“. . . and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them [Paul and Silas] to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22–24 NKJV)
I wonder how you and I would have felt if we had been Paul and Silas. Here we are faithfully sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ on the mission field when all of the sudden, we’re seized by the authorities, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. We would have probably come to the conclusion that we had failed miserably in our witness for Christ. People not only rejected what we had to say, but humiliated us and then put us in lock down.
But there’s more to the story. As God would have it, Paul and Silas’s imprisonment actually presented them with a captive audience (literally):
But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25 NKJV)
There were other prisoners dwelling in that dark and dismal dungeon. There’s no telling how long they had been bound, but it had probably been long enough for them to have surrendered any sense of hope and joy. Then something strange and heavenly happened—they heard Paul and Silas singing, not just any songs but songs declaring the goodness and glory of God. It must have sounded like a foreign language to these men who had been driven to the depths of despair and depression. But there, in the still blackness, the Scriptures say that the prisoners were listening to them. The prison door had closed shut, but the witnessing door had swung wide open.
Sometimes it may seem like we’ve failed in our evangelistic attempts. But this story shows us that whenever one door closes, another one opens. And whether we realize it, there’s bound to be a captive audience waiting and willing to hear what we have to say.