Change of perspective changes everything
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
We are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to rejoice when we feel anxious. Rejoice? He even says it twice, just in case we didn’t hear him the first time. Rejoice! It makes a nice refrigerator magnet. It reads well on a greeting card. It can signal you are spiritual on a coffee mug. It’s easy to quote but it’s sometimes hard to receive. Can we really rejoice when you’re upset? Does that flat tire fill your heart with a joyful noise? Rejoice always? Seriously? How?
“Always” means when your spouse lies, when you’re battling cancer, when you lose that scholarship, when your boyfriend cheats, when your son is on drugs, in the middle of those sleepless nights, when you can’t make rent, when you miss your family.
What do you do when life has broken you? You feel depressed, dejected, discouraged. You lose hope. You lose heart. It can be so overwhelming. Feelings of uncertainty surround you. You live with a sense of dread. When you’re worried, you can’t sleep; you’re restless at best. Your mind won’t stop. Anxiety tries to drown you. I know. I’ve been there.
I’ve never been beaten and thrown into prison. But Paul was. He had plenty of reason to be anxious. In Acts 16, one day Paul was going to a place of prayer. He went there before, met some disciples and a church was formed. This day, however, he was being followed by a demon-possessed girl who told fortunes. Paul, being Paul, cast out the demon and she could no longer predict the future. Some people objected to this and a riot broke out. When the dust settled, Paul found himself bruised and bleeding, in the deepest dungeon, feet shackled to his companion. It was a truly miserable scene.
Now, what would be your first reaction to this circumstance? What would your perspective be in this situation? I’d be whining and moaning. Scared half to death of what my fate might be in the morning. A feeling of dread would be overwhelming, and I seriously doubt I would sleep at all.
It’s all about perspective. Perspective means how you see something.
There’s the perspective of pain. That says, “my dreams are over.” “I’m stuck here.” “I can’t sleep, can’t breathe.” There are feelings of confinement, being overwhelmed, uncertainty, being scattered, nervousness. You feel every heartbeat. You’re sweaty, afraid, panicky, shaky, and unsure. You can’t eat. You’re stressed and angry.
Not in your wildest dreams would ever respond the way Paul did. How did he respond? With a night of worship. No joke. Check this out: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25. He had been stripped of his clothes, but not his confidence. He had been robbed of health, but not his peace. He was beaten down, but he didn’t lose his joy. Was he filled with discouragement, doubts, worries? No. He had been severely flogged and thrown into prison for serving God. He was bloody and bruised; had black eyes and a broken nose. He was suffering from busted ribs and was thrown onto a cold, hard prison floor, wrongly accused, violently beaten. His response? Let’s do some worship!
That’s not the perspective of pain. That’s the perspective of praise, rejoicing in all circumstance, knowing that God will never leave me, never forsake me, in all things he is working for good! It’s being confident in Christ ability, not my own. It’s centered on his best, not mine. It’s being at rest in him, at peace with him. My hope is in him. I know he loves, even though my situation is dreadful. There may be weeping through the night, joy comes in the morning. Life may be completely stormy now, but I know the One who calms the storm, and I am known by him and he loves me. I may want to die now, but he allows me to thrive in my circumstance, and be fully alive in him. I trust him and I am encouraged by his presence in my life.
If you are reading the story in Acts 16, notice the timing of what happens next, carefully. Paul and his companion are praising God while they were in prison. They have no reasonable expectation of what happens next. This was not praise for what God was doing in their lives at that moment. It wasn’t a ridiculous, blithe response to their dire situation. It was praise for who God was. Their singing of praises was being done before the provision of a miracle had occurred.
So what did happen? “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:25-26
Picture the scene, if you will, it’s midnight in prison. Paul says, “Hey Silas, you awake?” “Yeah.” “Let’s start praying and singing some hymns to worship God who is great and mighty!” “Ok.” Violent earthquake! Every corner of prison shakes! Prison doors fly open! Chains fall off! The key that freed them was the sound of their praise.
Why does this matter so much? When Paul wrote to the Philippians about rejoicing and not being anxious, he was in prison, again. It was not his first rodeo. (See Acts 16) He is now a prisoner in Rome (spoiler alert) awaiting execution. God delivered him from the Philippian jail. God could have delivered him from the prison in Rome, but God did not. But Paul rejoiced always.
His message to you and me is clear: Praise him when he delivers me, praise him when he does not! If he breaks me out, I will praise him. If he doesn’t, I will praise him. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! So, praise him when the world seems against me. Praise him when I’m waiting. Praise him in the best of times. Praise him in the worst of times. Not praising him for what he does, but rather for who he is. Who am I praising? What’s his name? His name is Jesus!
One more observation: God opened the prison doors in Philippi, but Paul didn’t leave the prison. Question: If the chain fell, and the doors were open, and the guard was asleep, why stay? What would make him stay? There is purpose in our lives; God’s purpose. Paul’s purpose for being in prison wasn’t complete. According to scripture, the jailer and his family were baptized into Christ and the church in Philippi grew.
Changing your perspective from the pain of anxiety to the praise of God will change everything for you.