They didn’t feel like playing their harps or singing. As a nation, Israel had sinned. They had a history of straying from the Lord. Sin has consequences and side-effects. The mighty ruthless forces of Babylon swooped down, created havoc and destruction. Thousands of the nation’s best were dragged back to pagan Babylon as hostages.

It was a sad and bitter time for the Jews. After their forced labour ended each day, they would often gather by the rivers of Babylon to remember Zion – Jerusalem – and the Lord. It was a rather pitiful scene – sitting on the river-banks, downcast, and constantly wiping the tears from their cheeks.

The branches of the willow trees sagged with de-commissioned harps. How could they ever play mellow harps and sing their happy Lord-songs from Jerusalem in such a hostile environment! To make matters worse, their captors and tormentors would try to force them to pluck the strings and sing. Such taunting orders only added salt to the wounds of God’s people.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows…How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? Psalms 137:1-4

Nothing to sing about. Nothing to be joyful over. Nothing but sadness and bitterness – surrounded by blasphemers and tormentors. Let’s face it – it wasn’t exactly the milieu for a hymn-sing.

Fast forward now to another scene. Accusers, captors, and tormentors surrounded the Christians. They were captured, dragged down a street, man-handled, roughed-up and their bare backs were severely beaten – 39 brutal, bloody floggings. It is highly unlikely that any tea-tree oils were administered to their open wounds, nor any natural soothing anesthetic applied to relieve the pain. They were physically thrown into a not-so-nice prison cell and wooden stocks with iron clamps were fastened around their feet.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

Not exactly a cathedral or a concert hall. No tickets were sold for the performance, but the prisoners were listening to the words of every song sung and prayer prayed. One doesn’t get the sense that they were singing self-pitying songs of discouragement. Nor were they employing lyrics that vented their bitterness over being abused in the path of surrendering their lives to the Lord.

One can almost imagine an upbeat tone of praise, triumph, and confidence in their songs to the Lord. Who knows? Maybe one of them added some rhythmic percussion to the songs by clapping or tapping the beat on the side of the cell.

Singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? Definitely, and at midnight too! No harps sagging from poplar trees for these guys! Their heartstrings were strung for the Lord, in harmony with Christ and they counted it an honour to suffer shame for His blessed Name – just like the apostles in Acts 5:41.

What made the difference in the two stories? Paul and Silas were suffering for Christ in the path of obedience, love, and devotion. On the other hand, the Jews were suffering because of failure – their own failure as a nation. When our conscience is totally clear and our love for Christ is strong, the heart-songs flow out spontaneously – without coaxing; and, the strings of the heart-harp can be plucked melodically – even in adversity.

What’s the theme of your song today?

Walk carefully and closely with the Lord today.

Warmly in Christ
Peter Ramsay

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