When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them… – Acts 16:23-25
In this series of posts, we are exploring what revolutionary hope looks like, and how we can have it. We have considered the importance of having trust in God, of seeing Him at work in our lives, and of believing that He is both able and willing to deliver us through any situation. Here, in our final post in this series, we’ll look at what having revolutionary hope actually looks like.
When my wife was pregnant with our third child some complications arose. Only the previous year, we had lost a child to miscarriage, and the circumstances of this pregnancy were frighteningly similar. One night I awoke to the sound of Amy crying. She was bleeding heavily. It was happening again.
I sprung out of bed so quickly, I actually got dizzy and had to lay back down for a moment. Rockstar husband, huh? After I gathered myself, I called our doctor’s emergency line. The minutes seemed like hours before he called back. I expected him to tell us to get to the emergency room, but his response was different. “If it is a miscarriage, there’s not really anything we can do,” he said. “Go back to bed and come in in the morning.”
That hit me squarely in the gut. There’s nothing we can do? Nothing? Just like that, we’re here again?
Praying for Strength Instead of Hope
Neither Amy nor I slept. Rather, I spent the next four hours silently reciting the Lord’s prayer over and over again in my head, and asking God to give me strength. Amy needed me strong. The pain of miscarriage was excruciating for her the first time. And once again, the nightmare was upon us. I needed to be strong.
The next morning, we went in to the doctor’s office. Amy’s profuse bleeding had stopped, and though neither of us wanted to say it, we expected this was because the miscarriage was done. When the doctor greeted us in the waiting room, he smiled and asked how we were doing.
The question felt cruel. He knew our situation; how did he think we were doing?
I pretty much responded that way. And he said, even more cruelly in my view, “well, let’s take a look, we won’t know until we see.” I remember thinking, “Are you serious? We all know what’s going on here, why can’t you deal with the reality?” I had no expectation of life in Amy’s womb and went back to my silent prayers for strength.
At first, the sonogram seemed to confirm our expectations. There was no sign of a heartbeat, or even a baby that I recalled. But as the doctor continued to search, he said “wait a minute, what do we have here?” As he moved the wand over Amy’s stomach, something moving came into view – almost off in a corner of her womb. “Look at that,” the doctor said. “Right there, that’s the heart beating.” That moment changed everything for me. I had no hope. I prayed for strength, not life. But God had something else in mind. He had bigger plans for little Hannah. He still does.
Bracing versus Hoping
I share that story because, in some sense, I came in those moments to experience almost the opposite of revolutionary hope. I leaned into expectant despair instead. I was bracing, not hoping. If you asked me to trust in God in that moment (as the doctor implied), I would have shrugged it off. If you asked me to sing hymns of praise, I might just have walloped you.
But nothing of my attitude deterred God. My disbelief in what He could and would do was but a chuckle for Him, I suspect. He loved me too much. He loved Amy too much. He loved Hannah too much not to deliver as He did in that moment.
Reason to Despair
When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison, they could easily have turned to despair. The facts certainly supported such. Paul, having healed a slave girl of a demonic spirit of divination, faced the wrath of the girl’s captors, who were using her for financial gain. He and Silas had been dragged to the market square to face the chief magistrate.
There, they faced false accusations of essentially inciting a riot against the Romans. Rather than receiving justice, the men became victims of mob rule, with the chief magistrate joining the frenzied crowd and ordering them to be beaten with rods and thrown in prison. Luke adds, “when they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in stocks.” Acts 16:22-23.
Falsely accused. Unjustly convicted. Severely beaten. Bound by stocks in prison with no hope of release. Could there be more productive soil in which to sow seeds of despair? But, the text tells us, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.” Acts. 16:25.
A Matter of Perspective
Author Alain de Botton notes: “The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.” In other words, it’s a matter of perspective. I think Paul and Silas would agree. Let’s look at two perspectives of their situation; that of citizens of the world and that of citizens of heaven.
Perspective of the world: “We have been falsely accused. The allegations are completely false. Is there no justice?”
Perspective of heaven: “No weapon formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17
Perspective of the world: “I have been beaten. My bones are broken and my health failing. What if I die in here?”
Perspective of heaven: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mt. 10:28. Furthermore, “we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Cor. 5:1
Perspective of the world: “How can we have any hope? We are stuck in prison with no foreseeable prospect of release.”
Perspective of heaven: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32
Having Revolutionary Hope
What Paul and Silas, through their prayers and songs of praise, show us is that having revolutionary hope starts with having the right perspective. They delighted in their suffering because they knew that through it, God is always producing something.
As Paul himself puts it “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope; and hope doesn’t disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Rom. 5:3-5.
They also knew that their trials not only glorified God and furthered His plan of redemption, but also were temporary and incomparable to the promises of salvation. Again, from Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Rom. 8:18
As we conclude this study of revolutionary hope, my prayer is that you might cultivate this hope in your life by trusting in Christ, see this hope in your life by keeping your eyes fixed on Him, believe in this hope by believing in the redemption He has provided, and have this hope by keeping a perspective that Our King is on the throne of eternity and one day we shall reign with Him.
God our Father, we praise you that we have the eternal, incomparable and unrivaled hope that only You could provide through the death, resurrection and reign of Your Son Jesus Christ. This hope is truly revolutionary. May, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, our lives be transformed into beacons of revolutionary hope that pierce through the darkness and draw the lost to You. Amen.