Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you were doing exactly what God wanted you to do yet things seemed to start going downhill? Have you ever had one of those bad days where things went from good to bad to worse?
I’ve had those days, but my husband has had a doozy one of those days, and I thought it would be fun to share about his from good to bad to worse day! It happened the night before we were supposed to come here for the candidating weekend where you would vote on us to come or not come. I’m going to need some audience participation here.
He was driving home from the Georgetown, Ohio where he had been counseling. It had been a great week and a great day. We were looking forward to our trip to WV to pursue what we knew was God’s will. Things were going well. He was driving at dusk with a headlight that had gone out earlier that week and was pulled over by a State Trooper. That’s when the direction of things turned bad. He had cleaned out his car including his glove box that week, and had not put back his important papers. So he had no registration or proof of insurance with him. Everyone say, “uh oh!” He also somehow had forgotten his wallet that day so he did not have his driver’s license either. Everyone say, “Yikes!” All he had was a business card that said he was Rev. Thom Pratt of Christian Counseling Associates.
Then the trooper ran the license plate, came back to the vehicle and proceeded to say the following words, “Mr. Pratt, did you know there is a warrant out for your arrest?” Everyone say, “Oh no!” Thom gulped hard. “For what?” he said in a daze. Apparently whoever was supposed to process paid tickets hadn’t processed a ticket Thom had paid for a seatbelt violation like a year and a half earlier! The officer said there was no record it had been paid even though Thom had dropped payment in an overnight drop box. The warrant notice had gone to an old address because he had never updated his license with the new address, so he never got the notice. He had paid the ticket but had nothing to prove he had done so. Nothing will drive a person to prayer faster than the words, “Mr. Pratt, you might be going to jail!” Thom hit his knees spiritually speaking and started praying, “God you know we’re candidating this weekend. You know I can’t be in jail this weekend!”
Seeing “Reverend” on Thom’s business card and the vinyl letters on his vehicle with Christian Counseling Associates’ name on it, the officer let him go! The officer warned him that if he were stopped between that point and home, he’d be taken straight to jail and held there until the court could verify the ticket had been paid. A good day went from good to bad to worse. He went the next morning to the courthouse and they had no record of him ever paying the ticket, so he paid it again! He then went and got his headlight fixed and we drove here! True story!
Paul and Silas had it that way in chapter 16 of the book of Acts. I want you to turn there as we are going to move through a passage together and examine how prayer and eventually how prayer combined with praise made a difference in the life of Paul and Silas when things went from good to bad to worse.
Look at verse 13: 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
I want to call your attention to the way this story began. It began with Paul and Silas looking for a place to pray. Here they were on this missionary journey, and it is clear from earlier verses they were under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They had been led by the Holy Spirit to move into Europe, and specifically to head to Macedonia, basically Greece at the time. Wanting to continue to be Holy Spirit led, we see Paul and Silas busy looking for a place to pray. Out of that prayer posture, if you will, they met some women. You can see that they were doing Jesus’ kind of ministry because they sat down and talked to the women. You’ll recall Jesus sat down and talked with a Samaritan woman, something considered taboo in Jesus’ day, and the woman wound up being converted after the encounter and she became a bold witness for the Messiah. You see, the rabbis of the time held that “It was better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman!” Yet we see Paul and Silas, just like Jesus, breaking down cultural and religious barriers under Holy Spirit leadership. You can make bold decisions and do things that might appear to be risky when you are in prayer mode under Holy Spirit control.
One of the women who was listening was Lydia, a successful businesswoman from Thyatira, a city renowned for its purple dye. She was essentially from Turkey, but God brought her all the way to Greece so that she might hear the Gospel and be converted.
Paul started sharing the gospel with these ladies, and the Word says that something happened in Lydia’s heart. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the message. Did you see that in verse 14?
Paul lived a life of prayer, praying that God would enable Him to preach the Gospel and help people respond. He said to the church in Colossians 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” I believe this is the way Paul had prayed for Himself and His ministry for Christ’s sake all along. He wanted God to open hearts to receive the Gospel.
We read in Ephesians 1:16-19 where Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Did you catch what Paul hoped for in his prayers for these people? He asked that the Father “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. . .” Paul wanted people to “get it.” He wanted them to know God through Jesus. He wanted them to have a capacity to receive God’s message in their hearts. He wanted to have the way paved for the messages he would preach, that doors and hearts would be open to receive Jesus.
