As a mother who has an incarcerated son, I’ve met other family members who also have loved ones imprisoned. In my conversations with others, I’ve heard heartbreaking stories how these loved ones did not receive a fair trial. They may be guilty of the crime, but received a sentence that does not fit the offense. Or they may be innocent, but convicted and sentenced to prison.
The common theme in my conversations is that no trial or sentencing seemed fair. But that’s how the justice system works. Both the defense and the prosecution strategize about how to keep condemning information from being heard by the judge and/or jury. When it comes time to determine guilt or innocence or to sentence, it is based solely on what is presented in court, not the whole story. I agree—that does not seem fair.
When we have expectations of a fair trial and it does not happen the way we expect, it can lead to despair. IF we allow despair to overtake us, it places us in captivity. I experienced the captivity of despair after my son’s conviction and sentencing. There was information I knew about that I felt if only the jury heard it all, there would have been a different outcome.
To find freedom from despair, let’s examine in the Scriptures an unfair trial and wrongful conviction—Paul and Silas in Acts 16.
Paul and Silas were in Philippi sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. They went out regularly for prayer. For many days there was a demon-possessed slave girl that followed them around taunting them. After a while, Paul became frustrated and commanded the demon to come out of her in the name of Jesus. The spirit left.
Now the slave girl’s owners saw the spirit leave and realized the girl’s fortune-telling power was gone as well as their future profits. So the owners grabbed Paul and Silas and took them before the magistrates—presenting them to court for loss of profits.
Not only did they present the loss of profits to the magistrates, but accused them of teaching customs that were unlawful for Roman citizens. This caused multitudes of citizens to rise up in protest. The protesters pressured the magistrates into commanding that Paul and Silas be beaten and thrown into prison.
Paul and Silas did not receive a fair trial and were wrongfully convicted of crimes in the courts of Philippi.
The jailer received an order to “keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:23b-24 NKJV).
We know that Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten, but no where do we read that their wounds were treated. We can imagine that they were in much pain from the beating they received. Then they were placed in the most inner dungeon in darkness and stale air.
How do you think you would respond in a situation like that? We may find ourselves in dark places in our lives and if we’re not cautious, despair can suck us into deep darkness, even deeper than an inner most dungeon.
What happened next is very important. Paul and Silas kept despair from claiming their minds. In spite of all the wrongs against them, they went against the natural inclination to argue, complain, and yell out to anyone who would listen about how unfair their trial and conviction was. Instead, they chose to act instead of react.
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NKJV).
Paul and Silas took their worst fears and turned them into worship to God. They chose to worship instead of worry.
The Lord responds to our worship. God provided a SUDDENLY moment through the worship as an earthquake shook the foundation, opened all the prison doors, and knocked off the chains of all the prisoners.
God shakes us up and set us free from the chains of despair that hinder us. The Lord knocked off the despair that bound me after my son’s conviction. Yes, I sang songs of praise and prayed to Him in all the midnight hours. Though my son is still in prison, we are both free from despair.
Our circumstances may be grim, or not exactly the way we envisioned it. But just like Paul and Silas in the midnight hour, we can pray and sing songs of Thanksgiving to the Lord. In doing so, we receive freedom from despair.
(To read part 2, click – Our Praise Opens Locked Doors for Others)
© 2016 Shonda Savage