. Because of his faith, Dmitri was locked up in a very tiny and dirty prison a thousand kilometres away from his family. Among the fifteen hundred criminals, Dmitri was the only believer there. For fifteen years in prison, there were two things that gave him strength in the face of tortures. Every morning, Dmitry would stand by his bed, face the east, raise his arms, and sing the same song to Jesus. The other prisoners would laugh at him, curse him, bang metal cups against the iron bars, and sometimes they even threw human waste to his cell to shut him up. Another thing he did was that every time he found a scrap of paper, he would sneak back to the cell and write as many Bible verses and hymns as he could remember. The jailors would find out about the papers, threw the papers out, tortured him. Dmitri, however, never stopped doing the two things: singing every morning, and recounting as many Bible verses and hymns as he could remember.
Finally, after 15 years, the jailers could not take it anymore. One day, they dragged Dmitri out from his cell to execute him. But as he was dragged down the corridor in the centre of the prison, the strangest thing happened. Before they reached the door leading to the place of execution, fifteen hundred criminals stood at attention by their beds. They raised their arms, faced the east, they began to sing the same song Dmitri had been singing for all those years. The jailers were in terror… they instantly released their hold on Dmitri’s arms, and they asked him, “Who are you?” Dmitri responded confidently, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His name.” The guards cancelled the execution, returned him to his cell, and sometime later, Dmitri was released.
Again, just because you sing every morning or remember all the Bible verses, it does not mean what happened to Dmitri or what happened to Paul and Silas will happen to you. However, I can assure you that what happened in Dmitri’s heart and in Paul and Silas’ hearts will happen in you. The warmth of heavenly peace that is beyond understanding and the gush of spiritual strength that can only come from above will sustain you in the midst of your persecution.
So, it is perhaps a good time to examine our prayer life. How is our relationship with Jesus? How much do we know God through His Words? Will our confidence in God be strong enough to carry us through pains and trials? Will the strength of our relationship with Jesus be enough to sustain us in the midst of persecutions and tribulations? We might not have the Kungfu move that will shatter the physical earth. But we have the ‘moves’ that will shake the spiritual stronghold of the devil and unleash the heavenly strength upon our hearts. So, take the time to sharpen them.