But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
Anyone can sing when the skies are blue, the air is fresh, the flowers are dressing up the world, and your spirit is soaring. To the best of my knowledge, your Father in Heaven enjoys and appreciates that singing.
But the kind He values most, the singing that thrills His heart, the praise that establishes forever that you are His and He is yours, Scripture calls “songs in the night.”
If you can praise Him when you’re feeling lousy, when the news is terrible, when the bank account is busted, the news from the doctor is bleak, the family is in rebellion and nothing good is going on in your life, then one of two things is true: either you’re a nut in hopeless denial, or you know something. Some really big Thing.
He giveth songs in the night. (Job 35:10)
Thelma Wells is someone you need to know.
This precious lady was born to an unwed mother with more problems than any one soul should ever have. She was a severely deformed teenager with no husband and no place to go, since her own abusive mother insisted that she take the baby and leave. The poor unwed teenage mother found work as a maid cleaning ‘the big house’ while living with her baby daughter in servants’ quarters.
Eventually, little Thelma went to live with her great-grandparents, who named her Thelma Louise Smith and adored her. They took her to church–every blessed day of the week–as grownup Thelma remembers. Her great-grandmother was down at the church for some kind of meeting or ministry or activity every day. Thelma learned to love the church and learned to love the hymns and songs of praise. That would come in handy more than she knew.
From time to time, little Thelma would be taken to live with her grandmother, the abusive woman who had kicked out Thelma’s mother. True to form, the woman abused Thelma as well. She was locked in a dark, smelly, insect-infested closet until just before her grandfather came home. Then her grandmother would take her out, clean her up, and act as if all was well.
Imagine the horrors to a little child who is locked inside a dark closet for most of the hours of a day. What kind of mental and emotional abuse is this?
Without knowing one thing more, we would conclude that Thelma Louise Smith grew up mentally and emotionally ill. Such treatment would scar a person for life.
In spite of her deep fear, little Thelma spent her time in the closet singing every hymn and praise song she could remember. She would sing herself to sleep in the closet. The Lord received this little girl’s innocent praise and rewarded it with an abundant life of joy, protecting her from feelings of anger or bitterness.
Thelma Smith Wells is an author, a nationally known speaker at women’s events, and a mother of three, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of two. She is Somebody. She is a dear sister in Christ. And she is my hero.
Songs in the night? How about “He giveth songs in the closet!”
Paul and Silas testified that He giveth songs in the jail. Thrown into prison unjustly and locked into stocks after receiving the beating of their lives, they were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
I find that fascinating. Do you suppose Paul turned to Silas and said, “Si, I just feel like singing?” Nosiree. These men were miserable. Their backs were open wounds. They had every right to sit there complaining about their unjust treatment and cursing their jailers.
Not these men. They sang. And not because they felt like singing. They sang because it was that or cry, and they chose to sing.
Sometimes you sing by faith.
That night, God sent an earthquake that shook that jail to its foundations, burst the locks, knocked the doors off their hinges, and awakened the sleeping jailer. He called for a torch, then ran in and fell down before the singing jailbirds, and said, “What must I do to get what you have?”
When you are in the night, in the closet, in the jail, the world will listen to your song.
But in most cases, not until then.
Don’t miss that point. Sometimes the Lord will let His people be mistreated in order for their captors to hear their “songs in the night.” That’s the only way the brutes will be willing to listen. (This is the point of Matthew 10:18-19.)
If you find yourself mistreated and thrown into a miserable situation, seize this truth: The Lord wants someone to hear you praising Him in the middle of that mess. Your audience will conclude either that you are crazy or you have something they lack.
You have Something.
The best book title of any year may be Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This lady–a national treasure if America has ever had one–revealed her story of abuse and mistreatment and the faith that brought her through. If you’ve not read it, be aware it’s rough in places, but well worth the effort.
I stuck my head into a hospital room to say hello to the patient. Mrs. Vaughan was an elderly friend, the grandmother of young Cindy whom my son was dating, and a member of a nearby church. Seeing her name on the hospital roster, I wanted to know if she was all right.
“I’m fine, pastor,” she laughed. “You know I live alone. Evidently, I passed out yesterday and when I came to, I was lying on the floor. Before pushing the lifeline for help, I decided to take inventory to see if I might have had a stroke.”
“I pulled myself up onto the bed and began the process. I wiggled my toes and they all worked. I moved my fingers back and forth and they were all working.”
“And then I began to sing. Because I knew if I could still sing, everything was all right.”
Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds.(Psalm 149:5)
Do you still have your song? He giveth songs, you know. And not just for the sunny days.
He giveth songs in the night, in the closet, in the jail, and in the hospital room.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.(Psalm 150:6)
In the night His song shall be with me–a prayer to the God of my life.(Psalm 42:8)
I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.(Psalm 77:6)
While pastoring a church in New Bern, North Carolina, Jack Hinton led a mission trip to the Caribbean. One day the group ministered at a leprosarium in Tobago. As they spread out across the grounds and visited with the patients, they were devastated at the effects of leprosy on the human body.
The director invited them to hold a worship service in their little chapel. The Carolina team spread out across the front and watched as the patients entered. Most were able to walk and a few were helping each other. Then Pastor Jack noticed something strange. One of the women lepers entered and sat in the very back with her face to the rear wall. That was unusual.
The Carolina group led in scriptures and testimonies, prayers and hymns. After a bit, Pastor Jack announced they had time for one more song. Did anyone have a favorite?
Now, for the first time, the woman on the back row turned to face the front and raised her hand.
Pastor Jack found himself staring into the most hideous face he had ever seen.
The poor woman had no lips and no nose. And when she raised her hand to make a request, there was no hand there; just a bony nub.
She said, “Could we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”
The preacher just stood there staring, unable to speak, tears choking off his voice. After a long moment, unable to speak, he stepped out a side door and wept. Another member of the group led the song. One of the men walked outside and put his arm around his pastor.
“You’ll never sing that song again, will you, Jack?”
Pastor Jack said, “Oh yes, I’ll sing it. But not in the same way.”
Possibly the greatest praise scripture to be found is the final three verses of the prophecy of Habakkuk.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines.
Though the yield of the olive should fail,
And the fields produce no food.
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold,
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet, I will exult in the Lord.
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet (the sure-footed mountain goat);
He causes me to walk on my high places.
He giveth songs in the night. In the closet. In the jail. In the hospital room. In the darkest, deepest, loneliest, saddest times of life.
“There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low.”