Friday, May 9, 2014

Acts 16: Missional Worship Attracts God's Presence

Acts 16:25-34 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?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Worship that is missional attacts the Presence and Power of God into the place. And when God "shows up", things happen. In this very well-known story about Paul and Silas worshipping God in prison (Acts 16:25-34), we have a clear example of what missional worship is.

Firstly, it was not done in the Sunday Service setting -- it was done outside the normal assembly of believers. So, missional worship happens wherever believers are gathered--even as few as two or three: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matt 18:20). Paul and Silas were feeling elated even though they had just been beaten with rods and locked in the "inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks" (Acts 16:24). It was a most uncomfortable environment - they were in pain, bleeding at their feet and probably in semi-darkness. But their spirits soared because of what they had experienced of God's miraculous grace shown to pre-believers.

Secondly, missional worship is among non-believers. Paul and Silas were probably the only Christians in that prison. They did not think that non-believers' presence would "quench" the spirit of Christian worship. In fact, they lifted up their voices so loud that the non-believers were wondering why they were so happy in this miserable dungeon.

As one who spent quite a bit of time ministering to prisoners, I had often found worship inside the prisons much more heart-felt than that in the church Sunday Services. Very often, we only have a guitar--there was no high-tech AV and no distracting strobe-lights. But we had God's presence. For the prisoners who had lost all the rights to free association and movement, worship is the only activity that remains free. Their bodies may still be in prisons, but their spirits have been set free in worship. For Paul and Silas, it was this freedom of spirit to express joy in praise to God that attracted the attention of the other prisoners: "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).

Thirdly, missional worship attracts the presence of God into the place: "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 16:26). A well repeated joke says the explanation for the earthquake is this: According to Isaiah Isa 66:1, the Lord says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool." So when God heard Paul and Silas singing, He enjoyed it so much that he started tapping his foot--and that's why the earth (his footstool) shook!

The point is that Paul and Sila's heart-felt worship attracted God's Presence and Power into that prison. God's presence opened prison-doors and unfastened the bonds holding the prisoners. Metaphorically speaking, many people (Christians and non-Christians alike) are still being imprisoned by habits they cannot break out of: e.g. drug addiction, gambling addiction, sexual addiction, food addiction and even work addiction. For such people, only God's presence and power can set them free, not counselling.

I remember an Indian prisoner who was a secret society member. He was well-known for his violent behavior. He had received the most caning inside prison: more than 100 additional strokes of the cane while inside the prison for his violent behaviour. He testified after he came to Christ that he never cried when he received the caning. But when he experienced God's loving presence, he wept for the first time in his life. He was also delivered from his violent behaviour.

My own first exposure as a nineteen year-old to Christianity was at the university lawn, listening to a Christian band called the Cross-Road singing praises to God. Something stirred in me when I heard them. Perhaps if more worship teams take their worship out of the Sunday Service into places where non-Christians congregate--Christian cafes and restaurants, public concert halls--we might see a spiritual breakthrough in our land. In worship, we carry God's presence into places where His power is needed.

Incidentally, while the Church has been speaking out quite vehemently against the overwhelming tide of lawlessness that is sweeping the world, and now coming to our shore here, perhaps if we focus on releasing God's presence and power in the world on weekdays, more might be accomplished in the protection of our society from moral corruption and in setting people free from their spiritual and moral bondages:  "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).

The church has a powerful weapon of warfare, but we are not using it enough where it matters.

Father, help us release the Power of Your Presence in places where non-believers congregate so that they may experience deliverance from their spiritual and moral chains. Amen.

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