“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
It has been said that the way a person looks at a rose bush determines whether he is an optimist or a pessimist. A pessimist is sad that rose bushes have thorns. An optimist is delighted that thorn bushes have roses. Our attitudes, or perspectives, are extremely important and often will determine how effectively we can witness.
The context surrounding the verse quoted above from Acts 16 contains Paul’s and Silas’ witness in Philippi. After Paul and Silas had cast out an evil spirit from a slave girl, the owners of the girl dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities with trumped-up charges. The crowds joined in the attack against these two godly men, after which the authorities had them stripped, beaten and severely flogged. Then, without any medical attention to their severe wounds, and though they were Roman citizens, they were thrown into the jail where they were placed in the inner cell. Their feet were placed in the stocks—a device that caused severe pain.
Our attitudes, or perspectives, are extremely important and often will determine how effectively we can witness.
Even though they were publicly humiliated and were in intense pain, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns. The other prisoners were listening. No doubt they were wide-eyed as Paul and Silas, rather than complaining and threatening to retaliate against their accusers or the authorities, were praising God through their prayers and hymn-singing. Suddenly, God miraculously delivered them by an earthquake. In the process the jailer, his family and possibly even some of the fellow prisoners were saved through the gospel testimony of Paul and Silas.
Paul’s and Silas’ attitudes (or perspectives) were an important ingredient in their testimony. Had they been grumbling, complaining, even cursing their situation, nobody would have listened to them. But instead, they were doing what Peter urged his readers to do when he wrote: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Peter’s readers had been dispersed because of persecution and had lost all things—their homes, their jobs, their worldly possessions and, in many cases, their families. Like them, we are also called to rejoice even when we are suffering.
Our attitudes (or perspectives) are very important ingredients in our Christian walk. They not only affect our own outlook but also those of our families, our co-workers, our friends and neighbors, our fellow church members and the lost whom we hope to evangelize. If our outlook is pessimistic or dismal, people simply do not want to be around us, much less listen to us. If we exhibit a genuine optimism and a joyful spirit, people will be attracted to our testimony.
A number of years ago I learned a phrase from a young man who was an energetic witness of the gospel. When people nonchalantly asked him, “How are you?” he would always answer, “Much better than I deserve,” meaning that he was living joyfully under God’s grace. I now answer people who ask me that question the same way. It has led to a number of brief discussions about the Lord’s wonderful grace and mercy. When one answers that question with, “OK, considering the circumstances,” or “I could be better,” or “Alright, I guess,” an opportunity is missed. An answer with a genuine, Christ-honoring statement of some sort can generate both a rich testimony and a setting in which to discuss God’s wonderful gift of grace.
However, it is not just the response to a greeting with which we are concerned—it is our overall attitude. If we are truly children of God, we have so much about which to be thankful and to rejoice. Our sins have been eternally forgiven. Our home is heaven. Someday we will share God’s glory. Our trials and difficulties in this life will soon end. Sin will be totally eradicated when we get to heaven. God is our loving Father. His grace will sustain us. His arms of protection are surrounding us. He has given us loving brothers and sisters in the Lord. Even our sufferings are here to develop character and, subsequently, hope—and we know that in the end we will win with Christ.
If we are truly children of God, we have so much about which to be thankful and to rejoice.
There is no end to God’s graciousness toward us. How can we help but rejoice? Paul reminds us of this throughout the letter to the Philippians. He summarizes his thoughts by a command in chapter 4, verse 4, where he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
How can we make this joy apparent in our lives and, especially, in our local church bodies? Here are some practical suggestions:
• Make a habit of verbally expressing your gratitude to the Lord for His choosing you to be one of His children.
• Express your optimism that God has all things in control and that He is working all things together for the spiritual good of His children.
• Be willing to optimistically accept your responsibilities in your local church. If you are needed on the construction crew, volunteer willingly. If you are needed on the clean-up crew, or needed in the nursery, or needed as a teacher, express your joy at being able to serve Christ in that way.
• If problems occur in your church body, rather than complaining, seek to help in a God-honoring way to bring about a solution or resolution.
• Never complain about others. Use your tongue to build up others, rather than tearing them down.
• Pass along to others your gratitude and joy when good things are happening. Good attitudes are helped along by positive enthusiasm. (Remember that bad attitudes are also passed along to others.)
• Let people know that you are praying for them. The church staff especially needs this. Often they receive more criticism than verbal support. A word or note of positive encouragement can mean much to them.
• As you are around the lost, be especially mindful of the ways you express your attitudes. Many of them live in a dismal, dog-eat-dog world where there is little hope or joy. Brighten their days with a genuine, helpful, positive outlook. That may help attract them to your Lord. Paul instructs us to make the doctrines of our Lord attractive (Titus 2:10).
Our perspectives matter. In our church for many years we held an annual Christmas banquet during which we had a fun time, usually including some Christian entertainment. It was an occasion when the congregation expressed gratitude to the staff and a time of joyful fellowship. At one year’s banquet, a church member had invited a lost friend. After the banquet, that lost friend went back to his home where, unable to sleep, he pondered and mulled over what he had witnessed. Finally, at 2:00 AM, he awakened his Christian friend with a phone call, in which he said “I don’t know what you folks have, but whatever it is, I want it.” Our member explained to him that it came through a personal commitment and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As the member witnessed to him, the Holy Spirit opened the man’s heart and he was gloriously saved.
This wonderful story began with the members of our church collectively expressing joy as they fellowshipped together. This man knew that his life was empty and joyless and he finally saw something much better.
We, Christians, have the best of the best—the good news of a gospel that works! Let’s express it everywhere and always—by our words and by our perspectives.
This article is an excerpt from Curtis Thomas’ book – Life in the Body of Christ: Privileges and Responsibilities in the Local Church. A new hardcover edition is now available for pre-order for $19.98 at press.founders.org