Over Thanksgiving this past year my mom was at her end. She had been on hospice care for over a year and a half at home, her strength was gone, she was in the hospital, and her rare, unexplained disease had taken its final toll.
My father called me on the phone so I could say goodbye to my mother for the last time. Gasping for air, her voice very weak, she said, “I love you son, you were the best a mom could have hoped for.” I held my tears back just long enough to say, “I love you.” As I hung up I fell to the ground and said, “Goodbye.”
In Acts 16:16-40 there is a very cool story about Paul and Silas being thrown in prison. Paul and Silas have this female slave following them around who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a bunch of money for her owners and was very obnoxious! The story goes that she followed them around for days shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved!” She kept it up for days, and finally Paul becomes so annoyed that he turns around and says to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit leaves her.
As you can imagine, it ticked her owner off so badly that he seized Paul and Silas, and
dragged them into the marketplace where those in authority had them stripped and beaten with rods! After they had been severely flogged they were thrown in prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. They were put in the inner cell and had their feet fastened in stocks.
I love this part of the story!
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Think about this… you have been falsely accused, beaten with a rod, whipped, stripped and flogged. You have been put in the worst part of the prison and you are in stocks, chained to the wall and even then you are singing hymns and praying?!
Probably not how I would be celebrating such an event.
The story ends with a violent earthquake and the foundations of the prison being shaken. At once, all of the prison doors fly open, and everyone’s chains come loose. The jailer wakes up, and when he sees the prison doors open, he draws his sword to kill himself because he thinks all the prisoners have escaped. But Paul shouts, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
Read the rest of the story, no one left the prison…!
The last night my mom was in the hospital, as we all believed these were our last moments with her, a nurse pulled my dad into a conference room. Of course my father is thinking, “Well, this is not good news”. But the nurse proceeds to tell my dad that he can’t keep his staff out of my mother’s room. He said, “Dwayne, we do not understand, but your wife’s room is so full of peace. There is a glow coming off of her and we all just want to be around her and be in her room. We have never felt such peace!” With tears streaming down his face, he continued, “Please tell me what this is. We have never seen or felt anything like this!”
My mother told me this a few weeks before while she laid suffering from her disease, “I thank God everyday for this ‘prison.’ He must trust me enough to carry this, and I know He is teaching me so much through it. I feel so close to Him in my suffering.”
She thanked God in and for her suffering!
Even on her deathbed, the glory of the Lord was pouring off of her. She illuminated the very glow of the presence of peace. Why? Because just like Paul and Silas she made a decision everyday to choose joy. She found thanksgiving, which is the key to the heart of the Father, even in her suffering.
My mom lived a few months more, and in her life and last week in her death, she brought life and peace to everyone she touched.
What “prison” are you in today? Maybe, if you can choose joy, find thanksgiving, and maybe even sing in the midst of it, you will be set free. Or maybe you already are free, and you just need to embrace it?!