Although we took a few weeks break, this morning, we’re going to continue our message series entitled ‘Break Free!’. In it, we’re learning how to break free from various prisons that keep us from sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation with others.
18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail (for teaching others about Jesus). 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
Just as God set the apostles free here in Acts so that they could tell people all about the new life that Jesus offers, He desires to set us free from these various prisons so that we are able to tell others this good news! A few weeks ago, we learned how to break free from rejection by valuing the acceptance of God above all else.
This Thursday, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving. Appropriately, we’re going to learn this morning how to break free from the prison of unthankfulness.
At first, I had to really question God and try and figure out how this is a prison that keeps us from sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation. However, as I prayed and listened, what God revealed all began to make perfect sense!
The essence of sharing our faith with others is telling them:
Who God is
What He is like
What He has done
What He is willing to do now
These things are all inclusive of the gospel – good news – that we are called to share with others! They are all things that create a sense of gratitude for the benefits that we receive from knowing God and having a relationship with Him. This is exactly what thankfulness is!
There is no possible way to share our faith with others without an attitude of thankfulness. This is why the enemy often attempts to deceive us into the prison of unthankfulness.
If we grumble and complain about our circumstances and leave it at that, we are essentially boasting and glorifying what Satan is doing. We’re verbally expressing complete faith in the enemy’s ability to steal, kill, and destroy us and complete doubt in God’s ability to turn our circumstances around for His glory and our good. More than this, James 1 reveals that if we doubt that God is able or willing to do this, He won’t do it as it is through faith that we receive the good things from God that we need.
This is one of the first ways that we get imprisoned by the enemy with unthankfulness. When we are ungrateful and whiny and complainy about things, things won’t get better. Why? Because if we are ungrateful, whiny, and complainy, then we obviously don’t have faith and trust in God’s ability to turn the circumstances around for our good and His glory.
Now, it seems a bit harsh to say that if we are grumbling and complaining, then we are revealing that we doubt God and do not trust Him. I mean, we all have bad days and we all get whiny, right? Jesus, Himself, said:
Matthew 12:33-37 (NKJV)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Jesus was pretty clear about the words that we speak. He takes them very seriously! Why? Because what we say with our mouths reveals what our hearts have an abundance of. Think about that for just a second. Jesus didn’t say the words that we speak reveal that there is a tiny speck of that in our hearts, He said that what we speak comes from what there is an abundance of. If we speak bitterness and doubt, then our hearts have an overflowing abundance of bitterness and doubt. If we speak words of gratitude, then our hearts have an overflowing abundance of thankfulness.
In fact, that word that Jesus used for abundance has a twofold meaning in the Greek. First, it means that it is an abundance, or full of, just as we initially think. However, it also means that which is left over or a residue left behind. We who have accepted Christ’s salvation are a new creation, including our hearts. However, there often times is a residue left behind as we strive to live by the Spirit and not by our flesh. There are some things that we cling to from our old selves that we struggle to let go of. Unthankfulness is often a residue left behind from our old selves that we need to allow God to wipe away from the new heart that He has given us.
Think about this from the natural world. If you look inside of a dirty old barn, it will often have a residue of dust and dirt covering everything. Most people would peek inside and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing new inside since everything looks old and dusty. However, they miss the fact that there’s a brand new car sitting just a few feet from their noses underneath an old dust-covered tarp. If we do not allow God to remove that old residue of unthankfulness from our brand new hearts, no one will see and understand that you have been made new even though you know very well that you have been!
Isn’t this the perfect trap of the enemy to set for us, though? He steals from us, which causes lack in our lives. Then, he causes us to grumble and complain about our lack. This grumbling and complaining reveals a degree of doubt toward God within our hearts. If we doubt in our hearts, then we can’t receive from God to eliminate our lack. Our lack remains and even the smallest doubt in God’s ability to provide begins to grow increasingly. We’re then helplessly imprisoned by unthankfulness!
