Jump Start # 2622
Acts 16:28 “But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’”
The words found in our verse today kept a man alive. Most know the story. Paul and Silas had been arrested in Philippi for preaching. They were beaten and taken to a jail. Dirty, tired, hurting and likely bleeding, the apostle and Silas begin singing praises to God. It was after midnight. It was the hour to sleep. The other prisoners were listening. An earthquake, doors open, chains fall off. It was a prisoner’s dream come true. In the darkness of night, a massive escape could have taken place. The jailer, fearing that this is what happened and fearing punishment, chooses to end his life. Maybe someone will think he died battling fleeing prisoners. Maybe death on his terms would be better than torture and death on Rome’s terms.
Our verse is what Paul shouts to the jailer. Don’t hurt yourself and here’s why. Everyone is still here. No one has escaped. And, the profound lesson for all of us is the idea of making a difference. We all wonder about that. Parents wonder if they are getting through to their kids. Teachers wonder if they are making any difference to the classroom. Preachers feel this way. Shepherds feel this way. Am I making any difference in the lives of others? When we do not feel like we are, then we slowly throw in the towel. It’s a losing battle we conclude and we are not going to win. I remember as a kid, playing little league baseball and going out to the field when it’s the last inning and we were so far behind that there was no way we could win. One just feels like giving up.
What is powerful about Paul and Silas’ story is that there was no preaching done to the prisoners. Paul didn’t shout to them to stay put. Their influence, what they were doing made all the difference. They were watched. They were noticed. They stood out. They were different. And, in that setting, they made a difference.
Here are some thoughts we need to remember:
First, it’s hard to measure the good that you are doing. The lessons you teach your kids may not surface until years later. Things stick with people that we may never realize. I’ve had people come to me years later and remind me of something that I said in a class or a sermon. My first thought is, “Wow, I didn’t think you were even listening.” But they were. And, more than that, it stayed with them. They remembered. We often want to see immediate results. And, when we don’t we may feel like nothing is working. We are making no difference. Some have to let those thoughts simmer awhile, like a good soup. It may not surface again until that child is an adult or that person moves away and they realize all the truth that you told them.
Second, we are not to shine our lights if it is only effective to others. In other words, we are to be a positive and godly influence, whether the prisoners listen or not. We are to do what is right whether the prisoners stay put or they all run out the open door. We cannot allow the reaction of others to determine whether or not we ought to be a good influence. We must let our lights shine, at all times. Teens will roll their eyes. Some may grumble. Some may whisper things under their breath. Some may shake their heads and disagree. But you keep shinning that light of Jesus Christ. I have heard old men talking about the influence of their grandma decades and decades ago. It stuck with them. Sometimes they didn’t follow that influence and after years of misery and being in the wilderness, it was that sound influence that calls them back to where they need to be. A young preacher once asked me, “What do you do when people sleep while you are preaching?” I said, “I preach.” You must keep doing good.
Third, it is important that our influence points to Jesus. It’s not about us. It’s not the singing in the jail cell, but the God that was being glorified. I expect some prisoners may have scoffed when Paul started to sing. Just look at him. Bloodied. Sitting in a jail. It sure looks like your God came through for you. Maybe they thought that way. But Paul sang. He continued to sing. And, doors opened and chains fell. Now, those prisoners were seeing something. Now, there was something to that God.
We must present the Bible accurately and truthfully. Don’t fudge the truth to win friends. Don’t muddy the message. Don’t confuse the facts. Stand upon God’s word with confidence and assurance. Bold but kind. Accurate but hopeful.
We must present Jesus in an honorable fashion. He’s the Lord. He’s the king. Don’t say things that are not true about our Lord. Don’t assume what you do not know. Don’t sprinkle His holy story with falsehood.
We must present the church realistically. We are people. We are people with a past and we are people on a journey. We are not all in the same place. We do not all have the same strength. We continually need Jesus. We are not perfect, but we are following the one who is.
Don’t be ashamed to be different. Don’t put a basket over your light. In the darkness, light stands out. In the darkness, light attracts. In the darkness, light makes things clear. We are the light of the world.
You are making a difference, even if you do not see it.