Picture yourself alongside the apostle Paul. There you are in a dark, miserable prison. Rats are plentiful. The smell of human waste is everywhere. You have no idea when you’re going to be released. You’ve been faithful to Jesus to share the good news of the gospel with many in the city of Philippi and because of that, you’ve had handcuffs slapped on your wrists and you were thrown into this prison.
Then, Paul leans over to you. You don’t necessarily expect Paul to gripe and complain, but you weren’t prepared for what he said next: “Brother, I know it’s late. I know we’ve just been beaten and the rats are starting to nip at us, but we should start praising the Lord.”
In that moment, what would your reaction be?
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would just jump right in singing and praising God like Silas did. Your reaction to that statement tells a lot about what you believe God deserves praise for. Paul had learned something that others before Him learned: We don’t just praise God because circumstances are going well. We praise Him because of who He is.
In this way, praise is a discipline. We don’t just wake up one morning desiring to praise God in the darkest and most bitter circumstances. What’s more likely is that we begin every day to delight in God for who He is and what He’s done for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. *This allows us to praise Him no matter the circumstances.*
Listen to David:
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,” (Psalm 31:7)
“Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright,” (Psalm 33:1)
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” (Psalm 34:1).
All of these point to David calling us to make a decision, based on who God is, to offer praise. None of these commands are based on the circumstances going on around him or us. In fact, some of them call us to praise in spite of the circumstances.
Beloved, we must get better at praising God for *WHO* He is, despite our circumstances. It’s the only practice that will get us to the place where we praise God in the prison. We want to be the people whose spirits are so alive with God that despite the gruesomeness around us we still love God.
We don’t get there in a minute. We get there day by day, praising God where we are at right now.
Some of you aren’t good at sharing your faith. You are fearful. You have a hard to bringing up Jesus in conversations. When you do,it’s muddled.
I understand. I’ve been there.
There are two things that I think every believer should understand about sharing their faith.
The first is that, with some exceptions, most of you were the best at sharing your faith when you knew the least about Jesus, Christianity, and theology. It was your fresh love for Jesus and the wonder of being saved at all that motivated you to tell your friends, co-workers, anyone who would listen about how great Jesus is. Did you lose that? If you did, it’s time to get it back. Growing in Jesus shouldn’t take away the wonder. If you grew away from the wonder of Jesus, maybe you grew in the wrong direction.
The other thing is that growing in sharing the good news takes time. Don’t get frustrated if the first, second, and third times don’t go well. Press on. Sharing your faith is a muscle you strengthen over time. You don’t set a resolution on New Year’s Eve to get in shape and wake up on January 2nd with a ripped body. You set a goal, work towards it, and slowly see improvement. John Wimber used to say you couldn’t say God didn’t heal today until you prayed for 100 people and nothing happened. I would submit to you that you can’t say you’re not good at evangelism until you shared the Gospel 100 times and nothing happens. In the mean time, pray, get closer to Jesus, get around some people who will support you in this journey. You will get better.
I’ve been doing this for the last couple of years, and finally, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m starting to get good at sharing the Gospel. No one’s come to faith (yet), but I’m somewhat regularly sharing in a way that I know connects to the hearts of people around me.
You can, too, if you don’t give up.
I’ve been reading through the book of Acts recently. There’s so much wisdom in this book to learn from as it relates to evangelism, church planting, and the apostolic church the Lord is looking to build! Throughout the book, we see the early church wrestle with different issues that the apostles probably didn’t anticipate when they began Jesus’ mission. One of those issues was the issue of the Law and circumcision.
As the Gospel spread from the Jewish apostles to mixed race Samaritans and then to “unclean” Gentiles, this issue sprang to the forefront. Each of these races now had those among them who believed in Jesus, but did they have to become Jews (be circumcised and follow the Law) in order to follow Jesus? We look back at this question and think of it as something only the early church struggled with, but we struggle with similar issues.
How you ask? When a new believer comes to Christ, what standards do you automatically ask them to adhere to? Do you expect people to stop smoking, cut their hair (or grow their hair out), or stop swearing before you’re willing to accept them as a true part of the church? Then you’re still wrestling with the same question the Paul, Peter, James and the Elders were wrestling with in Acts 15.
See, the issue the early church addressed in Acts 15 goes beyond circumcision. It’s really an attempt by the early church to outline basic lifestyle changes we should teach to new believers. The first church council was trying to define what it looks like for Jesus to live in new disciples who aren’t Jews without putting the new disciples under the yolk of legalism. What was their conclusion? They wrote a letter to all the churches with the following conclusion:
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.
No idolatry. No drinking blood. No sexual immorality. That’s it. This was the line between repentance and a life of sin, between legalism and true religion.
Some today seem to advocate believers can do whatever they want. There is no standard, just the acknowledgement of Jesus as alive and wanting Him to be a part of their lives is enough. Others seem to advocate a long list of do’s and don’ts that seem to make people more of a member of the era a certain denomination was birthed than a follower of Jesus. Neither of these is the answer. They’re just catering to a certain preference to confront or not confront the culture.
If we were able to invite the first century apostles and elders back in time to discuss this issue, I’d believe they’d give us much the same advice: “Let’s not put heavy burdens on people who are coming to Christ. Let’s not make them live up to a code that we still struggle with to this day. But as a sign of their walk with Jesus, teach them to leave behind whatever dead things they used to worship. Let them walk in purity, forsaking sexual relationships outside of a marriage between a man and woman.” From there, discipleship and the Holy Spirit would gradually over time grow the disciples.
What about you? What requirements do you put on new disciples? Do you err on the side of giving them too little or too much instruction? What can we learn from the apostles and the elders?