Tag Archives: prison

Worship That Sets Captives Free

“…All at once the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:26

(a continuing series of blog posts drawn from the Worship Concepts Network conference series AWE: Authentic Worship Experience)

Yesterday we looked at what worshipping “in truth and spirit” looks like; that thing you can’t worship without is the thing that you worship. In short, if all you need to worship is God, then He is who you worship.

The inevitable outcome of AWEsome, authentic worship is freedom.  Not just for the worshipper, but for everyone around. When Paul and Silas worship in truth and spirit it’s not just their chains that fall off, it’s not just their prison door that opens. Everybody that witnesses their worship is set free.

But also notice that just as Paul and Silas’ worship was not dictated by their condition (see yesterday’s post), neither is their freedom or any of the other prisoners’. We would think that the former prisoners would immediately break for the door, but they sit tight. We don’t have any evidence that Paul or Silas had to convince or manipulate them to stay. God’s presence was there. How do we know? The Bible tells us, “where two or more are gathered in My name, there I am.” (Matt. 18:20) There is nothing more compelling for the “captive set free” than the presence of God, regardless of circumstances.  They didn’t want to leave.

Further on in the story we see that the jailer is ready to throw himself on his sword. But even the captor is set free that night. And not just him, but his entire family.

What’s the outcome of your worship? Are you set free in worship? Are those around you set free? In the AWE conference we talk a lot about bearing fruit; “that a grape doesn’t have to try to be a grape, if it’s attached to the vine, then it will be a grape” and other ideas like that. You can tell if your worship is in “truth and in spirit” by the fruit that it bears. Don’t try to have worship that sets captives free; that’s just manipulation. Worship because you are free, free in Christ regardless of your circumstances. When the captives around you see AWEsome worship of the One who will set them free, then they’ll be set free, too. Free indeed.

That’s why worship.

Catherine Booth in Prison

I actually wrote this several years ago, but am posting it now in honor of my mom’s birthday which is actually tomorrow. We celebrated last night via a Skype conference call (isn’t technology amazing?).

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” Isaiah 61:1

I’m going to steal my mom’s best sermon illustration. My dad likes to talk so mom doesn’t get to preach much, but when she does, duck. The Holy Spirit moves, hard. Some people live what they preach, mom preaches what she lives. She walks the walk before she talks the talk. So when she finally talks, the gospel has already been preached through her life.

This one particular story is of Catherine Booth, wife of William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army. It’s not commonly known, but Catherine was not only a dynamic preacher, she also had tremendous impact on William’s establishment of the Salvation Army. In particular, it’s commitment to complete abstinence from alcohol.

Once, when preaching in a prison, there was a small voice that heckled Catherine, deep from the bowels of the prison, “If you love me, show me.”

At first Catherine ignored the voice, and continued on with the sermon. But the voice grew more insistent, “If you love me, show me.” The voice echoed through the stone corridors, it cracked with each word. As Catherine continued the message of hope, the voice continued to haunt her from the darkness, “If you love me, show me.”

When the sermon came to its conclusion, Mrs. Booth walked deeper into the recesses of the labyrinth, the wailing continued, “If you love me, show me.” Catherine felt her way through the darkness, the stench choked her lungs, the voice pierced her soul, “If you love me, show me”.

At the very end of the hallway was a single cell. Peering through the bars stared a ghostly apparition. A pair of deep set eyes, hovering in a face gaunt with emptiness, were glazed with the apathy of hopelessness. The face of oozing sores, swollen blistered lips, and infected boils seemed to hang in the darkness. And through clenched teeth, the mocking voice continued to pierce the soul of Catherine, “If you love me, show me.”

Catherine’s reached toward the voice and took the bony face in her small hands. But the voice continued, “If you love me, show me”. Brushing away hair crusted with dried blood, Catherine drew the face closer. And the cry continued, “If you love me, show me”. Catherine’s lips pressed against the infected cheek and kissed the soul of hopelessness.

