As I look over my life, I have to give thanks for many things, specifically for friends. I have several good friends with whom I’ve shared various things: school experiences, sorority life, and best of all, faith. I remember attending a Thanksgiving service with my line sisters and was overcome with gratitude for the opportunity to praise God with some of my favorite people. Whether it’s an email, a phone conversation, or a lunch break, I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I have for united praise.
As far as relationships are concerned, I didn’t always understand the importance of this principle. I knew that I was supposed to be “equally yoked” with my mate, but let’s be real. When I was younger, I wasn’t looking for every encounter to end in a long-term relationship. Thus, I ended up being yoked with people who weren’t so equal. They wondered why I had to go to the afternoon service if I already went to church that morning. …or why I had to give 10% of my earnings. Y’all know how it goes. But when I was blessed with my current relationship, I tell you, I began to understand some things. This isn’t to say that relationships where people come from different faiths can’t work. However, it can be a real challenge when it comes to various issues.
So what is this united praise of which I’m speaking? I’m talking about the example of Paul and Silas. I encourage you to read Acts 16 in its entirety because it allows you to understand the full context of the story. However, only in Acts 15:40 had Paul and Silas been paired to go through Syria and Cilicia to strengthen churches. Actually, Paul specifically chose Silas and this choice was monumental.
As Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they cast a spirit out of a slave girl. When her owners learned who was responsible, they brought the duo before the magistrates and both Paul and Silas were severely beaten and thrown in jail. Now let’s think about this. Paul and Silas were paired up in 15:40 and in 16:22-23, stripped and flogged and finally thrown into the inner cell of a prison in verse 24. I wonder what they were thinking. I mean, seriously, I imagine Silas could have been thinking, “What in the world did I get myself in to?” So there they are, in jail, bruised, beaten, battered, and feeling bereft. And they decide to praise.
There’s a song by Luther Vandross that I didn’t fully appreciate when it came out in 2001. His smooth vocals (which I truly miss) would come through singing, “I’d rather have bad times with you than good times with someone else. I’d rather be beside you in a storm than safe and warm by myself. I’d rather have hard times together than to have them easy apart….” And there I am as my 20-year-old self thinking this song doesn’t make any sense. Seriously, how could you rather weather a storm with one person than enjoy safety alone? It just didn’t make ANY sense to me. But I imagine that Paul chose Silas wisely because they knew the danger they would face in spreading the Gospel.
So again, they’re together, hurt and I’m sure discouraged, but at midnight, in their darkest hour, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing hymns to God. The scripture doesn’t specify the subject(s) of their prayers. It just says they prayed and sang songs that glorified God. That, too, is an amazing concept to me, but it’s so important to learn that God still deserves the praise in the midst of our bad circumstances. I’ve heard people say that your situation should not determine your praise. …and instead of halting their praise, Paul and Silas’s situation prompted them to action---not to revolt, but to glorify God.
As we further examine the scripture, we learn that in the midst of their prayers and songs, God moved in the form of an earthquake, which actually freed all that were jailed from their chains and shackles. Being men of integrity, however, they did not flee, but let the guards know they were where they were supposed to be. I think important lessons come from examining two things: partnership and praise.
Relationships are a lot of work. However, I think they work best when both parties view themselves as partners. Both individuals have to come together to do the necessary work of the relationship. If one partner is the only one fully vested, it won’t work. However, when both come together and unite for a common purpose, the relationship can flourish, as it is with praise. I often have the opportunity to lead Praise and Worship and when everyone is on one accord and brings praise with them to church, it makes a huge difference in setting the atmosphere. However, when I’m the only on interested in lifting my hands or celebrating the greatness of God, it’s a whole other story. So how does this relate to relationships? To paraphrase T.D. Jakes, when choosing a mate, you want that person to be the one who will stand beside you and pray with and for you as you’re burying your parents. When you are in the midst of a “midnight situation,” you want to know that person will be united in praise with you, that even though you may be hurting, God is still worthy to praised. You want someone that will share in your pain, empathize with you, but remind you that God is still God.
So what do you think might have happened if Paul and Silas didn’t pray and sing at midnight? Would their chains of physical bondage still have been broken? Perhaps, but one thing is for sure. Their example of united praise speaks to the necessity of having friends and partners who you know have your back no matter what. I encourage you to not only examine your relationships on your own, but speak with your friends and make agreements to stand together at midnight and praise in spite of your circumstances.