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Singing In the Pain (or, How To Turn A Prison Into A Palace)

Our attitude and response to problems and pain we experience in life makes a tremendous difference. A photographer had just taken a picture of an old man on his 98th birthday. He thanked the old gentleman, and gently said, "I hope I'll be around to take your picture when you're one hundred years old." The old guy flashed a toothless grin and replied, "I don't see why not. You look healthy to me!" That old man reminds us of the importance of our attitude in life.

Some people and some preaching suggest problems will just go away if we have faith in God. But Scripture and human experience tell us they are wrong. Good people, even God's people, often find that life can be more like a pile of pits than a bowl of cherries. Sickness, accidents, disease, job-stress, interpersonal conflicts, death, sin, temptation, and disappointed dreams all do their part to transform life into a pressure-cooker at times — and leave us feeling we are the ones in the cooker! How do we handle life's unavoidable pain?

An incident in Acts 16:25-34 finds two really good and godly men in a really bad and high-stress and painful situation. The apostle Paul and his co-missionary friend Silas are in a Roman prison in the city of Philippi. Their backs are bleeding from an unjust and unlawful beating, their feet are in stocks, and there is no pain-pill or manager available to relieve their suffering. They are not where they want to be and things are not going very well at all. What can they do? They could have complained and criticized and moaned and groaned about how unfair it all was. They could have sulked and soured and blamed God for letting them be put into this painful situation. After all, they had been preaching the word when the pain began. But they did none of those things. What they did do is nothing short of amazing. Acts 16:25 tells us that rather than complain they began to sing — in the prison and in the pain: But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." About ten years later, from yet another prison cell, Paul penned a prescription that is still relevant 2,000 years later: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice" (Philippians 4:4)! Although he did not lead a stressless and trouble-free life, Paul understood that things happening out of the Lord (physical circumstances) were powerless to change eternal and spiritual realities he had accessed in the Lord. He was no less God's child in prison and pain than he had been outside prison and before the pain! As motivational speaker Emory Austin said, "Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway."

Somebody made the connection that laughter is like changing a baby's diaper — it doesn't permanently solve any problems, but it makes things a lot more acceptable for awhile! Trouble and pain are here to stay on Planet Earth. If we are to be happy in this life, we must learn to be happy in spite of pain and difficulty by focusing on what we have in the Lord. God help us to sing and pray in the pain. That won't necessarily make all the pain go away, but it might help us show a hurting world the difference Christ can make. And it just might transform a prison cell into a palace of praise.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