“….. and he (the jailer) threw them (Paul & Silas) into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” (Acts 16:24-26 NASB)
This is the black hollow in the center of imprisonment, and where the captive’s feet are shackled. Literally, it’s a dungeon. Abysmal in every way.
The “stocks” weren’t the kind we normally picture where the prisoner’s head, arms and feet were clamped or a neck collar was worn. Here, only their feet, as if to mock them; as if only partial bondage is a type of freedom. But they were the truly free…they were the “free indeed.”
Their fellow residents were listening – attentively. It’s not often one hears song in the middle of a dungeon in the middle of the night.
They couldn’t run….but they could sing; and I bet they lifted their aching arms and empty hands to the One Who held their hearts captive in true freedom.
Thomas Barnes says about this scenario: “The darkness, the stillness, the loneliness all gave sublimity to the scene.”
Scientists tell us that singing releases endorphins; the brain’s “feel good” chemical. That night, singing released more than that. Singing in the middle of one’s midnight releases what holds us to the pain of this world and frees us to stay, unshackled, to sing to the rest of its listening captives. Worship shakes the foundations of dungeons and darkness and pain and death, opens doors, and loosens chains.
Singing praises to God, in the midst of the world’s vice-grip, when all is lost, is a sacrifice, which by the nature and origin of the word makes it holy.
Humanity made the first attempt at sacrifice by making an exchange that wasn’t theirs to make. They sacrificed eternal fortune for a lie, walked into their own dungeon, bent down and cuffed freedom to the cold metal of sin and self; the world’s most costly and painful redundancy.
And so… a true sacrifice had to be made in exchange for the false one. The ankles and wrists of Royalty were empaled and Heaven’s heart rubbed raw and bloodied by the shackles of what man could not do, and a Song was composed in the middle of a dungeon that should rightfully hold you and me.
Freedom was proclaimed in the middle of the night, so that you could sing in the middle of your grief. Sin was shackled so that you could be free – and the world listens attentively.
Keep singing… no matter what.
“So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.”
(John 8:36 MSG)
Susan Vandepol founded Families of the Fallen after the duty-related death of her husband in 2005. Its accompanying protocol supplies a model to firefighters and first responders to use when coming alongside a widow of a fallen firefighter, as well as providing firefighters with a pragmatic way to express their own grief in a way that won’t compromise all that is inherently masculine about their profession. Her new book, “Life After Breath” was developed primarily for churches and faith-based organizations, and is a way for the Body of Christ to answer its Biblical mandate to care for widows so that they can thrive in their new role, and fulfill their set-apart calling highlighted in Luke 17 and 18. Susan is certified in Grief, Crisis, and Trauma Counseling, Grief Coaching, Master Life Coaching, Individual Crisis Intervention, Victim Response, and Basic and Family Meditation. Her speaking engagements include women’s retreats and conferences, a keynote at the ICISF World Congress, the CSFA Convention, and the Honor Guard at the International Association of Firefighters Memorial.
Posted on: May 20, 2015, 2 p.m.