Blogger: Shavonne Brumsey
I broke down last week. The dam just broke and I was overcome with a wave of hopelessness and deep sorrow. I imagine that I’m not alone in my experiences. I’m certain that we all have cried a little more in the last few months. But if you haven’t, and you can’t relate to my heartache, as my grandma would have said, “just live a little longer.” As I sobbed, I confessed to my husband “things are never going to change. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or whether you live righteously, at the end of the day, they can still kill you.” Needless to say, my heart and mind were held captive by overwhelming experiences of hurt and injustice.
As of late, it’s been my desire to live free from that pain. Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. I don’t know about you, but during these times, it’s been challenging to think about anything other than race, COVID-19, systemic racism, white privilege, civil rights, and unemployment. There are so many people hurting in this world and it feels nearly impossible to think as I want. My thought life feels consumed by the negativity in the world around me, and I find myself having to “press pause” a lot. How can we “be free” with so much hindrance and restraint?
In the book of Acts, chapter 16, Paul and Silas were going to a place of prayer when they met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination, which brought her owners much wealth by fortune-telling. Upon seeing Paul and Silas, this girl followed them shouting, “these men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” The Bible says that she continued to carry on like this for several days. Paul, who became greatly annoyed, turned to the girl and commanded the spirit to come out of her, by the name of Jesus Christ. The unclean spirit came out that same hour. But when her owners saw that she was no longer able to bring them wealth, they arrested Paul and Silas, and took them before the magistrates, accusing Paul and Silas of “disturbing their city.” The magistrates tore Paul and Silas’ clothes from their bodies, and they were beaten and thrown into prison.
Here are two righteous men, on their way to talk with God. They are harassed for several days by a possessed woman, and after driving out the unclean spirit within her, they are arrested, falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned. It didn’t matter that they were righteous. It didn’t matter that they did a good thing. Their righteous living and good deeds did not keep them from experiencing great hardship and unjust treatment. And yet, something powerful happened at midnight.
In verse 25, it says “at midnight, Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed.”
Paul and Silas could have very easily been overwhelmed by their circumstances. They could have very easily succumbed to the experiences of being arrested, falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned, but instead, they sang praises unto God. They had both been hindered and restrained, and yet their hearts and minds were free to sing.
Freedom is defined as the POWER or RIGHT to ACT, SPEAK, or THINK as one WANTS or desires, without resistance, delay, obstruction, or restraint. Paul and Silas, as believers, had the power, given to them by the Holy Spirit, to ACT as though they had not been beaten and imprisoned. They had the power of the Holy Spirit to SPEAK, singing praises unto God, as though they had not been falsely accused and found themselves held captive in a jail cell. They had the power of the Holy Spirit to THINK on the goodness of God, and not of their present circumstances.
We have this same power, and we have been given the freedom to choose. Philippians 4:8 (ESV) says “ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We may have experiences in which we do not feel free. We may have experiences, like Paul and Silas, that are unfair, and those experiences may even make us feel hopeless. We may even break under the weight of that grief, as I did last week, and sob uncontrollably. But those experiences are not the truth. They are not reality; they reflect the temporal, and not the eternal. And we have been given the freedom to choose what we focus on: the temporal or the eternal. We have been given the freedom to focus on the truth.
Hebrews 12 instructs us as believers to;-
- Lay aside every weight or hindrance
- Shake off sin that so easily entangles us
- Run with patience the race that is set before us
- To fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith
We are to ACT, SPEAK, and THINK as those who KNOW, as children of God, that we have a Heavenly Father who “knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us, to not harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). We are to ACT, SPEAK, and THINK as those who believe that because we love God, all things will work together. (Romans 8:28)
What, then shall we say in response to our experiences of injustice, oppression, hindrance, and restraint? We should reply as Romans 8:31 reads: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to think on the Good News of Jesus Christ, who was sent by our heavenly Father to die for our sins, and by whose sacrifice and great love, we have been saved and redeemed. Jesus was the plan that God had for us. And through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live as He did, holding fast to the truth of who Our Father is, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Should you find your heart grieving your current circumstances, be encouraged! You are in great company, because even Jesus, as He hung on the Cross, wept, and cried… “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” You may very well feel forsaken and hopeless with everything happening in the world today, but that is not the truth of who you are, and that is not a reflection of how loved you are! That is a feeling, shaped by your experience in the flesh. The Truth is that the same Jesus that wept, and cried out to His Father on the cross is the same Jesus that conquered death and the grave, and with Resurrection Power, sits on the Right Hand of the Father. For the joy, He endured the cross. Though He may have felt despair, He was not held captive by it. He lived independent from His flesh, and dependent upon God.
As we celebrate this Independence Day, let us be encouraged that God has given us the choice to live free. Though we may experience injustice and inequity like Paul and Silas, and though we may endure afflictions and carry a cross like Jesus, we can choose to live independent from the pain, and dependent upon God.
And the greater purpose in exercising this freedom that we have been given, is that it will cause others to know freedom too! Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed. If you continue to read the story, not only are all the prisoners freed, but the very guard that held Paul and Silas captive found salvation. And not just him, but his entire house. How great the world would be if we chose to live freely!