God answered his prayers when Lydia heard him preach. Look at the end of verse 14 again. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” You see, when God’s people are in prayer mode about His purposes, He will hear and answer prayer. In this case, we see He opened hearts. Plural, “hearts.” All of Lydia’s household accepted Christ and were baptized! There were many conversions as Paul and Silas were in prayer mode. That sounds like a great beginning to ministry in Macedonia doesn’t it? Things were going well for Paul and Silas.
Go with me to verse 16:
“16Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.”
Notice that Paul and Silas were in prayer mode again when they were met by the demon-possessed girl who could predict the future. You’d think someone with that special ability would be rich, but she wasn’t earning any money with this unique ability. She was a slave. Her owners were profiting from her fortune telling. I wonder if she bought a Satanic lie when Satan possessed her. I wonder if he told her he could give her a special ability that would make millions. Maybe she believed something or accepted something that was partially true, the way Satan likes to hook people and Satan took possession of her life.
The demons in her were out to thwart Paul and Silas’s mission. She followed them day after day yelling after them, taunting them for the message they were proclaiming. Things were going well up to this point, but her annoying behavior was hampering their efforts and getting under their skin. Paul had enough. He rebuked the demon and commanded it to come out of her. Another miracle took place while Paul and Silas were in prayer mode. She was free, but for Paul and Silas, things were about to go from bad to worse.
Look at verse 19: When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Listen, you can be doing the right thing, the Spirit-led thing, the thing God wants you to do and you can be in prayer mode and things can still go from good to bad to worse. When you live as a person of prayer, not only will you see miracles, but you will also see Satan rare his ugly pointed little head. Satan isn’t happy when people are saved and set free.
Satan had used the demonized girl who had made her masters wealthy by telling fortunes. The owners had no concern for the girl; they were interested only in the income she provided, and now that income was gone. Their only recourse was the Roman law, and they thought they had a pretty good case because the missionaries were Jewish and were propagating a religion not approved by Rome. Moved by both religious and racial prejudices, the magistrates acted rashly and did not investigate the matter fully. This neglect on their part later brought them embarrassment since Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
Why didn’t Paul and Silas plead their Roman citizenship? Perhaps there was not time, or perhaps Paul was saving that weapon for better use later on. He and Silas were stripped and beaten and put in the city prison. It doesn’t get much worse than prison.
“Roman jails were not nice places. A modern medium-security prison would seem like paradise to a Roman convict. They didn’t have bars in the windows, because they didn’t have windows. No ventilation, no light except the lanterns or torches carried by the guards. Sanitation was nonexistent. Rats were common. And the inner cell, where they put Paul and Silas, would have been even worse. But even that wasn’t enough. This jailer was going to guard these criminals well! So, once they were in the inner cell, he locks their feet in the stocks. In case you don’t know, that’s two heavy wooden beams bolted together, with holes for your ankles. You can’t roll over, you can’t bend your knees, you can’t move anywhere. You just sit there, straight-legged, getting muscle cramps from your lower back to your toes, and you can’t do a thing about it. That was Paul and Silas’ reward for casting a demon out of a girl. And because there was no real sentence passed against them, they had no idea how long they were going to be there. A day? A week? Months? Years? No way of knowing. So there they sat.” http://www.cke1st.com/sr_act16.htm
But pick up the story in verse 25 where we see Paul and Silas going back into their routine prayer mode.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.
What a dramatic display of the power of God! Look at all of the miracles that took place in this one episode. There was an earthquake. Prison doors flew open. Chains came loose. Prisoners who were free chose not to leave the prison. That’s probably never happened since! A suicidal jailer gave his life to Christ. The jailer went from guarding Paul and Silas to taking care of them and opening his home to them and feeding them. The whole jailer’s family was converted and baptized as the power of God descended after Paul and Silas prayed and praised God.
What can we learn? When things go from good to bad to worse, stay the course. Paul and Silas could have thought when the demon-possessed girl came after them that they didn’t want to deal with Satan’s harassment. They could have thought, “Let’s get out of Greece and head east or anywhere but here.” They could have gotten mad at God and said to each other, “I guess this is what you get when you follow God’s will.” They could have given up on God in that moment. But they didn’t. Remember, they were Holy Spirit led and the Holy Spirit had led them here. They were sure of it. They couldn’t remove themselves from the place God had led them to, so they had to pray and praise their way through it. When things go from good to bad to worse, don’t run away. Pray and ramp it up by adding greater intensity to your prayer life by praising the Lord in spite of your circumstances.
