Look at Acts 12:1-10. Peter imprisioned for his faith. Herod was intent on killing him to please people who wanted to stop Peter from telling the world about Jesus and living His life for God. God, however, had different plans for Peter and led him straight out of prison.
So how does this relate to us today? We don't live in fear of being thrown in prison and executed for our faith. But...there is something that has a similar effect on us. There is a kind of prison we often find ourselves in...one that stops us from telling the world about Jesus and prevents us from living for God. It threatens to take away our ability to truly live and experience the fullness of life in God's Spirit
And like the prison Peter was in, God wants to set us free, too. He has opened the door for us...and he's waiting for us to follow Him out.
Too often we don't even recognize the walls around us...walls that are blocking out our view of God and what He is doing all around us. Our senses are so overwhelmed with the dank mustiness of our cells that we miss the sweetness of life in Christ. Yet if only we knew...if we took a good look around, we'd notice that the chains are off and the door is open. We only need to follow that angel out. Fresh air...freedom...happiness...new life are waiting for us.
This prison I'm referring to is what I'll call the Prison of Fear. Our lives are filled with all kinds of fears, worries and doubts. These fears imprison us. They paralyze us. They make us slaves to a life that never knows of life fully lived in Christ.
There are all kind of reasons we have fear in our lives:
News: economy, jobs, H1N1
Even more often; subtle, internal fears: We wonder what our employers and co-workers think of us-do they value me?
We are concerned about what kind of husband, wife, mother, or father we are. Do they need me? Will my spouse love and accept me?
We worry what our parents, teachers and friends think about us. Will they accept me?
We wonder what do people think of me? Am I needed? Am I good enough? And very often we fear that the answer to these questions in "No". Because we are convinced of this, we respond by doing things to avoid or prevent the things we fear will happen rather than embracing who God made us to be and really pursuing the life He's given us.
Churches lose track of their mission because they get focused on numbers of people attending and fear failing if those numbers ever go down. The fear causes us to focus on things that retain people rather than on making disciples and reaching people for Christ. It traps us and throws us off track.
Sometimes we fear what it means to seek God...where will He lead us? What will we have to let go of? Will God come through for me.
Fear often times leads to sin:we fear missing out on something. We fear that the life God wants for us will be boring and unsatisfying; and sin offers easy pleasure.
In all these ways and more, we have concerns in life. Sometimes they are legitimate concerns...but the way we respond is to assume the worst, and we end up living in fear.
Can you see the prison? Fear limits our perspectives and our choices. Our response to circumstances is controlled by our fear. We feel as if we have no choices. We feel MUST respond in a certain way if we are going to avoid the things we dread. Because of what we fear we never consider alternative ways of looking at ourselves and relationships with others, so we get boxed in.
Let me give you a personal example-my prison
Being controlled by fear has gotten some people trapped in desparate situations. Some people go down the wrong path in life...and then get trapped there even when they want to escape because they are afraid they have done wrong so long that no one will take them back.
Many of us live our live day in and day out feeling stuck or overwhelemed or lost because our fears and worries trap us.
Sometimes we just accept our fears as a given part of our life...we start to believe we are lost...we have failed...noone wants us...and we let the hope for anything better fade away. We sit down in our prison and resign ourselves to the belief that our lives will never go anywhere...
Responding to concerns with fear and worry is like staring at the back wall of the prison and seeing only bricks in front of us....we lose sight of anything better.
But that is not what Peter did, and that is not what God wants us to do. He wants us to turn around and see that the door is open and Jesus is standing there waiting to lead us out.
When Jesus began his ministry, He stood up in the temple and read, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luk 4:18-19 NIV)
This is what He came to do, and one of the biggest prisons He came to open is the prison of fear by showing us how to replace fear with faith in God.
God asks us to have faith in Him in all our circumstances....believe in Him rather than in the things we fear will happen. Faith is the opposite of fear, and is the key to walking out of this prison.
There is a great example of the contrast between fear and faith in the old Testament. Moses led the Israelites through the desert to the land God has promised them. As they got close, God told them to send 12 men to spy out the land. We can read the report they came back with in the book of Numbers, chapt 13, starting in v 25.
