2391) You Can’t Always Get What You Want (part 2 of 2)

My needs are simple All I want is everything - Grumpy Cat - quickmeme


     (…continued)  Then something interesting happened.  There was an earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison.  Think about that.  Your best chance of survival in an earthquake would be to run out into the street where nothing can fall on you.  You most definitely would not want to be chained to the wall, in the inner room, of a stone structure, which could very easily collapse and crush you.  But this was a most unusual earthquake that resulted in very peculiar and specific damages.  The only damage recorded is that all the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose.  This was not at all what the jailer wanted.  In fact, it was his worst nightmare.  To fail in his duty and allow his prisoners to escape, which he was sure they all did, would have meant certain execution for him in the morning.  The honorable thing to do in those days, rather than face a humiliating execution, was to fall on one’s own sword and die with dignity.  The jailer was ready to do this, but Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself; we are all still here.”

     This was most unexpected.  Why did they all stay?  Paul and Silas, perhaps, but all of the prisoners?  Why did they not run?  The text doesn’t say.  We might guess that Paul and Silas had some influence on them, but we have no way of knowing exactly what happened.  But for whatever reason, all the prisoners were still there and the jailer had no fear of execution.

     Having heard Paul and Silas singing hymns and saying prayers all night, the jailer had some idea of what they were all about, and so the jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Now, for the first time, someone in the story is going to get what they want.  Whereas all the jailer wanted at first was to make sure that the prisoners were secure for the night; now instead, he wanted to make sure his own soul was secure for all eternity.  So he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

     The apostles’ reply in verse 31 is one of the New Testament’s bottom line, Gospel-in-a-nutshell, verses: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”  Then, in the middle of the night, the jailer took the two men home, washed their wounds from the afternoon’s flogging, and set a meal before them.  And before Paul and Silas left, the whole family did believe in Jesus and were baptized.  The jailer got what he wanted, and he was saved.

     Having done that, Paul and Silas went back to the prison with the jailer and waited in their cells for the authorities to arrive in the morning.  The authorities, having learned by then that Paul was a Roman citizen, were then anxious to release him, and send him on down the road without any further punishment.  The whipping they had given Paul the day before, without even having a trial, was illegal treatment for a Roman citizen.  If Paul had demanded an investigation, it would not have gone well for those authorities.  But Paul left without insisting on that.

     The story has a happy ending for almost everyone, even though nobody got what they wanted at the beginning.  And it is also often the case in our own lives that our wants and desires are not for what would really be best for us; and so then, even when we get what we want, we are not satisfied.  As someone once said: “Most people don’t really know what they want in life, they just pretty sure that whatever it is, they don’t have it.”

    Look again at everyone in the story.  If Paul and Silas had gotten what they wanted, and made it to their prayer meeting without interruption, they would not have had the opportunity to bring the Gospel to that jailer and his whole family.  If the prisoners would have stayed safely locked away, and if no earthquake would have come, the jailer would not have had the opportunity to be saved.  If the local authorities would have pursued their goal of persecuting the Roman citizen Paul, they would have found themselves in trouble with the Roman authorities.  Only the slave girl’s owners did not get what they wanted, but theirs was a crooked business, so to have to abandon their scam was actually the best thing for them too.

   So what do you want?  You might have yourself convinced, with very good reasons, that everything you want right now is most certainly what is best for you; and no doubt some things on your wish list probably would be good for you.  We aren’t always wrong about these things.  But we often are, and if you would think back, you could probably think of several things that you really wanted at one time, but now looking back, you realize it was a foolish desire and would not have been good for you.  That’s why that country-western song of a few years ago became so popular; Garth Brooks “One of God’s Greatest Gifts is Unanswered Prayer.”  Most people can think back to a time or two about which they can thank God for not answering their prayer.

     Best of all would be if we could understand all of our wants and desires in the light of what it is that God would want of us and for us.  This is where the jailer’s plea is so instructive.  “What must I do to be saved?,” he asked, and it was then that his will was most in line with God’s will for him.  But it took the threat of death to make that jailer realize how important that was.  And then he knew that it was so important that he wanted that salvation for his whole family.

     Paul’s brief and simple answer to him is God’s word for each of us:  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”


Garth Brooks sings Unanswered Prayers (with lyrics):


Galatians 5:16-17  —  So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

James 4:1-3  —  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.


O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  Thou knowest what it is.  For it we pray.

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India