Bread – Restrained

July 31, 2015


Readings for Thursday, July 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 4:1-12; Acts 16:25-40; Mark 7:1-23; Psalms 70,71,74

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In today’s reading from Acts, we are treated to the conversion of the jailer following Paul’s and Silas’ imprisonment and God breaking their chains through an earthquake. Every lesson I have ever heard taught on this passage emphasizes the miracle of the breaking of the chains, the jailer’s conversion, the conversion of the jailer’s household, and Paul’s insistence to the magistrates that he be treated properly, as a Roman citizen, with an apology.

Escaping my attention entirely was a minor miracle, which in today’s world would be a major miracle. Read along with me – “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying … and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake … and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer … was about to kill himself, supposing tht the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, ‘Do no harm yourself, for we are all here.” Acts 16:25-28

“We are all here.” Who is we? It is just not Paul and Silas, but all of the prisoners who “were listening to them.” When the prisoners were set free by the earthquake, they all stayed behind!

It is understandable that Paul and Silas stayed behind because they had a point to make. But everyone else?

Now it could be that a very little amount of time passed so that the prisoners had no time to escape, but the implication of the factual recitation is that some time passed (It does not say that the jailer woke immediately; instead, the word “immediately” is reserved to the opening of the doors and the releasing of the shackles [bonds]).

So I think that some time passed between the release and the jailer’s discovery.

Why did the prisoners not leave immediately? In the normal course of human behavior, would not at least some of the prisoners have run out the door as soon as they got a chance? Yet not one left. Why?

Maybe there was a miracle. Maybe God supernaturally restrained them. Or, better yet, maybe they heard the prayers and hymns of Paul and Silas and were converted, waiting therefore in obedience to be told what to do. In any event, their human, automatic dash for freedom was restrained. And that strikes me as a miracle.

How often are we in position where God has created a situation where we are allowed, if we take it, to beat a hasty exit? Perhaps it is a difficult conversation and the telephone rings. Perhaps it is at an event and we need (want) to leave. Circumstances come into play where we can breach a contract and get away with it?

Do we ever ask God, “should we?” Should we take the opportunity to exit stage left, or are we obeying our instincts for survival as opposed to leaning into God’s command of love?

Perhaps today, perhaps some time in the future, we will have the opportunity to act in our self-interest. Perhaps at that time, if prompted by the Holy Spirit, we should just restrain ourselves and remain in the difficult situation where we are. For us to disobey our natural instincts and to obey a higher calling is itself a miracle and a major one at that. But also, perhaps, God wants to do a little miracle in our lives so that we will be in position to participate in the even greater miracle He has planned.

Restraint is a hard thing for us with so many opinions and options.

But think about it … if the other prisoners had not restrained themselves and abandoned self-preservation for Godly obedience, where would the jailer and his family be today?

Were the prisoners the minor players in today’s drama … or were they the main players? What happened to them afterwards? We don’t know because history and Scripture do not tell us.

But what we do know is this. God worked a miracle in their lives that day and He works the same miracle in ours. And sometimes that miracle is to help us restrain ourselves. Sometimes that miracle is to help us deal with where we are rather than run out the exit door.

Sometimes that miracle is to help us wait for Him.

One more observation. Assuming that the prisoners stayed in jail and their physical imprisonment remained, who was their jailer? Do you think their life was better or worse after?

God may tell us to wait, to restrain ourselves, to let go the perceived opportunity because what He has in mind is a greater blessing than we can imagine. The problem is, from inside the jail cell, we can’t see it. That is why they call it faith. Faith to wait, faith to act, faith to say “no” and faith to say “yes.” All when called upon by God.

And the fact that we can do that and, through the Holy Spirit, discern when we should restrain and when we should act … is a miracle.

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© 2015 GBF

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