Love had been shown. The bridge had been built, the cross had won out. The love of Jesus had been poured through the life of an eccentric evangelist’s wife. Looking through the eyes of Christ, Catherine saw what the world had ignored. She saw a lost, tortured, frightened child, in need of a Savior. And like the Savior, she not only had compassion, she showed compassion.

There is no place in the Bible where it says that Jesus had compassion without His acting on it. He prayed, he fed, he healed, always an action. Never just words.

Look through His eyes, see the hurt He sees. Let His love, His compassion, overflow through you. When confronted with anger, see the torment. When persecuted with callousness, see the pain. When ridiculed with contempt, see the soul lost in the darkness.

And put His love to action. Your love will run out, His never will.


“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:26

This is one of my favorite verses about worship in the Bible. Here’s the backstory: it’s about midnight, Paul and Silas have had a pretty typical day including travel, healing, delivering the occasional girl from demonic possession, riling up the locals with preaching; all of which leads to their inevitable arrest, flogging and prison time. All in all it was a pretty good day. [Insert sarcastic smirk here.]

So, there they sat in prison which I’mfairly certainthose were accommodations most of us would find less than acceptable for worship on any given Sunday morning. Heck, it was probably worse than most modern day prisoners would find acceptable in any US penal system facility or even at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib for that matter.

Nonetheless, there they were. And they did something rather strange, “…Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…” What, huh? They were worshipping? But, wait, weren’t the pews too hard? Did they really have a band in prison? Where’d they get the hymnals from? Where did they find a projector to put the words on the wall? How did they worship without a decent sound system and good monitors? Really…intelligent lighting in a cave that served as a prison? Who made sure that the heat was working? [Insert another sarcastic smirk here.]

For now, I’m going to let you work that last paragraph out on your own. I’ll write about worshipping in spite of our circumstances in a later post. Today I want to dwell on what happened next.

To illustrate the result of Paul and Silas’ worship I’ll quote William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”: FREEEEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMM! (That works a lot better when I preach on this in person, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, it’s commonly understood by us “worship music” types that worship sets us free. But, worship in “truth in and spirit” doesn’t just set those of us up on the stage and in the bright lights free; it sets even those who witness it free, too. In fact, it has nothing to do with worship as performance. Our living, breathing act of worship sets people free, as well.

When a Christ worshipper lives a life that brings glory to God, everyone around them feels the impact…the earthquake.

  • When a Christ worshipper humbly ladles a bowl soup at the downtown mission a homeless person is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper visits an elderly shut-in a lonely senior is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper helps a young woman with unruly toddlers load her groceries into her car a mom who may feel the hopelessness of single parenting is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper drives to a crack house in the middle of the night to rescue the son of desperate parents an addict and his family are set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper takes in a teenage girl to help her overcome an eating disorder a scared young woman is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper takes a stand between a battered child and their abuser a terrified child is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper prays and sings praise choruses in a prison then prisoners are set free.

In the third sentence of the book “Let the Nations Be Glad” John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”

I take this to mean that God’s plan is for us to worship in truth and spirit; when we reflect the glory of God and the beauty of Christas a matter of course in our life.Worship as a being verb renderspiouscatch phrases, cliched evangelism strategies or pithy bumperstickerssuperfluous at bestor at worst a distraction. When God’s people are “living sacrifices” of “spiritual acts of worship”; when Christ worshippers live a life that brings honor and glory to God; when we are the being verb “worship” then the earth shakes like an earthquake, strongholds crumble, the Gates of Hell implode, captives’ chains fall off, people are set free from bondage; they’re set free to come home to The Father! Worship isn’tintended to bespiritual jollies for the worshipper, it’s purpose is so that everyonewillsee the beauty of the Darling of Heaven inthe worshipper. Then those who merely witness worshipwill be set free, too.

That’s “Why Worship.”