In the first instance, as Luke records in Acts 12, Herod “laid violent hands” upon the Christians. He killed James, the brother of John, and then jailed Peter. On the night Herod meant to do his worst, Peter slept in chains between two soldiers. When an angel appeared, he glowed bright and illuminated the cell. But Peter snoozed so soundly that the heavenly deliverer had to smack him to get his eyes open.
In the second case, as Luke describes some four chapters later, an irksome and demon-possessed slave girl followed and harassed Paul and his company for several days. The irritated Paul had all he could tolerate and finally exorcised the demon, much to the chagrin of the girl’s owners who turned a tidy profit from the demon’s prognostications. The owners had Paul and his friends tossed behind bars for disturbing the peace. There in his cell, even though it was midnight, the manacled Paul sat up, alert and singing instead of drifting to sleep. Suddenly, an earthquake jarred the the jail open and loosed his shackles.
In both instances, the circumstances were dire and, though deliverance was soon coming, the apostles had no way of knowing that the Lord would free them. After all, God didn’t spare James or others like Stephen, whose death Paul assisted before his own conversion. But as different as their responses seem on the surface — one sleeping, the other singing — they are in fact strikingly similar. Both testify to their trust in God. The darkness of the circumstances failed to overshadow their faith and hope.
“God disposes all things in divers ways,” commented John Chrysostom. “And … it is beautiful that Paul sings hymns, while here Peter was asleep” (Homilies on Acts 26). It is beautiful. When the circumstances of our lives turn sour and grim, we can sing or slumber. But however we express our particular and personal reactions to God’s diverse providences, all that really matters is that we trust him.