As I'm studying through the book of Philippians, it's been really useful to read in Acts 16 about how the church in Philippi got started. Pretty amazing story...you can hear me talk about that in the April 18 sermon when it's posted at (I think they're having technical problems right now, but it should be up soon).
But don't read through it too quickly...did you notice Acts 16:25? "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them".
Midnight...in a Roman prison...after being unjustly accused, beaten, and chained. What kind of joy do you find in those circumstances? I think they make a choice at that moment, but I think that choice might be possible because of a thousand little choices they had made before- choices which prepared them for the big challenge. Great athletes, great musicians...they both perform under pressure because they've prepared "out of the heat of battle".
A few quick things we know about Paul, which might have prepared him for the dark, midnight moment:
1) He knew he was there because God brought him there (see 16:6-10). Sometimes I find myself in dark situations NOT because God brought me there, but because I'm rebellious...or sinful...or just plain stupid.
2) Prayer...and then prayer...and then some more prayer after that. Read any of Paul's letters in the Bible, and he's ALWAYS saying things like, "I've been praying for you, and here's what I've been praying". It's not the weak-kneed "I'll be praying for you" that we sometimes throw out. Prayer in the "normal" times prepares us to pray in the dark.
3) He knew his stuff. Before he met Jesus, Paul (Saul) was VERY educated in the old testament. After Christ rocked him on the road to Damascus, he still took time to study, and learn. It's hard to trust promises you don't know, from a God you haven't spent time with. When life is falling down around us, I suppose it would be helpful to know that God has promised that he will be with us...
4) They had each other. I know I talked about this in Sunday's sermon, but here it comes again...WE NEED EACH OTHER. It's not good for man to be alone. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. We're supposed to love each other, encourage each other, rebuke each other, forgive each other, teach each other (and so on, and so on...). When you're alone in a dark prison, you call out to God, but I think it's probably a good idea to find someone to be with you in the darkness.
How about you? Are you ready for the darkness? Even if it feels a lot like prison? Do you have the tools to face it? And are you available to sit (and maybe sing...or cry...or maybe just sit) with people who are experiencing darkness?