In Acts 16, Luke, the writer and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, shares in extensive detail their ministry travels and incidents. One very interesting section of that chapter focuses on the imprisonment of Paul and Silas. The specifics shared from Acts 16:25 - 39 highlight “Nine Exceptional Elements” associated with the Unusual Prayer Service that took place that night.
Earlier in the chapter (Acts 16:13 AMP) Luke mentions that they went to the “bank of the river where we supposed there was an [accustomed] place of prayer…”. Then in Acts 16:16 AMP Luke says, “As we were on our way to the place of prayer…”. Both of these passages indicate places where prayer was expected. People considered these places suitable and conducive for prayer. Beside the river was probably shaded and peaceful. There may have been soothing sounds of nature that encouraged prayer. These were known gathering spots where the people were in the habit of communing to pray.The atmosphere there was calm and pleasant. It was likely very easy to approach the throne of God in these locations and lift their voices, petitions and thanksgivings to the Lord.
This other setting is in extreme contrast to the place of prayer where Paul and Silas led a prayer and praise service later in the chapter. Paul was instrumental in a woman’s deliverance from an evil spirit (Acts 16:18). This enraged those who were profiting financially from the woman’s bondage. They were so outraged that they dragged Paul and Silas to court and had them thrown in prison. But At Midnight! Acts 16:25 continues Luke’s narrative surrounding those events. This is where the Nine Exceptional Elements of Unusual Prayer are revealed!
25 But about midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;
Element 1 - Unusual Place - Prison is not the usual place that these men were accustomed to praying. It is important to keep our usual spiritual disciplines even in and especially in unusual circumstances. Sometimes when the unexpected happens people break from the things that they know to do to maintain their spiritual strength, focus and stability.
Element 2 - Unusual Prayer - These men were praying and singing hymns of praise to God. They were not praying for the Lord to strike down their captors or to punish those who caused their imprisonment. They weren’t worrying or wringing their hands fretfully about what might happen to them the next day. They weren’t asking to be delivered or for the Lord to heal their bodies. During the upheaval their clothes had been torn off of them and they were struck with many blows and beaten with rods. (Acts 16:22-23) They weren’t asking for revenge or for the Lord to organize a grand escape.
26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so [powerful] that the very foundations of the prison were shaken and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.
Element 3 - Unusual Power - Who knows what this earthquake would have measured on a Richter scale? This power was so intense that the very foundations of the prison were shaken. And yet, the earthquake was localized to just that place...the place of prayer! The quake didn’t shake the entire city. Only the prison was affected. All the chains were unlocked or unfastened from every prisoner.
30 And after he brought them out [of the inner prison], he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Element 4 - Unusual Persuasion - The jailer was persuaded to seek salvation because Paul saved him from certain natural death. If the prisoners had escaped the jailer would have been put to death by the authorities. When he saw all the prison doors open, he assumed that all the prisoners had gotten free and had run away. Rather than being killed by the decree of the magistrates, the jailer planned to fall on his sword and end his own life. What Paul and the others did by not escaping was unheard of. It was natural to expect that they would all have fled. The jailer would have been executed especially since he was sleeping during the expected escape. He was so sure that the prisoners were securely bound that he was sleeping soundly with no concern that there might be a break out. Acts 16:23-24 states that he was given a strict charge to keep particular watch over Paul and Silas. To accommodate that instruction he had put them in the dungeon, the innermost part of the prison. Plus he had fastened their feet in stocks. The jailer had been asleep and was only startled out of sleep by the earthquake. He was not influenced by hearing the men singing, praying or praising. Even though the jailer didn’t necessarily hear them, their unusual prayer and worship produced unusual persuasion. When the jailer thought his life was over he was persuaded to ask, “What must I do to be saved?”
Element 5 - Unusual Population - The people present at this prayer service are not the usual attendees. Prayer services are typically the least supported. In a congregation of 100 it is a stretch to see more than five to gather for prayer. Keep in mind the 100 include Bible toting believers who hold offices and positions in the local fellowship. The 100 are made up of pastors, deacons, trustees, ushers, prophets, evangelists, teachers, apostles, bishops and overseers. But prayer service is generally deemed not as important as the other services. Or many think only the holiest of saints should attend. They can pray for the rest of us while we enjoy our evenings, weekends, holidays and families. Or only the widows and old maids have time for prayer meetings. The rest of us have to keep our social lives on and poppin’.
But this was an unusual population present for prayer. No one there was decked out in a big hat or a fancy robe. But my, oh my, were the ones present greatly rewarded for being in a bad place at the right time!
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord [concerning eternal salvation through faith in Christ] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their bloody wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 Then he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, since he had believed in God with his entire family [accepting with joy what had been made known to them about the Christ].
Element 6 - Unusual Provision - The jailer and his entire household were provided salvation. All he ever received from prisoners before this was probably a lot of cursing, name calling and death threats. But this time he received life-giving, life-altering transformation. There was divine provision for him and all those who were dear to him. His heart and perception were changed. He became the recipient of unusual provision. Then he was the provider of unusual provision. He actually bathed the wounds of Paul and Silas. He supplied relief and comfort to their battered bodies. Plus he brought them into his own home and provided food to nourish and strengthen them.
Element 7 - Unusual Praise - Verse 34 tells of the jailer expressing with exuberance the joy of the Lord he is now possessing! This kind of unusual praise is not done silently. It not only fills the heart but it bubbles up and gushes forth out of the mouth in almost overwhelming glee!
35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their officers, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer repeated the words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent word to release you; so come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without a trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now they are sending us out secretly? No! Let them come here themselves and bring us out!”
Element 8 - Unusual Pronouncement - When it was daylight the magistrates decided to release Paul and Silas. They sent a message to the jailer to let them go. The magistrates had no clue as to all the excitement that had transpired during the night. They thought this was a casual, inconsequential (without importance or significance) command. How shocked they were by Paul’s unusual pronouncement that he and Silas refused to leave prison quietly and secretly! Paul’s premise was that the men had been very public and insulting when they threw them in prison. So he was not going to leave by a mere message delivered by a messenger. Paul’s reply, in essence was, “You were all in the mix when you illegally sentenced us. Don’t think that you can get away with shooing us away with a wave of your hand. No indeed!” Surely this was the first time they ever had prisoners refuse to leave jail!
39 So they came [to the prison] and appealed to them [with apologies], and when they brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.
Element 9 - Unusual Pardon - The magistrates came shaking in their boots after learning that they had illegally imprisoned Roman citizens. Instead of being rude, crude and just plain wrong as they had been the day before, now they are apologizing. Suddenly fear has changed their barbaric, egotistical attitudes. When daylight came they thought they were really doing something by sending a lightweight message of pardon and release. How shocked they were to find themselves seeking pardon instead of granting it.
Conclusion: Unusual Prayer produces unusual results. Be diligent in prayer. Use that time to draw closer to the Lord. Don’t just approach Him to get your long list of wants and needs met. He desires and enjoys relationships with His people. Don’t just pray in the usual way. Be sure that prayer is an unusual priority in your life.
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