When You Are Lost (Acts 16:25-34)
He thought this was going to be another night at the office. He was an ex-Roman soldier, working now as the head jailer in the Greek city of Philippi. His job was simply to keep prisoners safely locked away. For a setting, imagine stone walls, dirt floors, and a damp musty smell. This was where he worked each day.
He received two new prisoners, named Paul and Silas. Some kind of disturbance in the marketplace. Apparently they were preaching about foreign gods. He put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the wooden stocks. Then he went back to his desk to finish a bit of paperwork.
Later one he heard them singing. That was strange. Prisoners would either curse or moan. But these two men were singing songs of praise to their god. The jailer had never heard that before. He finished his work, blew out the lamp, and stretched out on his little bed to sleep.
Around midnight, his bed started shaking, and then he woke up on the floor. Was it an earthquake? Or had he simply dreamed it all? He wasn’t sure. Then he looked toward the cells and saw all the doors to the prison had opened. Something had happened. He didn’t know what.
All he knew was that his life and career were over. Open doors meant the prisoners had escaped, and escaped prisoners meant that he would be executed. The best thing he could do was take his own life. He took out his long sword, sharp point up, handle down resting on the ground. He leaned over and put the point of the sword over his heart. All he had to do was let his own body weight finish the task. All was lost. He was lost.
What do you do when you feel lost? Do you give in to despair, as this jailer does? Despair is one option when we feel lost. But there are other possibilities too.
I love donuts. Especially Morning Fresh Donuts. They are the best. I usually get just one. But lots of people come in and get donuts by the dozen. They go in a box like this one.
I have noticed there are two ways people get donuts by the dozen. Some people pick a couple favorite kinds, and then they simply say “assorted” for the rest, leaving the worker behind the glass to finish filling the box. This is simple and takes the least amount of time.
But others insist on picking out every single donut that goes into the box. “I’d like one twist, one lemon filled, one chocolate glazed… not that one, the one next to it. How many more do I have now?” This way takes longer, and if the workers are short handed, everyone must wait.
Some people approach life in the same way. They assume everything that goes into their box must be something they chose personally. But life doesn’t work that way. In life we get to choose a few items in the box, but then there is an assortment of things we didn’t choose, some good and some bad.
The bad thing will happen. It will end up in the box. We’ll be tempted to feel lost. How we respond then makes all the difference.
I enjoy reading The Upper Room devotional. In one of the readings for August, Michelle Knight, from Indiana, spoke of an ongoing struggle with cancer in one of her family members, who is facing it a third time. Michelle writes, “In spite of the suffering and the pain, our family has witnessed firsthand God’s power and faithfulness. So with renewed hope, I find myself asking, ‘What will we discover about God this time?’”
This is the other option when you feel lost. It can be an opportunity for despair, as it was for the jailer. Or an opportunity for discovery. A chance to discover new things about God and about yourself.
Just as the jailer in Philippi was about to fall on his sword, he heard a voice calling out. “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here.” It was the voice of Paul, who’d been singing songs of praise earlier. The prisoners hadn’t tried to escape after all. Which was as much of a miracle as the earthquake.
So the jailer calls for lights (highly symbolic detail). Then he asks Paul, “How can I have what you have?” He realizes he is at a turning point in his life. So Paul shares the gospel with him.
At the heart of the gospel is a simple idea. We who are far from God can come near to God through Christ. We who are alienated from God can become friends of God through Christ.
Paul shared with the jailer this glorious news that we can enjoy a daily friendship with God who made all things. This news astonishes the jailer, fills him with joy, and changes his life. He’s moved from despair to discovery.
This past summer I read Walden by Thoreau. I hadn’t read it for twenty years. It’s his account of living for two years in a little cabin on the shore of Walden Pond in Massachusetts.
Sometimes Thoreau would visit friends in town, and he wouldn’t come back to his cabin till after dark. He had no lantern to light his way. He would feel his way along through the woods. His foot feeling for the path, his hands feeling for the trees, his eyes looking up at the stars to guide his steps. At times he’d get lost for an hour or two in the night.
But he found that those lost times were also times of discovery. He’d discover the world around him in a new way. He wrote about this in the words on the front of your bulletin: “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”
If you are feeling lost today, feeling your way along in the dark. Don’t despair. Discover. You will learn where you are and who you are. Just as Thoreau did and as the Philippian jailer did. You will also develop a friendship with God that you never dreamed possible. And with God as your friend, amazing things can happen.