I want to start off by showing you the core scripture for this series. What we are about to read is actually a prophecy about Jesus before He came. Take a look:
Isaiah 61:1-4 NLT – The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
What is this good news? You don’t have to pay for your own sins. Jesus has paid for your sins. All you have to do is believe in Him and say that you do.
On a side note, remember how we talked about the vision of our church last week, and how centered around four things? Know God, Find Freedom, Discover Purpose, Make a Difference.
Well, you are going to see all four of these in this scripture. You just saw the first one. When you hear the Good News it is your invitation to Know God by receiving forgiveness through Jesus. Let’s keep going:
Isaiah 61:1-4 NLT – He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.
Come on somebody, find freedom! Jesus didn’t just pay for your sin, He paid the price for you to be free from all those things holding you captive. We’re talking about freedom from sickness, addiction, generational curses. Jesus wants you to be completely free!
Isaiah 61:1-4 NLT – He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.
This is what we call discover purpose. You had a purpose before you were born, but the world has a way of distracting you from it. But God has a way of restoring you to your purpose no matter how long it’s been.
And when you discover that purpose, God takes every area of your life that was broken and turns it into beauty, joy, and festive praise. Man, there is nothing like living out your purpose.
Isaiah 61:1-4 NLT – In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations.
Now that you know God and are walking in freedom and have discovered your purpose, you are now out there making a difference. Helping people rebuild their lives, repair their lives. You are out there leading people into the same joy you’ve found in Jesus Christ.
This is all through the Bible. The vision is clear and we don’t even have to make it up. God gave it to us. We exist to know God, find freedom, discover purpose, make a difference and to help others do the same.
I just wanted to show you one more place where we can see our vision as a church. But only one of these verses is our core scripture for this series. Let’s look at it again in a different translation:
Isaiah 61:3 NKJV – …to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…
God wants to give you joy for every area of your life where you are struggling, depressed, or just bummed out.
I also want you to notice that the heaviness of life isn’t just circumstantial, it’s spiritual. There is a spirit of heaviness. And I probably don’t even have to convince you of that because we’ve all felt it first hand this year.
Last year, Beth and I went to a conference in Seattle. We traveled quite a bit last year without our kiddos, so this time we wanted to take them. We have three girls and at the time Rylee was 9-months old, Adalynn was almost two, and Leanna was almost four.
So we decided to go to Seattle with three kids ages three and under. I don’t know what got into us. But we were smart enough to bring my mother-in-law with us. We wouldn’t have survived without her.
I remember the trip like it was yesterday. Trying to get through the airport with three kids, three car seats, all of our bags and a stroller. We were the talk of the airport. And don’t even get me started about the looks we got when getting on the plane. I am pretty sure everyone was praying we would walk right past them and go sit somewhere else.
All-in-all, it was exhausting, but we made it. So there we were in Seattle and I kid you not, the very first time I walked the streets of Seattle I could just feel this heaviness. I could tell the spiritual climate was much different than Oklahoma.
People talk about how beautiful Seattle is, and it may be beautiful in the movies. But in person, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The spirit of heaviness was just so evident.
You’d think as a pastor I would be filled with compassion and be drawn to start a church there or something, but there was nothing calling me to stay. I was just ready to get out and never go back.
When I watched everything unfold in Seattle this year, how they were pretty much the start of the COVID breakout and then they had that autonomous thing going on, it confirmed what I sensed in my spirit when I was there.
The spirit of heaviness is legit. But, it doesn’t have to be part of your life. Jesus came to replace that spirit of heaviness with JOY. Look at who you’re with right now and say, “Joy belongs to me.”
But you have a part to play in this, you have to choose it. You don’t wait to feel joy. No, you choose it first and then your feelings will follow. Now look at that same person and tell them, “You have to choose it.”
The best example of choosing joy has to be the Apostle Paul. He didn’t have any reason ever to have a good day. Stuff was always bad around him.
I mean, one time he got shipwrecked and no one came to rescue him. So he bobbed around on a piece of the ship for a day and a half before he finally drifted to an island. And then a snake came out and bit him.
Seriously, this guy had every reason to have a bad attitude. He even got the same lashes Jesus got five different times. We’re talking about the 39 lashes that almost killed Jesus, Paul got them five different times.
He was stoned, and we are not talking about recreationally. I mean, some of you probably just thought, “Well, at least he got a little relief.” No, we’re talking about having stones thrown at you with the intent to kill you.
How many of you would have given up on following Jesus after the first round of lashes? Or after the snake bit you? Most of us would have done thought God had left us. I mean, how could He allow all this to happen?
Yet Paul kept preaching the good news with a good attitude. How? Because he made a choice. He chose joy.
