It can sound daunting, this idea of having to bear the burden of faith for the world. Of having to have a faith that will set all the prisoners free, not just yourself. But that's not at all what we're talking about here.
Paul and Silas weren't intentionally trying to set anyone free, not even themselves. They weren't thinking about chains falling off. If they were, they probably would have prayed instead of singing hymns. They probably would have cried out to God, like so many men and women had done on the sides of the roads, for freedom. They would have folded their hands and bowed their heads (spoiler: this isn't really the posture of prayer, except that we've made it so) and begged for God's mercy.
No, Paul and Silas were simply working to manage their own hearts in faith in the circumstances in which they found themselves.
They were doing what their faith naturally led them to do - praising God. They were reflecting on what their faith was certain of - the goodness of God. Remember that in the times that the Bible was written, "hymns" didn't mean the same thing that it does to most of us. A hymn wasn't a nice song that sung about some wonderful attribute of God; more often, the hymns were stories that recounted God's goodness to His people. The hymns the Bible records for us are sagas, entire retellings of God's provision throughout Israel's history.
The hymns were the stories of how God got us here, not how God is going to get us out.
So to comfort themselves in the darkness, to remind themselves of the goodness of God, Paul and Silas simply sit in their chains and sing His story. All the way back to Abraham. Moses. David. Perhaps even by this point, Jesus, although we cannot be sure if He'd made His way into the hymns yet. Paul and Silas were singing a song that reminded them what was really going on here.
It just so happened that when they did, their chains fell off.
This is good news for us who aren't sure how we could ever have a faith that sets anyone else free, that takes onto its shoulders the chains of all. Truth is, most of us are just trying to figure out how to manage our own chains.
But that's precisely the point - that's all we have to do. We simply have to live by faith, by our own faith, with the songs and the stories that make sense to us where we are. We simply have to be willing to live out loud the things that we're certain of, the things that make God meaningful to us, no matter where we are. When we hold onto our faith even when our hands are tied, that's when the knots start to loosen and everyone gets set free. That's the kind of witness that the world needs. That's the kind of faith that moves mountains.
So don't let it feel like some big thing. Faith is not some big thing. It's a little thing, just one little thing, done from the heart that is simply holding on.
And when we're simply holding on, well...that seems to be the very moment that darkness must let go.