Years ago, I heard a comedian say that when going through a hard time, people told him cheer up, things could be worse. So he said, I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.
Have you ever felt this way? Just overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, so much on your plate that you just don’t know where to begin. Your mind’s all over the place, you have a hard time focusing. It’s difficult to sleep, and you’re mulling over your problems, day and night. You’re even feeding your physical and emotional appetites with things that aren’t healthy. Just to escape, and to feel some relief.
Now I’m talking about real problems. Things like job security, and financial stability, threats to your health, marital problems, guilt and regret over past decisions, children who are struggling in school or making bad choices, a car, or a house that needs important repairs, and you know, they need to get done. This is the real stuff that we face.
What does God want us to do? How does God want us to respond?
Well, this is week three in our series Anxious For Nothing and we are focusing on a passage in Paul’s letter to the believers in the church that he planted in the Macedonian city of Philippi. So let’s read what he said to them. It’s in Philippians, chapter four, verses four through seven. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be made known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Now, Paul, by the way, was in prison when he wrote this passage. And at that time, he had no idea what the future held for him. And yet, he said, rejoice, and just to make sure that they didn’t miss it he said it again, rejoice. Now that phrase, rejoice in the Lord always.
That makes a great slogan for a bumper sticker or a refrigerator magnet. It might even look good in a get well card. But how does it work in real life? We know this, the apostle Paul had dreamed of the day that he would go to the city of Rome, and proclaim the gospel to the people of Rome and minister to the Christians there in Rome. But here, in this situation when he writes this letter, he is writing every night from a bed in a cell.
How could Paul rejoice when locked up in prison? And I think the answer is in perspective. It’s all about perspective. And Paul saw all of his circumstances through the perspective of praise.
Perspective, very simply means how you see something. It’s when you look at the same circumstances that everyone else is looking at and see something different. You see, Jesus J E S U S…
How many of you have ever seen or maybe heard of the magic eye image? books were put out and you probably have seen him in different places. But supposedly, you would look at this pattern. And there’s an image hidden in it. And for years, probably like a lot of people, I would look at those images and try to see something. I would even think maybe I saw something. I’m trying to pick out like, what was it I’m supposed to see? I’m trying to see something in this image.
One day, I was determined to try and figure out if this thing really did work. And so I did what everybody does these days, when I wanted to know for sure how to find something, I Googled it. And sure enough, there were articles explaining how the magic eye works.
So after following the instructions and practicing for a while, my wife might say, maybe a little bit too long. But suddenly, I could see these amazing 3d images, just jump up off the page.
I learned to see things from a different perspective. Hey, if you have figured it out, if you’ve seen the magic eye, and it works for you do something for me. In the comments below, just put in it works. And if you’ve tried it, and you say, hey, I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me, just type in there, it’s a hoax. But I’m telling you, it really works. And one of the tips that I was given, was to get up real close to the image, but not to look at the details of the image, but literally, to look through it, to look beyond it.
Now with that in mind, I want to read to you a passage from the book of Philippians, chapter number one in two different versions. So the first is my spin on the Craig Rochelle bad perspective version.
Now, let me just say this, and I wanted to throw it out for you today, many times as a church, we have sought to bring to our people the best material that we can. And one of the things that we have is a creative team that helps us to be as creative as possible. But there are times when we’ll come across something that is really powerful and useful and we’ll use it.
So this series, for example, Anxious For Nothing is really a series that Craig Rochelle used at Life Church in Oklahoma and their other campuses. And he shares this freely. And I want to acknowledge that and thank God for churches like Life Church. Like the liquid church here in New Jersey and pastor Tim Lucas, who share so much material freely. Because here’s the thing, we really believe whatever it takes, and we are willing to do whatever we can to bring the best material to people that we possibly can.
So here’s his version. Let me read it to you and follow along as I read. Now, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me really stinks. God led me down. I’m overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Because of the torture I’ve been going through, I’m quitting my Connect group, and never going back to church. That’s Philippians chapter one, verses 12 and 13. In what Greg Rochelle calls the bad perspective version.
But now, let’s go back and read what Paul really said. Philippians chapter one, verses 12 and 13. Follow if you have your Bible, open it up or go on your device and follow along here Philippians 1, 12-13. I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole Imperial Guard, and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. This is the perspective of praise.
The perspective of pain sees it differently. The perspective of pain says your dreams are over. You are stuck here. It keeps you from sleeping and makes you feel like you just can’t breathe. And I think this is why we often become vulnerable to self-medicating, doing things to distract us and to soften our feelings. But the perspective of praise sees it differently.
Their perspective of praise says God will never leave me. No weapon fashioned against me will succeed. God, we’ll use this for good. It’s true, Paul wanted to go to Rome and tell people about the love of Jesus. But not this way. He’s chained to a new set of Roman guards every eight hours.
Can you imagine that? Here are these guards are chained up to Paul, eight hours at a time. I don’t doubt that they were hearing a lot about Jesus. I wonder who was his real prisoner. He had a chance to share the message of Christ with the most influential leaders in Rome. And yet, in all of this, I want you to keep this in mind. This was not Paul’s first time in prison, he had practice. And I think that’s why he could say to the people of Philippi, that what happened to him was for a reason.
