“ 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25
A few Sundays ago, I had the unsettling privilege to lead the children at worship in our church. I say “unsettling” since, despite our wonderfully-well-organized Children at Worship Director’s efforts to get me prepared ahead of time, I had forgotten all about it until the moment I drove into the church’s parking lot that very Sunday morning and I saw her pulling in. Right at that moment, as my heart missed a beat and my palms began to sweat, I waved my family goodbye and drove back home alone to try to find the lesson and organize my rambling thoughts. At home, I ran around like a crazy woman, gathered my ideas, changed my clothes and left for church once again (the big plus is that we live practically across the street from it!)
As only God would manage it, I ended up having only 4 kids in the class, 2 of which were my own boys. The lesson was a hard one given the circumstances. We were to talk about Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown up in jail. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me a good angle and insight to present this difficult lesson to these young children, and in a very mysterious way, the Holy Spirit, once again, delivered. I focused my “talk” on the meaning of praising God. We talked about how we are to praise the Lord always, regardless of our situation, because to praise Him we don’t need to be happy or feel good. If we would only praise Him during the good times, that would not be always! We talked about how when we praise Him we don’t really ask Him for anything; rather, we just acknowledge with our mouth, aloud, in song and in word, that we know He is good all the time! That we know He is God and He is great and that we love Him, and how the knowledge of His greatness and goodness doesn’t have anything to do with our current situation, which might be one of sorrow and sadness.
My heart ached since one of the children in the group that morning was a child who is going through very difficult circumstances at his young age. I prayed for the hand of God to be visible to him, and for joy to come to his life, even if for a few minutes. I don’t know how The Lord orchestrated this lesson, but it, rather quickly, deteriorated into an indescribable exchange of witty and fun-filled comments revolving around thoughts of chocolate-cream-pies, the sounds of musical instruments and baby birds. I even told the kids that we better stop because if a “grown up” were to walk by the room at that moment, I would be “fired.”
I walked out of church that morning feeling the presence of God in a very special and surreal way. Little did I know that less than a week later I would be recalling that less-than-ideal lesson and applying it fully into my own sorrowful circumstance.
On Thursday night, as I sat outside my aging father’s bedroom door in the middle of the night, watching him old, deteriorated, confused, out of control, frustrated, and not at all the solid rock he used to be, I remembered the screeching sounds of a harmonica and the out of tune notes of a guitar in the hands of those children at worship a few distant days ago. I sat in that rocking chair and helplessly watched my Dad from the distance as the loyal hands of a woman with a servant’s heart attempted again and again to lead him to get some rest. At that moment I prayed for guidance and for something supernatural to happen to ease my father’s condition. What I got was the recollection of my own words from last Sunday, which came to me wrapped around the memories of cream pies and children rolling around the floor pretending to be in an earthquake. Praise Him always! Not only in the good times. Always, because praising Him is the act of declaring with your mouth your knowledge of His goodness. Praising Him is declaring with words and/or with song that we know He is a Great God and that His name is magnificent. We declare for all to hear that He is the Maker of the Heavens and Earth. We declare that He is the Alpha and the Omega; the Beginning and the End. He is the Great I AM and at the sound of His name every knee will bow. That is praising, and we can do that regardless of where we stand, sit or lay down.
We cannot wait to praise Him only during the good times. Some of us may end up waiting a mighty long time that way. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” says Paul in Philippians 4:4, and Paul sure knew what he was talking about since he practiced what he preached quite a bit. It is a choice. We can choose to rejoice or not. I pray that I can remember that even in my sorrow I must rejoice. I pray that I can remember Paul and Silas singing hymns of praise in that dark and damp prison after being beaten and stripped of their dignity. I pray that I can always remember those 4 children at worship rejoicing and having fun with a difficult lesson that taught us how to be always ready to declare our knowledge of how Great Our God is.