This past Sunday, I had one of those mornings where everything just seems to go wrong. I just barely made it to church in time for the first worship song. There is something about worship that sets my heart up to hear from God. Only this time, I wasn’t feeling it.
I walked in with a bit of an attitude and was extra sensitive to any distraction around me, which this particular morning was the two ladies behind me chatting during worship. I considered throwing a glance in their direction to let them know I was displeased when one of them said, “It’s my first time here. It is a miracle I’m even here." It knocked me right off my little imaginary pedestal.
I immediately thought of a story in the Bible that helped me to reflect on the meaning of true worship. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were among the first missionaries of the early church sent to spread the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They were entrusted with spreading this radical message to nations that had never even heard of Jesus. You can imagine that they may have faced quite a bit of opposition in their travels.
On this particular occasion, Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison after being severely beaten. In that moment, surrounded by other prisoners and bound by chains, Paul and Silas started to sing hymns and pray to God. Scripture tells us that in the midst of their worship, an earthquake shook open the prison doors and everyone’s chains came loose. It begs the question – what in the world can cause two men nearly beaten half to death and thrown into prison to choose to worship in that moment?
If I’m honest, I don’t know that worshiping would have been top on my list. More likely, I would have been caught up in the pain I was suffering after being unfairly treated. I might have been irritated by the inconvenience of my plans being disrupted. I probably would have been distracted by the fact that there were other people around me. Not Paul and Silas.
Paul would later pen letters of instruction and encouragement to the early church. In these letters, he constantly referred to himself as a prisoner suffering for the gospel by the power of God. Do you think it’s any coincidence that Paul would choose to use the word prisoner given the knowledge we have of his own experience having been one? I don’t. I believe it helps us to better understand the vantage point from which Paul and Silas were seeing their situation.
They knew they were serving only God. They were clear and secure in their purpose – to spread the gospel. They were confident that they were able to fulfill their purpose and endure suffering, not by their own means, but God’s. Knowing Who we are serving can drastically change our attitude in any situation.
Paul and Silas’ perspective was eternal. They may have been bound by chains, but they were free to praise God for what they believed was to come. Paul and Silas were suffering for a greater purpose than they could see in that moment. Wouldn’t you know that God would honor their faithfulness? The jailers had been watching Paul and Silas worshiping. After they had failed to guard the prisoners, Paul and Silas were able to share a new message of hope with them and they believed in Jesus.
Paul was able to later speak these words of encouragement in his letters because he knew them to be true from firsthand experience. His momentary suffering proved to be an eternal testimony. I don’t know about you, but I want that. I want my story to mean something, to have a greater purpose than myself. I want to see every experience through an eternal perspective.
That Sunday morning I was telling you about earlier, God had instead decided to throw a little glance in my direction to let me know He was displeased with me. You see, I was making worship about me and my own enjoyment. Who was I to think that? In that moment, God took the focus away from me and brought it back to Himself, where it belonged. Something I was viewing as a distraction and an inconvenience was actually a bigger thing He was doing.
He turned my attitude to overwhelming gratitude for Him and my heart was free to worship Him – because that is Who worship is about. Suddenly, I was grateful that He had given that woman courage to walk into church that morning to hear a message of hope, which she had described herself as nothing short of a miracle. I was grateful that He had changed my heart to see it through His eyes instead of my own limited, self-serving lens. I was in awe of this amazing God that I get to serve that is still in the details and cares about the condition of my heart. This is a God that is worthy of praise.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29