NB: This is a slightly different version of the “Spiritually Speaking” blog post published Sept. 9. You can read that version here.
My online news feed brought some cheery news this past week. (Not: why, oh why do I keep reading the online news feed?) “They” figure we’re headed for another wave of Coronavirus outbreaks, with more lockdowns and other regulations. Given that I know people in different parts of the world, who haven’t been out of the first lockdown yet, this is like another kick in the teeth – more cause for depression.
That, by the way, is what “they” say is another by-product of the Coronavirus pandemic: depression from being in isolation. “I miss the hugs” is an oft-heard refrain. I’m not exactly sure where the expression “stir-crazy” came from — I mean, I know it’s defined as an episode of mental instability caused by prolonged periods of confinement – but how prison became got the slang term “stir” is beyond me; regardless, it’s showing itself in a variety of ways among people.
But it can be fought — and conquered. How?
EXHIBIT A: After King Herod had made the Apostle James the first Christian martyr, he saw that he was onto a good PR ploy with the people and arrested the Apostle Peter.
Peter was, therefore, kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers, and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.
Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison, and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands.
Then the angel said to him, Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”
So he went out and followed him and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.— Acts 12:5-9
And it took until they were well away from the prison that Peter came-to and realized it was no vision.
EXHIBIT B: The Apostle Paul and his mate, Silas, were arrested for causing a disturbance in Philippi (Paul had cast out a spirit of divination from a young woman, thereby depriving her “handlers” – spirit pimps, you might call them – of a rather lucrative income). They were put in a cell in the innermost part of the prison, with their feet in stocks.
But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing humns to God and the prisoners were listening to them.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.
But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “So yourself no harm, for we are all here.”— Acts 16:25-28
EXHIBIT C: The prophet Jonah, trying to avoid an assignment from the Lord, got on a ship to go in the other direction from where he was supposed to go – Nineveh – but a great storm came up and the ship and its crew were threatened. Jonah confessed that the storm was a result of his disobedience and let the crew toss him overboard.
The storm died down, and a large fish appeared and swallowed Jonah, and in the three days and three nights that he was there, he prayed.
And he said, “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.
“For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
“Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
“The waters surrounded me even to my soul; the deep closed around me: weeds were wrapped around my head.
“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.
“Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”— Jonah 2:2-5, 7-9
Eventually, the fish spat Jonah out onto dry land, and onto the route to Nineveh.
What’s the common thread here? When faced with this forced confinement, rather than bewail their fate or even dwell on how much they might have deserved it (as Jonah might have done), they prayed. Peter was so confident that God was in control of everything, even though he might have been unjustly executed the next morning, that he slept so soundly, that the angel had to hit him to wake him up. Paul and Silas kept everybody in the prison awake with their singing and praising. Jonah declared his dedication to God. And all three of them were miraculously released and set off to do the work God had intended them to do.
We need to cultivate that mindset as we look at the possibility of more lockdowns and restrictions on our activities. Sure, there are people, some of whom are self-identifying Christians, who want to buck the system and claim there’s some kind of nefarious conspiracy to limit people’s freedoms; but that takes away the possibility that God has something going down.
There are some sidebars worth noting. One, is that, when Jonah went overboard into the ocean, he was out of his element. But the fish wasn’t. Being in the fish gave Jonah a measure of safety and comfort for three days and nights, which gave him the opportunity to reflect, pray, praise and get his head back together. Praising God during times like these effectively allows Him into the picture and demonstrates our hope and faith.
It can be safer in the fish.
Here’s another: Paul’s and Silas’ singing was so loud and fervent, the other prisoners didn’t just hear them, Scripture says they listened. That means they took note of the fact that these two were praising God at a time when things looked pretty bleak.
Then, when the earthquake burst open the doors and broke the chains in Paul’s and Silas’ prison, they did not make a run for it and lead the other prisoners with them. Rather, they stayed put, and prevented the jailer from killing himself. Paul’s first concern was for the people around him and, in particular, for the jailer, who would face dire consequences for something that wasn’t his fault (the soldiers guarding Peter were executed for letting him get away). Paul seized on an opportunity for ministry.
And the jailer, his household and the prisoners became the church at Philippi, to which Paul later wrote,
Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.— Philippians 4:4-7
With the possibility we could see renewed restrictions on our physical freedom, here are three examples we can follow to keep from going stir-crazy: keep looking up and out, keep praising God in a way that others — indeed, other prisoners — listen and take note.
In return, we are promised that we will be able to relax, think more clearly, and eventually, get “spat back out” onto the route that takes us to where we’re supposed to be going.