Acts 16:”When You Suffer, The World Listens”

Suffering: suf·fer·ing
/ˈsəf(ə)riNG/
  • the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
In its simplest form as defined above, suffering is pretty cut and dry; but suffering is also more complex considering it can be defined differently for everyone.

Suffering is Everywhere

If I look back over the past year I can honestly say that I’ve been surrounded by the theme of suffering. Whether it was my dad being sick and in the hospital off and on for almost a month; or family members having unexpected surgery and loss of work, it has been evident that these situations have been steeped in suffering. Even most recently our church board has been wrestling with our understanding and response to what we perceive, in our humanness, to be “suffering” at the church. Even over the last couple of days I have been in multiple conversations where people were communicating to me example after example of suffering. Needless to say and regardless of your definition, suffering is everywhere.

Good News, Bad News

I’ll start with the good news first: People will listen to you. The bad news? It will be through your suffering.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone here. Since the beginning of the early church, suffering has been one of the greatest communication tools for advancing the gospel; just take Stephen for example. Even when you go back and look at Jesus’ ministry; Jesus did some incredible things while he was alive, but the power of God’s love to the world today is seen through Jesus’ suffering on the cross. As bad as it may seem or feel, when you suffer, the world listens.

Song in the Midst of Suffering

Acts 16:25 (NLT) 25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.

Taken out of context this verse could seem like Paul and Silas were just sitting around and things weren’t all that bad. The reality of the story is that Paul and Silas had just been severely beaten with wooden rods. Their beating was severe enough that after their release, the Philippian jailor would spend time washing their wounds (16:33).

Not only were Paul and Silas beaten, but they were placed in the innermost dungeon with their feet in stocks. “‘Stocks’ were made of two boards joined with iron clamps, leaving holes just big enough for the ankles (Life Application Commentary, 285).” Basically, Paul and Silas were treated the same way you would treat the most dangerous of criminals. I think it’s safe to say this constitutes as suffering.

It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to moan, cry, whine, give up, and even blame God, but instead they did two distinct things: They Prayed and Sang Hymns to God. Because of Paul and Silas’ attitude in the midst of suffering, the other prisoners were listening.

Prisoners Were Listening

When you imagine this scene, it’s not hard to imagine the intrigue of the other prisoners. Here they are, all locked up and suffering together, when suddenly the sound of prayers and hymns to God begin to penetrate an otherwise dark and miserable place. Of course the other prisoners were listening! The hope of glory was now flooding into the darkest places of their lives. They knew Paul and Silas were believers. They knew Paul and Silas were suffering with them. What they didn’t expect was for Paul and Silas to continue to give God glory in the midst of their suffering.

“Were listening,” is the rare, but strong greek verb epekroonto (επηκροωντο), meaning: “to listen with pleasure as to a recitation or music (Word Pictures in the New Testament: Acts).”

Take Away

Last time I checked no one likes to suffer, but you have to know that in the midst of your suffering the world is watching and listening. They want to see not only how will you respond, but they’re also looking to see the size of your God.

“Lord, recognizing the world is listening, please give me the strength and power, to pray and sing hymns in the midst of my suffering.”