It is not very difficult to encounter a friend or relative who likes to sing. This is one reason Karaoke cafes are so popular: people love to sing. But have you ever met someone who can sing during a personal crisis, after a significant loss, during a time of great pain, or after losing their eyesight? To find someone who can sing during those times is a rarity.
Saul of Tarsus was one such individual. After being called by Jesus of Nazareth and sent to teach the Christian faith to the peoples around the Northern shores of the Mediterranean, Saul (whose name was changed to Paul), often encountered severe rejection by civic leaders. On one occasion, a slave girl who was a psychic and had earned her masters much profit by fortune-telling, was delivered from her bondage with Paul’s help. As a result, these men brought Paul and his companion Silas to the city authorities to be punished. They were beaten with rods, thrown into the local prison, and their feet were fastened with stocks.
Then their traveling companion, Dr. Luke, wrote this entry in his journal:
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. (Acts 16:25-26)
Luke’s implication is that their decision to sing songs in the night met with the approval of heaven itself, resulting in an earthquake that broke their chains. Why? Because these songs were sung in spite of everything else being terrible. The two men were weary and in great pain. No one had bothered to dress the wounds on their back. The stocks on their feet were extremely uncomfortable, making it impossible to sleep. But something inside them drove them to sing a hymn of praise anyway, and the response was miraculous.
On Thanksgiving Day - after feasting on turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie - family members will sometimes share why they are grateful for the past year. This is not a hard exercise. But what about during times of unemployment, losing your home, going through a divorce, or receiving a cancer diagnosis? Can you give thanks during those times also? Can you sing songs in the night?
Many years ago, when the prophet Job was attacked by the evil one, Job had no idea that his terrible circumstances were part of a higher plan – actually, a competition made in heaven to see whether or not he would lose his faith and curse God in response.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)
And so the contest began. Job was about to lose all that he had – his wealth, his children, his health and reputation. Once these things were taken away, would he then curse God or would he continue to trust in him? As it turned out, even though three of his friends kept accusing him of secret wrongdoing to explain why all these terrible circumstances came about, he responded by saying, “though he slay me, I will hope in God.” Unbeknownst to Job, at this statement the angels in heaven were probably cheering in unison.
Incredible. Job lost everything, and the way God was treating him made no sense whatsoever. But all that didn’t stop him from trusting him, hoping in him, and praising him. He was able to sing songs – not only in the daytime when everything went well for him, but also during the night, when he could feel nothing but sorrow and pain.
A few weeks ago my long-time friend, Leslie Fuller Sands, wrote me informing me that she was dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease). All I could do in response was to pray that somehow her life would be extended by several years.
One would have expected a letter expressing anger and bitterness at that thought that her life was being cut short. But instead, this is what she wrote me:
We have so much to be thankful for: family who loves and cares about us, a home to live in, food to eat (eating is an increasing challenge for me), clothes to wear, but most of all—a living God who has spoken to us through His word and demonstrates His love for us every.single.day!
Like Paul and Silas and Job of ancient times, Leslie has learned to sing songs in the night.
When I am called to suffer, I hope I can do the same.