I love the story of Paul and Silas. These two men, giants in their faith in God, knew the secret to inner joy, no matter the outer circumstances. Do you remember the incident when they were beaten with wooden rods, then thrown into prison and chained? It’s recorded in Acts 16:11-40. I wonder how you and I would feel in similar circumstances? There they were, doing all kinds of good things: helping people, sharing God’s love, and telling the true story of Jesus everywhere they went. In the very midst of all their good works, what happens? They get falsely accused, beaten on their bare backs with wooden rods, thrown into a dark prison and chained.
We would understand if we read of how Paul and Silas lamented their situation. We could appreciate if they cried out to God, “why have you let this happen to me?” Instead, they did something most peculiar. The Scripture tells us in verse 25, “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” I’m sure the other prisoners were listening. What must they have thought? Perhaps they thought, what nuts! Perhaps they wanted to know how Paul and Silas maintained peace in their predicament.
There is nothing wrong at all with being totally honest before God with our feelings; He knows what we’re thinking anyway. However, I find a sadness when Christians get mad at God for allowing some hardship into their lives, and then ask the question, “why me?” The question “why” often has no answer. Rather than, “why have you allowed this?” perhaps the question, instead, should be, “what?” What do you want to show me or teach me through this? What do you, God, want to reveal about Yourself through this? What do You want to build in my life through this?
In the story of Paul and Silas in prison, there is no indication that they asked “why?” Instead, there is every indication that they were trusting in the “what?” The very fact that they could pray and sing in such a situation let’s us know that, while they couldn’t know what God would do; they knew He would do something. When we focus on the why, it leaves us looking more inward than upward. When we focus on the what, it brings our sights heavenward, where we trust in our God who does all things well. It increases our anticipation as we eagerly wait to see what God will do. The knowing why fades into irrelevance as we press on and wait for the what.
If we choose, as Paul and Silas did, to pray and sing when we don’t know “why” some woe has fallen upon us, the anticipation of “what” will shake the foundations of our anguish. It will break the chains of our despair. It will open the doors to hope, freeing us from the prison of our inner torment. We will walk through our troubles in the joy of “what” God has done and of “what” He will continue to do. Mulling over “why” may only lead us into further introspection where doom and gloom await us. Asking “what” leads us to The Potter’s door where holy molding takes place.
Never forget, too, as verse 25 reveals, when we are first thrust into a prison of suffering, the other prisoners will be listening.” Perhaps your anticipation of “what is God going to do?” will fill others with hope in the midst of their own chains of despair.