I love the song “Praise the Lord.” It says,
“When you’re up against a struggle
That’s shattered all your dreams
And your hopes been cruely crushed
By Satan’s manifested schemes.
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don’t let the faith your standing in
Seem to disappear
Praise the Lord. He can work through those who praise him
Praise the Lord. For our God inhabits praise.
Praise the Lord. And those chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you.
As they fall powerless behind you.
When you praise him.
There is power in prayer and praise. But when things are tough around us, it goes against our human nature to do so. When people harass us, when we are falsely accused, when we are imprisoned by circumstances beyond our control or even by those which are the result of our own poor choices, we don’t usually feel like shouting, “Yipee! Thank you, Lord.” But hear me clearly, that is exactly what we must do in order to win the victory over our circumstances.
The midnight hour isn’t the easiest hour to pray and praise the Lord. You’re tired. You’ve already dealt with a series of unfortunate circumstances. You’re spent. Stick a fork in you, you’re done! But that’s when you need to call on the Lord the most. You need the “Light” when it’s darkest to see. When hope seems dead and gone, start praying. Start singing. Thank God that He had led you. Thank God that He has a plan. Praise Him for being God even though you may not understand what He is up to. I heard a song on Youtube recently called “Praise Him in Advance” by Marvin Sapp. It starts, “I’ve had my share of ups and downs, times when there was no one around, God came and spoke these words to me, praise will confuse the enemy. It goes on to say, “That’s why I’ll praise Him in advance.” Satan cannot advance his plans when you advance your praise to the Most High God! Somebody here this morning needs to start praising the Lord for the victory that is coming. Start worshiping and adoring and glorifying Him for what He is working on right now in your family, in your finances, in your job.
I want to point out that Paul and Silas weren’t praying silent prayers. They weren’t singing in the quietness of their hearts, but their prayers and their songs could be heard by the other prisoners. They all got the benefit of Paul and Silas staying in prayer mode. Listen, there are other people in your sphere of influence who feel imprisoned by their circumstances. Your prayer life and your ability to praise God in all things won’t only produce a change in your circumstances, but your faithfulness to stay the course in the dark times will be for the benefit of others who also need to be free! God may want to shake some things up in and around your life for the benefit of many. Some earthquakes can be good things! Start praying and praising and watch Him work!
Joseph Scrivens became keenly aware of the power of prayer. It sustained him when all seemed lost in his life. You see, Joseph’s fiance’ drowned the night before their scheduled wedding.
Soon thereafter, when his mother was ill, he wrote his mother a letter and enclosed the lines of a new poem he had written. We know the words of this poem as the song, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” In the first verse Joseph expressed this ironic truth: “O what peace we often forfeit. O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Prayer is our open line to God’s presence, an open line in time of need. He can handle your prison. Talk to Him about it. Praise Him for the deliverance that is on its way. Brothers and sisters, prayer and praise are powerful weapons.
Paul immediately took control of the situation. Imagine what the other prisoners must have thought. The jailer, seeing all that transpired and recognizing that the freed prisoners chose not to escape asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul told him he needed to believe on the Lord Jesus. And believe he did. What a dramatic change in the jailer as he started taking care of Paul and Silas’s wounds. Someone who had been used to standing guard over people who had been abused, perhaps taking part in the beating and abusing himself has now become a caregiver. What an awesome demonstration of his conversion. An evidence of true repentance is a loving desire to make restitution wherever we have hurt others. Prayer not only changes circumstances, but it changes people!
A business woman converted. A demon-possessed girl delivered. A suicidal man rescued and saved. All in the context of two men who lived their life in prayer mode and praised God when things were at the absolute worst. Satan had come after Paul and Silas, tried to harass them and ultimately tried to imprison and kill them, but Satan cannot win when people are living in prayer mode! People in prayer mode will stay Spirit-led which means God’s plans for them will always prevail!
Maybe this morning, you’re looking back over your life even a year ago, and your circumstances were good. Life was good, but something happened and things went from good to bad and now worse. It’s time to pray. It’s time to worship and praise the Lord for what He is working even in the midst of the darkness.