Now, I want you to follow with me in the book of Acts, chapter 16. And I want you to notice what happened the first time, Paul was in prison when he was actually in the city of Philippi. And it’s in chapter 16, verses 22 through 24. Listen to what happened. The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into the inner prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safe. Having received this order, he put them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Now, why did all this happen? Why all the anger and all the violence? Well, we read it was because Paul and Silas had cast out a demon from a slave girl who was earning money for her owners by telling the future. And when they saw that this demon was gone, and she could no longer perform for them, they were furious. And so they dragged Paul and Silas to court, got them arrested and thrown into prison.
But I want you to notice here, how Paul and Silas responded. Let’s read on in Acts 16 and look at verse number 25. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the prisoners were listening to them.
Just picture it, here they are bloody, bruised, blackened eyes, broken noses, cracked ribs, lying on a cold prison floor and they think, hey, it’s time to worship. I can just imagine Paul and Silas talking. Hey, Silas, this is awful. What do you think we should do? and Silas says Hey, I know. Let’s have a praise and worship night.
I can’t imagine how they could do that, except for this. They were stripped of their clothes but they were not stripped of their confidence in God. They were stripped of their clothes, but they were not stripped of the peace of God. They were stripped of their clothes, but they were not stripped of the joy of the Lord. They were praying and praising.
I think the guards by the way made a big mistake. Because they didn’t separate Paul and Silas. They were able to encourage one another. I think one of the enemy’s tactics is to try to isolate you. Satan knows if he can get you alone. He can really work on you. He’s a sniper, and he wants to pick you off. And this is why we need to stay together. Even during this time of quarantine. We need to make sure that we are staying connected.
That’s why it’s good to watch the services live to even comment and get engaged in what’s going on during our preaching time. And it’s important also to be involved in Connect Groups in some way. And I want you to know that we are soon going to be starting up a new session of Connect Groups. And if you’re not already in one, I just want to encourage you. If you’re a part of The Bridge Church, I believe and we believe, as leaders of this church, that the health of our church in the future depends on people being connected through these groups.
And so go to our website, bridgechurchnj.org. Or in the comments below, ask for information, and make sure that you are ready to be engaged in one of these groups when we get them going again.
Now, I want you to notice two facts here. One is that they were praising God while they were in prison. Now, this may sound like this is crazy. But remember, they were praising the who, not the what. God is always worthy of praise no matter what is going on. And secondly, praise often comes before the provision. Now if you don’t know what happened, I’m going to give you a spoiler alert right now, because I’m going to tell you what happened. God sent an earthquake. And when he did, those prison doors came open, the chains fell off. And God had done a miracle.
Now, why does this matter today? It matters, because when Paul is writing here in Philippians, chapter number four, he is once again in a prison. And he understands that God could deliver him. But at this point, God hadn’t delivered him. And yet he’s still saying, rejoice in the Lord always.
You can only do this if you are looking at your situation through the perspective of praise. When you see it from this perspective, then instead of focusing on the overwhelming circumstances, you look through them, and you see something jump out.
You see the God who knows you and loves you. You see the God who is worthy of praise, no matter what’s going on. You see, the God who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that you ask or think.
And when you see him, those giants shrink down to size, hope is restored, and all of a sudden, you aren’t worrying and fretting. You are waiting to see the next miracle.
Now I don’t know what God has in store for the future. None of us know that. But I know that God will see me through. Listen to what Jesus said in the book of Matthew chapter six, starting with verse number 31. Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, what shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Now yes, we see here truly, God wants us to do what we can today. He wants us to take action. But he also wants us to know that we can trust Him and to leave our future in his all mighty hands.
Will you do this today? What problem or problems are you facing? Are you dealing with today that looking at them from the perspective of praise could change? But you may be asking and I know this is important, how do you do it? And I want to give you some practical steps.
First of all, I believe that you need to consider God’s record. That’s why you need to be in the Bible, reading the scriptures, seeing how God brought people out of all kinds of circumstances. God did great miracles for his people at just the time that was right. So search the scriptures, and consider God’s record. But also remember what he’s done in your life.
Were there things in your past that you thought were going to destroy you and at the time, you couldn’t see a way out, and then God just came in there and stood up and made a difference? Remember those times, don’t forget them. And then, of course, hang around people who have experienced God’s help, and listen to their stories. That will help you to focus on the perspective of praise.
Secondly, pray to God and ask him say, God, I need your help. I can’t handle this, I can’t do this. I need you to give me the perspective of praise. And let him take you into His everlasting arms and be your source of comfort.
And then, thirdly, surrender the results to God. Be willing to accept whatever outcome he chooses. Now, you might think, here, wait a minute, if I do that something awful might happen. But I want you to know, things awful do happen. But remember, you can’t control the outcome anyway.
So let God decide what is best. Trust Him. If you think about it, when Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi, and the doors flew open and their chains fell off. You know what they did? They stayed right there in prison.
And why did they do that? Because they saw an opportunity to share the love of Jesus, not only with the jailer but with his whole family. And that night, they came to faith in Christ and were baptized. Why? Because Paul and Silas realized they were better off in the circumstances that they no doubt wanted to escape. But now they saw a higher purpose.
