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Theology at Midnight

Posted by Mobile Bible Saturday, 6 October 2012
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 Theology at Midnight

Dr. Ray Pritchard

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).
You discover your theology at midnight.
Until then, it's all theoretical. When midnight comes, you discover the difference between theory and reality. I used to think that I learned my theology during the four years I spent at seminary. But that's not quite true. For one thing, I already knew what I believed before I went to seminary. Those four years of systematic theology, Greek, Hebrew, Bible exposition, church history and world missions gave me depth and breadth and perspective. I suppose looking back, I would say that in seminary I learned how much I didn't know, and I was given the tools to learn more when I was out on my own.
When I graduated from seminary I felt like most graduates do - that I could answer any question that came my way. Back then I had very definite opinions about everything, including many areas where my knowledge was actually quite shallow. I say that with a smile because it's good for young people to think they can conquer the world. Where would we be without some young bucks to challenge the status quo, to make us feel uncomfortable, and to push the envelope? I like it when I meet young folks with big dreams about what they want to do for God. In this fragile, unpredictable world, we need the fire of optimism that cries out, "Let's take that city for God!" So God bless the young men and women who believe that all things-yes, all things!-are possible, and who have no time or patience for those who ask questions or say, "Perhaps we should think about that for awhile."
Not an Easy Road
Paul seems to have been that sort of man. Perhaps it was inevitable that a man who had been zealous against Christ before his conversion would be equally zealous for Christ afterward. Armed with nothing more than the gospel of Jesus, he spearheaded the Christian movement through Turkey into Greece and on to Rome, the capital of the Empire and the greatest city in the world. He was, it seems, a force of nature. A man possessed by one great idea ("this one thing I do"), he proceeded to preach Christ wherever his name had not been preached so that those who had never heard might come to saving faith.
But it wasn't an easy road. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 he enumerates some of his hardships:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
When he mentions being in prison frequently, he perhaps did so with a bit of a wry smile because it was while he and Silas were in prison in Philippi that God worked a wonderful miracle on his behalf. The story as told in Acts 16 goes like this. After casting an evil spirit out of a slave girl, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for what we today would probably call disrupting the peace. The two men were beaten, thrown in jail, put under close guard, and placed in the inner cell with their feet bound in stocks.
It was not a pleasant situation.
So what do you do when you have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, placed under guard, with your feet bound in stocks, for nothing more than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ?
If you are Paul and Silas and it's midnight, you start praying and singing hymns of praise to God. Acts 16:25 says that the other prisoners were listening to them. No doubt these two strangers looked like a mess after being severely beaten. The fact that they were in stocks and under close guard told the other prisoners that Paul and Silas were not ordinary criminals. So I ask again, what do you do at midnight?
The answer is, it all depends on your theology, which you generally don't discover until midnight. At that point you can't walk over to your library to pull out some book on theology, and you can't rifle through that big stack of notes from your Greek class to see what it says to do when you've been arrested. You don't have access to a computer so you can't send an email or update Facebook or Twitter your friends.
In that lonely moment, you discover your theology. You find out what's real and what's purely theoretical.
Recently I read a short story about Major Ian Thomas, founder of Torchbearers International, that mentioned a saying that was fundamental to his understanding of the Christian life:
Go where you're sent,
Stay where you're put,
Give what you've got.
The wisdom of that advice struck me, and as I meditated upon it, I began to consider what great biblical principles it represents. It throws light on the darkness of that prison cell in Philippi where Paul and Silas were singing and praying at midnight.

I. Go Where You're Sent.
If you consider that statement by itself, it may seem to have mainly a geographic component. Abraham was called by God to go to a land that he would later receive as an inheritance (Genesis 12:1-3). So he went out from Ur of the Chaldees by faith, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). For him the "where" was definitely a location, one particular place. He was always on the way to the Promised Land. If we examine Paul's case, we can see that God definitely called him from Turkey to Greece (Acts 16:9-10), and when he crossed the Aegean Sea, he ended up at Philippi and began to preach the gospel, winning men and women to Christ, and proceeding to establish a church in that city. Paul's one great calling was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The "where" depended wholly on the Lord. That's why he wasn't thrown for a loop when he ended up in jail, notwithstanding the very great physical ordeal of enduring a beating by the authorities. While we don't need to sensationalize that, we shouldn't downplay it either. When Paul years later told Timothy to "endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3), he knew what he was talking about.
There was nothing easy about being accused of disturbing the peace, being publicly disgraced, derided, maligned and vilified. Nor was it pleasant to be beaten or thrown in prison alongside men who were truly criminals. Certainly having your legs in stocks not only meant you could hardly move, it also meant you would have great difficulty lying down. So what do you do in that situation?
It all depends on your theology. If you don't believe in the sovereignty of God, then you'll probably be bitter and angry and very discouraged. If you don't believe in a God who numbers the hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), then you may think that something terrible has happened to you. But if you believe in the sovereignty of God, then you know that nothing can happen to you by accident. In that case, your reaction is likely to be quite different.
You pray and sing hymns at midnight.
We find the key to the phrase "Go where you are sent" in the word sent. It means that in every situation of life, Higher Hands are at work, leading you on from where you are at this moment to where you are supposed to be next. Many times those Higher Hands will seem to lead you in ways that make no sense, and you may not see any purpose in the things happening to you.
Several weeks ago I received an email from my friend Andy McQuitty, senior pastor of Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas. When I call Andy my friend, that doesn't quite do justice to the situation. Back in the 80s, he we served together at Northeast Bible Church in Garland, Texas. Often I would go back to his office and we would kibbutz together, dreaming about new ideas for the church. Because we lived in the same subdivision and had young children, we became very close. I can still remember when he came into my office and said he felt called to move to the other side of Dallas and take the pastorate of a small church that had fallen on hard times. That was in the fall of 1987. In the years since then, under the good hand of God, Andy has led Irving Bible Church through many building programs, a major relocation, and in the process it has become a mighty powerhouse for the Lord, attracting thousands of people every Sunday.
I say that simply to mention that Andy and his wife Alice are dear friends of ours. The email came out of the blue with some bad news. Following a routine physical exam Andy was diagnosed with colon cancer. That led to surgery which led to a pathology report revealing that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, which means it might be elsewhere in his body. Not good news at any time, but especially when you are only 53 years old.
So what do you say to that? How does the godly man respond to such a turn of events? The answer is, it all depends on your theology. Remember, you don't learn your theology at midnight. You discover it. You find out what you really believe. Here are some quotes from two emails he sent to his congregation after the news broke.
After discussing his medical situation, he put it in this context:
I'm not looking forward to all this and truly wish it wasn't on my plate, but it is what the Lord has teed up for me and I'm at peace with that. After all these years shepherding other people through these situations, it's my turn now! Alice and my family are confident and trusting and a huge bulwark of strength for me, and I think the Lord has much to teach me in these days. So we go forward.
My doctors are very hopeful that we will have a very good outcome to this surgery and that the procedure itself will be curative. Ah, but that's where the Great Physician comes in. We're just putting it all in His hands.
The Lord is my Shepherd, and yours too. . . we shall not want!
And certainly he is praying for healing and trusting that that is what the Lord has in mind. But there is always a deeper reality when you face something like colon cancer:
God truly is the strength of my heart. I kind of look at this fight with cancer in the same way I look at riding motorcycles. If God is finished with me, nothing can save me. If He's not finished with me, nothing can touch me. Just so you know, I've given Him all kinds of reasons not to be finished with me and I think I made an adequate case. We'll see.



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