Teaching Sunday School yesterday, I had some new thoughts (for me) about an old story and what better place to share. This may just be my new favorite Bible Story for awhile. The story, Paul and Silas in jail. You know the one. Paul and Silas are imprisoned for sharing Jesus. Because they are such "bad dudes", they are put in shackles and placed in the middle of the prison. The part saved for the really bad criminals. They are put under guard. They don't whine or complain, instead, they sing. They praise God in the midst of imprisonment. And then, the floor starts shaking, the shackles fall off, the doors of the prison are opened. The perfect chance for escape! The guard, realizing he must have lost all his prisoners prepares to kill himself. And then...before he does anything crazy...Paul and Silas announce that all the prisoners are still there.
Okay, so I've heard the story a million times. I have heard lessons, and even taught them, about how they worshipped in the jail, yada, yada, yada. But yesterday, something else struck me. I know it is because of our recent circumstances, but I like it anyway. You see, in our culture, in our church, we always talk about open doors. If God is leading you somewhere, the doors will open. If you are headed in the wrong direction, He will close them. It is a lovely, comforting thought. The path seems so clear. And yet, in this story, the door opens...but Paul and Silas...they stay. They didn't walk through that open door. I'm sure they wanted to. I'm sure as they sat in that prison, they longed to be free. Maybe they talked about what they might have been doing. Maybe they had a strategy session for what they would do when they got out of there. I wonder if they felt frustrated that their ministry was being slowed down because of this little bump in the road. They may have wept for those they wouldn't get to talk to because they were "locked up".
I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the prisoners as the shaking began and the shackles fell off. And most of all, I wonder...why did they stay? Of course, Paul and Silas, despite that opened door must have felt the Spirit of God telling them to stay. But what about the others. There may have been some rough characters in there. Surely they longed to be free themselves...and what an opportunity. What held them there? Was it the darkness? The guard called for lights, but that was only after the prisoners told him not to kill himself. Was it amazement, did they think they had more time? Why did they stay? If I had been there...would I have stayed? Didn't that open door mean go? I am really fascinated by this right now. They stayed.
And I think about where we are right now. There was a door I thought was open, and I was ready to go through. Now, in our situation, the door seems to have closed and we are staying because, well, we have no choice. But sometimes, it seems, God calls us to stay. Even when we want to go. Even when it seems we have so much to offer on the other side. Even when we are frustrated because staying seems so fruitless. God called them to stay. God seems, for now, to be calling us to say. I can pout, I can fuss, I can cry and complain. Or I can sing. I can praise and maybe, just maybe I can have an impact right here.
Do you know the end of the story? The guard invites Paul and Silas to his home where they share the good news and the guard, along with his whole family believed and were baptized. I wonder, how many more believed after? How many people did the guard share with? How many ladies heard the story as they drew water from the well? All because they stayed. And so, while my heart longs to go...I will stay. I will try to have an impact, I will try to share the story, I will try to do it with a good attitude and maybe some one's life will be changed just because we stayed.