Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
Things were going well in the Macedonian city of Philippi. We had been frustrated as we traveled across Asia, not because the people opposed us but because the Spirit of Jesus would not let us enter any of the towns we came to. We passed through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia without being allowed to speak the word. Not knowing what else to do, we went all the way to Troas at the sea without telling anyone about Jesus. It had not occurred to us to cross the Sea of Aegeus to the strange cultures of the west. That night a man from Macedonia appeared to Paul in a vision saying, “Come over here and help us. We concluded that God was sending us there. So, we sailed as soon as we could find passage.
Philippi was the first town we came to. We usually began our ministry in Jewish synagogues, but there was no synagogue in this city. We went instead to a river on the Sabbath hoping to find a place of prayer. Sure enough, we found a group of ladies who were pleased to listen to what we had to say. Among those who believed our message about Jesus was a woman named Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, who came from Thyatira. Although she was not Jewish, she worshipped God and knew something of the law and the prophets. The Lord opened her heart to what we had to say.
After she and others including a number from Lydia’s household were baptized, she approached us and said, “If you have judged me to be a true believer, come stay in my home.” Her staff were pleased that we were quite as interested in telling servants about Jesus as we were anyone else. Lydia’s house became our base of operations.
One day as we were going to the place of prayer on the river, a slave girl who had a spirit of divination, began to follow us. She brought considerable profit to her owners by fortune-telling. We were gathering a crowd, so her masters were willing for her to follow us. But she became more and more disruptive. For many days she followed us around shouting at the top of her lungs, “These men are servants of the Most High God who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” We prayed for her each night when we gathered with those who had come to believe. The crowds often laughed when she would cry out as we were speaking. Finally, Paul had had enough.
He turned and said to the spirit, “I command you to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ.” The spirit came out, and the girl fell unconscious to the ground. We gathered round her in prayer. As she began to wake, we helped her to her feet. Her owners were used to her causing a commotion with such drama, but they soon realized that this was different. They pushed us aside and shook the girl hard, demanding that she prophesy. Nothing they did was to any avail. When they were convinced that they had lost all hope of profit from her they turned on Paul and me. They dragged us to the magistrates in the town center. They were making wild accusations against us and stirred up a crowd before the city officials. The crowd decided the magistrates were too slow to act, although they had hardly heard the accusations of the men. The mob had torn our clothes off before officers got to us. The officers lashed us to a post and beat us mercilessly. Then they threw us into the dungeon. They warned the jailor to guard us carefully, so he fastened our feet in stocks.
I don’t think either Paul or I were completely unconscious, but it was some time before we were able to speak. I had just begun to stretch some of my aching muscles when I glanced to my side. In the dim light I saw Paul about 10 feet away grinning at me with smeared blood on his face.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Silas?” He asked.
I tried to laugh. “Could you scratch my back?” There was nothing either of us could do to ease the other’s discomfort or even staunch the bleeding.
Paul said, “Well, what do we know now that we are here?”
I said, “I’m not sure I know anything right now.” We began to talk about things we knew for certain in Christ.
“Do you know that we belong to Christ?”
I said, “We do.”
“Do you know that God brought us here?” Paul asked.
By then I had gained a little perspective. “I know God brought us to this city.”
“Were we faithful to the word of our Lord?”
“Yes, Paul. We told the good news of our Lord Jesus to everyone we saw.”
Paul was quiet for a moment and then he said, “One of the first Apostles told me that just before Jesus was crucified, he said, ‘If you love me you will keep my word. I will love you, and my Father will also love you. We will come and make our dwelling with you.’ We know that God loves us, and we are not alone. Our lord Jesus and his Father are with us.”
I said, “But you have to admit that this has been difficult.”
“Yes,” Paul said. “This is hard. But remember, our Lord was crucified for us. That was much worse. He said, ‘In this world you will have affliction. But take heart I have overcome the world.’”
Before long we noticed that the other prisoners were listening to us. These people had little hope in this world. We were speaking of hope from beyond the world. We talked back and forth for some time. Some of the prisoners asked us a question or two, but for the most part they just listened. We prayed for each one of them by name. We prayed for our jailer and for the magistrates and the slave owners who had beaten us and thrown us in prison. And we sang. The prisoners listened spellbound as we sang Psalms and songs about Jesus into the night.
About midnight we had stopped praying and singing for just a moment. It was absolutely quiet in the prison. Suddenly the earth began to shake. The floor heaved beneath us. The gate opened with a crash, and our stocks were splintered into pieces. Of course, the jailor was awakened. He rushed into the prison terrified that we had all escaped. His own life depended on keeping his prisoners. Paul saw a glint of the man’s sword and knew that he was about to take his own life rather than die at the hands of the magistrates.
“Do not harm yourself, we are all here!” Paul shouted.
The guard called for a light. And when he saw all the prisoners he fell down before us asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He sensed the power in the dungeon and knew that he needed whatever it was that had changed the lives of the other prisoners. We told him to believe on the Lord Jesus and he would be saved.
Having received solemn promises from the other prisoners who were already trying to repair the door to the dungeon, he brought Paul and me into his home and dressed our wounds. His whole household, awakened by the earthquake, listened as we told them about Jesus who had died for their sins. And we began to explain all that following Jesus would mean. They fed and clothed us, and all of them were baptized that very night.
This story was drawn from the words of Jesus in John 16:33 and 14:23.
Father, we give thanks for your peace in the circumstances we will face.
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