-compare the 10 to Caleb and Joshua.
Notice that the circumstances were the same. It is a fact that there were strong people with large and fortified cities ahead of them. The 10 spies responded in fear: they only looked to themselves and didn't believe they had what it took to take the land.
But Joshua and Caleb had faith in God's promise above anything else. They fully believed that if God said it, the He would provide a way. They put their faith in HIM above anything else they may have thought.
This is how God wants us to respond in our own lives.
In Romans 1:16, Paul writes "I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile"
and in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
God has promised His Spirit to all who believe and put their trust in Jesus...this is not a Spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control. Jesus promised that the Spirit would tell us where to go and what to say...the question is do we believe him? Do we truly believe the God has called us into a relationship with Him...and that He is with us as He presents us with opportunities to tell others about him?
Do we really believe that God is for us? Do we really believe statements like Numbers 23:19 which says, "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" Do we believe this? Do we know that we can always trust God's promises?
And if we know that God keeps His promises, how de we repsond in our daily lives to things such as what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:25-33?
Believing...truly and fully believing in God's ability and desire to provide for us is the key to walking out of the prison of fear. This is why James wrote in James 1:5-6 that "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."
And Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It's knowing ahead of time that God will take care of you.
If we ask God for something...we need to believe and trust in His ability to provide-even when...otherwise we are still responding in fear rather than faith. God wants us to trust HIM fully! Trust that He will provide the wisdom we need to deal with any situation.
That doesn't mean ignoring danger or legitimate concerns. Faith doesn't mean sticking our head in the sand and pretending danger isn't there...God is wise and will tell us how best to deal with these things. Sometimes it is best to respond with some precaution and preparation...but then trusting that what God has told us to do will protect us.
Sometimes, however, God will tell us to respond is ways that seem foreign to us or that feels uncomfortable...He will push us beyond the limits we've set for ourselves in order to set us free from old and self-destructive habits and to cause us to have a greater influence for Him.
You may even have other people telling you to do what you've always done, or they'll tell you to stay in your comfort zone, take care of yourself first, or who cares-everyone does it. But those are hollow and deceptive ways of thinking rooted in human tradition and selfishness (Col 2:8). When we seek God first in all things...and put our full trust in Him, He does give us the wisdom to see when we need to change our ways.
But how do we get there...you can't just say, "I'll trust in you God" and automatically put away all your fears and worries. You need to really examine and ask yourself what you believe about God. Do you really know who He is and do you really believe he wants to and provide for you? Do you know that God sees someone wonderful and necessary when He looks at you, and that when you have been purified by Jesus, He sees nothing of the sins of your past?
All of us are going to have differents ways of answering those questions depending upon where we are in our faith.
To some who have never made a distinct and intentional decision to accept Jesus and commit to following Him, the idea of trusting God may be completely foreign right now. I'd suggest asking yourslf why you don't believe...what's holding you back...really? Forget what experiences you may have had with church or church people....ignore anything that says you are too far gone and not good enough...set aside those voices that are telling you how terrible it will be to trust Jesus...and seek to know who He really is....don't let those fears and doubts keep you caged up...find out the truth for yourself-it's right here in God's Word...and we'd love to help you get started.
Some of us have declared our trust in Jesus...but as life races on, we get caught up in circumstances. We discover how situations in the past have caused us to fear going down certain paths...or fear that we will get hurt again if we expose ourselves in certain ways...and we face some fear in stepping out in faith to trust God.
But we need to ask ourselves...which is more fearful. Stepping out in faith and doing the things God asks us to do, or ignoring God and directly disobeying Him?
We need to keep striving forward and asking God to show us how to have complete faith in Him...keep seeking to know Him and finding the evidence of his faithfulness to us.
I would love to see us all be free of our own prisons this week. Take a good look at your life and the way you are responding to people and situations to deal with. Where are you most challenged to live out the life God wants for you...and enjoy it? What's holding you back...what's keeping you from stepping out in faith and trusting God? Ask God to show you how to embrace faith in Him and leave the prison of fear behind.