Let’s flash back to Paul. He’s in prison. Not for a crime but for speaking about Jesus. He may be executed. He writes to his friends in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4 NIV). Then he sounds like your mama because he repeats himself, just in case you aren’t listening. “I will say it again: Rejoice!”
It’s a great verse for a coffee mug with a pretty cursive font: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” It’s perfect for a refrigerator magnet. Put it on a greeting card? Of course! It makes you sound spiritual if you tell your friends, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
Full disclosure: I hate it when people quote that verse to me.
If I’m in the middle of a difficult situation, or I have a flat tire and it’s 102 degrees out, or I just found out I need to have my tooth extracted, or my kid is sick. “Phil, you just need to rejoice in the Lord always!”
One reason I hate it is because I have to wonder about the person who says it. Do you rejoice in the Lord always? Really? You might wonder about Paul. He told people to rejoice in the Lord when he was in prison!
But did he rejoice in the Lord when he was in prison? He did.
Paul was with his buddy Silas.
Can you picture them? Thrown into prison, landing on the cold, hard ground with open wounds, maybe a broken nose, a couple of broken ribs. No doctor, nurse, Band-Aids, or ibuprofen.
Have you been there? Perhaps you hit the ground when you found out someone you love had cancer or that your kid was on drugs or that your spouse was cheating on you. In those tragic moments, what do you do?
What did Paul and Silas do? They praised God.
What was Paul doing in prison? Rejoicing always.
First, they were praising God for the who, not the what. They were bloody and bound up in prison. If you had asked them, “What are you praising God for?” I don’t think there was any “what” that they could point to. Nothing good was happening, but their God was still good. They weren’t praising God for the what. They were praising Him for the who. You can do that too.
Your circumstances may be bad, but your God is still good. He is near, His promises are still true, His love still unconditional, His grace still amazing, His timing still perfect. You may not like the what of what’s going on, but you can still praise God for the who of who He is.
Second, they were praising God before the provision. So often we hold off on praising God until He provides what we want. Think about that. Doesn’t it sound like an entitled little snot-nosed kid? I won’t be grateful until I get exactly what I want. We are better than that and, more important, God deserves better. Paul and Silas praised God before He answered their prayers or changed their circumstances. That’s the kind of person I want to be.
Third, they were praising God and then He showed up. Paul and Silas were worshiping God in the middle of the night and—boom!—God showed up.
Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! Acts 16:26 NLT
They did not praise God because He showed up; God showed up because they praised Him.
When we praise Him, He will show up. When He shows up, it will change our thinking. If we change our thoughts, we change our life.