As followers of Christ, we’re called to make disciples. But I wonder how often we view our worship through the lens of discipleship. How does our worship of God impact those around us? More specifically, what kind of influence does our worship have on nonbelievers?
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in Philippi. After meeting a godly woman named Lydia, they come across a slave girl who is possessed by an evil spirit. Because of this, the girl obsessively shouts around Paul and his companions. The Bible says that Paul, being greatly annoyed, rebukes the evil spirit in the name of Jesus. Therefore, the slave girl is freed. However, the masters of this slave girl are angry with Paul and Silas because the girl’s ability had provided her owners with income. As a result, Paul and Silas are dragged into the marketplace, beaten with rods, and placed securely within the inner prison. In fact, the Bible even describes their feet being fastened in stocks (see v. 11-24).
That’s when Paul and Silas begin to worship through song.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25 ESV).
It doesn’t seem to be the most opportune time to worship. I mean, here’s Paul and Silas fastened miserably within the confines of a Philippian prison. But despite these circumstances, Paul and Silas worship God together. And the other prisoners listen.
First of all, Paul and Silas teach us the importance of worshipping God no matter how we feel or what we face. And when we do, outsiders listen. Unsaved people listen. But that’s not all.
The Bible continues, “… and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (v. 26 ESV).
Talk about a miracle. While Paul and Silas worship, the foundations of the prison shake, their bonds break, and the doors open. Now Paul and Silas run away, right? Wrong.
“When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here’” (v. 27-28 ESV).
This amazes me. I mean, if deliverance had been the main goal of Paul and Silas, then surely they would’ve left immediately without regard to the suicidal jailer. But their main goal was not freedom. It was the message of Jesus Christ. It was discipleship.
Notice what happens next: “And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (v. 29-31 ESV).
Because Paul and Silas focus their worship on God and His mission instead of their own ambitions, a beautiful discipleship opportunity arises. Worship opens a door to discipleship. Although this literally happens in Acts 16, the same is true for us today.
The conversion of the jailer becomes more apparent as the passage continues.
“And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (v. 32-34 ESV).
Can you imagine? The same jailer who had Paul and Silas secured in prison now washes their wounds, invites them to his home, and offers them a meal. This can only happen through the power of God. It’s the radical transformation found only in Christ.
I pray that the congregation I serve recognizes opportunities to disciple people through their worship. Both inside and outside of the church building. And I pray the same for your church. Like the example of Paul and Silas, outsiders listen to the songs we sing. They watch the lives we live. And our worship unto the Father—both congregationally and personally—provide opportunities to share the gospel.
Worship opens a door to discipleship.