The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
God is faithful, good and true, no matter how unjust, cruel and treacherous this world may be. Paul and Silas here demonstrate the heart of the unquenchable worshipper. Even amidst torture and imprisonment, they refuse to become bitter towards God. Matt Redman reminds us that:
Bitterness dampens and eventually destroys love for God. It eats away at the statement “God is love” and tells us He is not faithful. But contentment… fuels the heart with endless reasons to praise God.
I just finished speaking with a fellow online who has been bitter with God for over 7 years. You all have heard the story before. Maybe this is your story. He was hurt by someone(s) in the church, so he left the church, never to return. He blamed sinful men for his willful exile from Christ, and continues to carry a chip on his shoulder.
But then there are the unquenchable worshippers among us, those who love God so much and seek Him so earnestly, that nothing and no one can stand in the way of knowing Him. They do not blame God for the hypocrisy of others. They do not look for ways to acquit themselves of the guilt due to those whose hearts are hard toward God. They press on in the understanding that the world will always be cruel and unjust, but in the secure faith that God is who He says He is, and that “He will never leave nor forsake you.”
Another aspect of unquenchable worshippers is that they are always seeking ways to draw nearer to their Lord. They discipline themselves not out of guilt or obligation, but out of a sincere, wholehearted passion for God and for His kingdom. There are those among us who claim to “know Christ” and “love Christ”, who may be very convincing in their demonstrations of outward zeal. To them, worship is primarily about outward expression, excitement and verbosity. The litmus test they subject themselves and others to is the test of hype.
But the true worshipper—the only true worshipper—is the worshipper who worships in spirit and in truth. Again, Redman observes that: “we talk a lot about spirit-led worship, but if we truly want to be led by the Holy Spirit, we need to make sure we’re keeping in step with Him in our everyday lives.” In other words, to respond to the Holy Spirit (i.e. to be led by Him), one must first hear Him. To hear Him, one must be listening. To listen to Him, one must place himself in a context in which He will speak. That context is multi-faceted, and one or more of these facets may be absent at any one moment, but overall, the following facets of a Spirit-sensitive context are vital to intimacy with God.
First, we must go to a secluded place, apart from the distractions and obligations of daily life. Often recorded in the New Testament, Jesus left the crowds and even His disciples to spend time with His Father. In Mark 1:35, Jesus got up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark… got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” Jesus knew that fellowship with His Father was the only thing sustaining Him on this earth.
Second, this must be a quiet place, for God speaks in majestic whispers to the quiet in heart. Repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments, we are reminded to “Be still” and know that He is God, and to “let our words be few”. The wise man is described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” These first two necessities of a spirit-sensitive life are often the most overlooked and underestimated aspects of devotion. In a society where "time is money" and people have constant, instant access to us via cell phones, it proves very difficult to completely "get away" from it all.
Not only that, but we have become "colonized natives", like the Israelites in captivity in Egypt. After years of unwillful submission to our "oppressors", we have now come to enjoy our oppression. We have become obsessed with constantly having background noise, such as TV or radio, even to the point that we can't even walk from one place to another without some sort of audio/visual stimulation (e.g. the iPod). The Eastern/Middle Eastern discipline of reflection and mindfulness has completely escaped us.
But ironically, God waits for us in the silence. Just as the wife waits for her husband's undivided attention when pouring out her heart to him, Christ waits for us to flee from the demands and lures of this world to enter into intimate communion with Him. And when we meet Him in the silence, there we will taste and see that He is good; there we will find peace and rest in His embrace; there we will find redemption and healing from the past; there we will find strength for today; there we will find direction and perseverance for the future.
Lastly, we must seek Him through His revealed written word. The word of God helps us interpret the voice of the Spirit, to test it and make sure that it is indeed His voice and not the voice of the Devil himself. But we must never let a book become the object of our relationship, not even the Bible. We must experience Christ outside of reasoned faith and empirical knowledge. We must not become scholars and experts, but rather friends, lovers and servants of our Lord. Our pursuit of knowledge must always serve the purpose of drawing us and others closer to Him; otherwise it is useless. God hasn't revealed Himself to us (in written form or any other form) to enslave us to rigorous rules, but rather to provide opportunity to commune with Him.
Are you an unquenchable worshipper, constantly longing to know Christ deeper and more fully, or are you content with the glimpse He has given you up to this point? Do you seek ways to constantly grow your love and devotion to Him, or are you the person who is always making excuses? Instead of defending yourself to others who seek to help you draw nearer to Christ, maybe you should evaluate yourself in light of the way Christ Himself would view your relationship. Is He someone you make time for when you have a little left over? Is He someone you talk about when you're forced into it? Or is He someone with whom you have intimate fellowship on an ongoing basis? Does He make your heart throb, your brow sweat, your tongue speak endless praises?! If He was your spouse, your girlfriend or boyfriend, would He believe you when you told Him you love Him?
Does Revelation 2:4 describe your relationship to God? Have you "forsaken your first love"? If so, verse 5 holds hope for you. God tells us, "repent and do the things you did at first." If you have been in an intimate relationship in the past, think back to the beginning stages of that relationship. Remember all the silly and extravagant things you did for the one you were pursuing? Remember how you couldn't get enough of that person? We are constantly in need of "remembering the height from which we have fallen" and repenting and starting over. This world continually draws our attention away from our Lord and Savior, and He will continue to do everything He can to draw our gaze back to Him.
Matt challenges and encourages us that “every breath we breathe is a reminder of our Maker, and every hour holds the possibility of living in His presence.” May we choose to live each moment in His presence, no matter how convenient it may or may not be. May our thirst for Him never be quenched, but may we constantly strive to seek a greater glimpse of Him. May every action and thought be surrendered to Him as we seek to know Him and the power of His resurrection.