When we go about life with this type of attitude, it’s going to be rare for us to share any good news about God because we’re not even believing it ourselves. When we doubt and do not believe that God is able and willing to do the miraculous in our own lives, we simply aren’t going to be motivated to share that He is able and willing in someone else’s life. And even further, if we do share any good news about God, it is going to be void and invalidated by our grumbling and complaining in the eyes and hearts of others.
The key to breaking free from this prison is to correct our perspective of our circumstances. Yes, they aren’t good or desirable. However, God does not change based on our circumstances. God is still good and faithful. God is still our defender, our healer, our provider, our savior, our deliverer, etc. When we begin to understand who He is, we begin to have faith in His ability to change our circumstances. This fills our hearts with a sense of gratitude for the benefits that we are able to receive from Him, otherwise known as thankfulness! Now God, through our faith, is able to do the miraculous and our difficult circumstances were simply setting the stage for God to be able to reveal Himself to us in even greater fullness!
OK, but now, let’s be realistic. Life is tough and even those with the greatest faith experience some of the greatest challenges and rough spots in life. We all begin to feel grumbly and whiny. We all are tempted to be ungrateful when difficult issues arise in our lives. However, we’re called:
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
Although we simply cannot be ungrateful, whiny, and complainy, we also can’t be fake liars. We can’t just go about life with a smile on our faces as if though everything is just peachy and always sunny in our lives whenever it’s really not. This is also deceit of the enemy that tempts us to do this so that our testimony and witness becomes invalid. People can’t relate to us and they are discerning enough to call our bluff.
Think about the Bible for a moment. Not only does it record the awesome goodness and faithfulness of God, it also records the real lives of real people who struggled, who messed up, who invoked God’s burning anger, but were still forgiven, blessed, and provided for. Here’s the awesome balance through it all!
There is a way for us to express the negative things that are going on in our lives, but still expressing our faith. We can do both! In fact, this is a powerful tool for sharing our faith because it creates common ground with others. Most people can relate to getting sick, or having a lack of finances, or any other of the many hardships that we can face in life. Most people are used to having conversations about these things; just listen to people around you!
However, most people are not used to hearing our real issues and then being told how God has worked through that circumstance in our lives before or what He is able to do through that circumstance now. Most people are not used to hearing a positive perspective on our issues. They’re not used to hearing someone having the same issues, but then expressing thankfulness for how good God has still been.
When we share the issues that we’re dealing with in life, we reveal that we are real people with real problems just like they are. However, when we share the hope that we have within us, whenever we share about our God and what He has done or can do, we reveal our faith. We reveal that we have faith in a real God who is greater than the issues that we face. We reveal that God cares for us and is concerned about our issues. We reveal our heart of thankfulness toward God and as we train ourselves to do this consistently, the miraculous will begin to happen in the lives of those around us!
This is a choice that we must make. Often, we cannot control our circumstances. We can always, however, control our response. Choosing to be thankful in all circumstances isn’t actually optional for us; it is simply black and white God’s will for us.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Most of the time, as we choose this lifestyle of thankfulness, people will begin to get curious. They will begin to ask about the hope that you have. You will face some of the same problems that others do, but you have hope where they are hopeless. There may be a few that respond in anger and they’ll try to tear you down. Even these few still obviously see that hope that you have within you and are just testing it to see how real it is. They’re just putting you to the test to see if you really believe what you say you believe and are what you say you are. They probably have a background where they were hurt and let down by a fake and therefore are skeptical of you. However, as you continue to do what is right and what is good by being thankful in all circumstances and blessing others (even those who curse you), be sure and be ready to answer these curious people!
1 Peter 3:13-17
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Always be ready to give an ANSWER for the HOPE within us. Yes, we struggle with the same problems, but we have something else as well. We have the answer and the solution to these problems – JESUS! Don’t boast in the lack or problem, boast in what God is able to do about it!
Get out there and break free from the prison of unthankfulness and give thanks in all circumstances. After all, that’s God’s will for you!