As a young worship leader I read a classic old book by Merlin Carothers called 'Prison to Praise.' Merlin was a prison chaplain with a simple message to prisoners. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice."(Phil 4:4) He told staggering stories of prisoners who had learned to praise God despite their circumstances, and had experienced great personal breakthrough through praise.
The apostle Paul was the ultimate prison praiser. Acts 16 describes Silas and Paul singing hymns to God in the middle of the night while locked up in prison. They had been unjustly tried, beaten and chained, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, they raised their voices in hymns of praise to God. What followed was dramatic. An earthquake, their chains break, prison doors fly open, yet none of the prisoners escape, which in and of itself was a miracle. The jailer and his whole household are saved and baptized and Paul and Silas are released. We love this story. It describes the great power in praising God.
However, when Paul wrote "Rejoice in the Lord always," he was in another prison. It was actually house arrest in Rome and he was chained, not to Silas, but now to a prison guard. There must have been times when Paul reminisced about how God had broken his chains as he praised before with Silas. Maybe he even tried to sing the same hymns they had sung before hoping for the same effect. Maybe it just wasn't the same without Silas's harmonies! Whatever the case, God didn't break Paul's chains in the Roman prison. God's power was to sustain Paul in prison this time, rather than get Him out like before. Paul could write "Rejoice in the Lord always" because he had learned to praise God for God, not for what God would do. And in actual fact, God has done more through the letters Paul wrote while in that prison, than Paul ever did while he was free.
This is such a vital lesson for us. Sometimes when we praise there is obvious, prison-shattering power. We find we are broken out of the confines of our situations immediately. Other times it seems like nothing changes at all. We praise God but our situation stays the same. It is then that we learn to praise less functionally ands more relationally. We learn to worship God for God, and remember that He is all too often at work behind our back more than before our eyes.
Lord, teach us to use every prison to praise You.