I think the perspective of praise is expressed so well In the song, I raise a hallelujah. It’s my Bethel music’s Jonathan David Hyzer, and his wife, Melissa. And you may know this, but they actually wrote this song when the CEO of Bethel Music, Joel Taylor was going through a hard time because his son was literally in a place, Jackson Taylor, his son, was actually in a place where he was fighting for his life in the hospital.
It was in the midst of this that they wrote this song, I raise a hallelujah. Now listen, that word hallelujah. That’s not a religious word. It has meaning in Hebrew. It comes from a compound of two words. One is praise, and the other is Jehovah. And so what we’re being encouraged to do in this song, is raise a hallelujah. And then notice what it says in the presence of my enemies. That’s what Paul and Silas were doing there in prison. They were praising God in the presence of their enemies. I raise a Hallelujah, louder than my unbelief. When we’re going through hard times. We are tempted not to believe so raise a Hallelujah, praise God. Just start doing it.
I raise a hallelujah. My weapon is a melody. I raise a hallelujah. Heaven comes to fight for me. I raise a hallelujah with everything inside of me. I raise a hallelujah. I like this line. I will watch the darkness flee. I raise a hallelujah in the middle of the mystery. Not when the doors are open. Not when the chains fall off in the middle of the mystery. I’m going to continue praising God. I raise a hallelujah. Fear, you lost your hold on me. I’m gonna sing in the middle of the storm louder and louder. You’re gonna hear my praises roar. Up from the ashes, hope will arise, death is defeated the King is alive?
What a wonderful expression. And can I just say here, how much I appreciate those who write songs and those who lead in worship. So many times, the songs that we sing on Sunday are in my mind throughout the week.
And it’s often when I’m facing stressful situations that I find myself singing those songs. So I just want to say thanks to Joe and the worship team. Listen, we know you guys invest a lot of time to make worship a powerful experience. And I would just say, thank you. And I would encourage all of you today if the worship team is blessing your heart, why not put that in the comments below, just say thanks, worship team. And let them know that they are making a difference.
Now listen, seeing things through the perspective of praise takes practice, and you won’t be perfect.
Again, I was talking about the magic eye, about 75% of the time, I can look at one of those images and see that amazing 3d image jumped out. But I still don’t see it all the time. And I’m the same way about being anxious, about being overwhelmed. Yeah, there are times when I feel it. But I’m getting better. And I’m practicing. And so I want you to join me in learning to praise God when he delivers you and praise God when he doesn’t. I just want to encourage you today to rejoice in the Lord. And again, I say, rejoice.
Now if this whole thing just seems foreign to you, let me encourage you today to do something. Ask God to make Himself known to you in some way. You may not even believe in a God today. That’s all right, just call out to the unknown God. Ask him to show you some evidence that he is in your life, and then begin to look around you for signs. God is there. And that is why he wants you to reach out to him.
You see God, who came to us in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross who is buried, and on the third day rose again, wants you to come to him through faith in Jesus.
And if you already have become a Christ-follower, but you haven’t come to the point that you can let go and just let God be in control. Let me remind you, Jesus is not just your Savior, he’s your Lord, give him control.
And if you’re already practicing on this, if you’ve been living a life from the perspective of praise, don’t look back. I want you to know you will continue to be challenged. In fact, there might even be worse circumstances. But remember what God’s done and keep your focus on him. And let your life be a light to someone in your life. Someone at work, someone in your neighborhood, someone down the street, someone maybe in your own family, who will see the perspective of praising you. And when they see you praising God, in spite of the circumstances, and in the midst of the circumstances, they will be blessed, and you will be enriched.
Let’s pray. Father, today we want to ask you to make a difference in somebody’s life. Lord stress is a reality. And life is full of problems that we really can’t solve. And Lord, we have absolutely no control of the future. But we want to learn today, how to see all of these circumstances, through the perspective of praise. Show us what it looks like, and lead us to a stronger faith in you. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Hey, thanks for joining us today. If you are new here to The Bridge Church, we would love the chance to get to know you a little bit better. The best way we can do that is if you’d fill out our digital Connect card. You’ll see the link to that in our description. in the comment section.
Also, if you made some type of faith decision, we would love to hear about that and journey with you. You can let us know using that digital Connect card.
I want to encourage those of you who call The Bridge Church your home to continue to be generous. You can give through our normal means, text to give, online giving. mail it in. You’ll see the information in the description and comments section for that as well.
One more thing to mention before you click off today. I want to encourage you if you are not in one of our Connect Groups. We’re launching a brand new semester of those and it’s so important now more than ever before that you get into a group. Times like these with so much going on in our world, it’s very easy to feel isolated, and alone. And now more than ever, we need to be part of a community. And the best way that you can do that is through groups.
We say around here, circles are better than rows. And we believe that you need to get in a circle of people that you could do life with. So I encourage you, you’ll see the information for that in the comment description section on how you can get signed up for one of our Connect Groups.
Hey, thanks again for joining us today. We have been the church here, now let’s be the church out there.