Most of the stuff you hear in this series is going to be stuff you’ve heard before, stuff you already know, but you might not be doing it yet. And the genius in a sermon is not sharing something you’ve never heard before, but presenting it in a way that motivates you to do something you already know.
You know that joy is out there. But through this series I am going to help you choose it in every situation, good or bad. Let’s look at how the Apostle Paul explains it:
2 Corinthians 6:10 NLT – Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
He wasn’t waiting to feel joy, no he chose it, even when his circumstances sucked. So through this series I am going to give you five different choices we can make to bring joy into our lives. I’ll give you one choice every Sunday.
I planned this series right now, in the height of all the political drama, on purpose. There are going to be a lot of things over the next couple of months that try to steal your joy. But it ain’t going to happen because you’ll know how to choose it.
We’re going to call today’s message “The First Choice”. Because there is one choice you have to make first in order to have joy in your life and that is to pray.
When we fully grasp the power in prayer, we pray first. Before I answer that email, I pray first. Before I post that on Facebook, I don’t post it. I pray first. Here’s the simple truth we all need to grab ahold of:
Prayer should be our first response, not our last resort.
If we are going to choose joy, the first choice we have to make is to pray first. You’ll never experience lasting joy if you don’t pray first.
Have you discovered the purpose of our 21 Days of Prayer yet? We do it twice a year and the whole reason we do it is to remind you to pray first. We must have a culture of prayer here at NoLimits if we want to fulfill our purpose.
To experience joy, we must choose to pray first. And wouldn’t you believe it, our example of this is the Apostle Paul. We are going to work through one chapter today in the book of Philippians to show you what I mean.
The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison. And we’re not talking about the prisons we have today where you can sit and watch cable TV all day. He was probably underground, no windows, damp environment, bleeding, sore and hungry.
Most of us wouldn’t survive one day where Paul was. We’d be griping and crying and asking the Lord to go ahead and kill us. We’d be done. But what does Paul say?
Philippians 4:4 NLT – Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
You know, if someone who had a perfect life was telling us this, we could be skeptical. But this is the Apostle Paul telling us this and he earned the right to straighten us out on this issue.
We don’t just need a little bit of joy, we need to be FULL of joy. He knew we would have a hard time with this so he even had to say it again, rejoice!
In other words, you’re going to have to get some joice and then re-up that joice. Don’t make me say it again! Rejoice. Choose joy.
Why? Why is it so important to choose joy? Is it just for you? Well it is for you, but it is even more than that:
Philippians 4:5 NLT – Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Joy enables us to make a difference in the lives of others. It helps people see, with their own eyes, that the Lord is good. All this time you thought you had to preach to lead people to Jesus. But all you gotta do is choose joy.
As we are about to find out in this chapter of Philippians, you can’t choose joy without prayer. There are five things that prayer produces in our lives that enable us to experience great joy.
When you choose to adopt a lifestyle of prayer, it is going to bring five amazing things into your life. Here’s the first one:
1. Prayer replaces worry.
This one is probably going to resonate with all of us. At some point in 2020, I bet you’ve worried about your health, or your finances, or your family. Maybe you’re still worried?
Here’s the truth about worry. If you worry about something and then it happens, you’ve worried twice. If you worry about something that doesn’t happen, then you’ve worried in vain.
We’d all agree that worry doesn’t add anything to our lives. Yet, it keeps showing up. What do we do to get rid of it?
Philippians 4:6 NLT – Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
When I read this, I feel ashamed about all the times I’ve worried. “Maybe I’m not a strong enough Christian. I don’t have enough faith.” These are the kind of things that go through my head.
But if God expected us to never deal with worry, this scripture would have said something more like, “If you worry, you are in sin. Knock it off.”
This is more of an encouragement. “Hey, I know you are worried. But you don’t need to worry about anything. Here’s what you need to do. When you pray in the midst of worry, the worry will disappear.”
In the words of Jesus:
Matthew 6:34 NLT – So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
This is the same thing Paul is teaching us in Philippians. Worrying about future events is not going to add anything to your life, that’s why you have to get it out.
Worry does reveal something though. I’m about to drop some hard truth on you, so I hope you’re ready.
What we worry about most reveals where we trust God least.
We must get rid of worry. And the way out of worry just so happens to be prayer.
What kind of prayer? A prayer that’s focused on thankfulness. You thank God for life, for purpose, for provision, for your amazing church, for your amazing pastor!
The next time you are worried, pray a prayer of thankfulness and watch the worry disappear. Keep at it until it is completely gone. I can’t do this for you. You’ve got to do it. You choose to pray even when you don’t feel like it.
And prayer doesn’t just take away worry. It gives you something in return:
2. Prayer creates peace.
If the worry disappeared but nothing took its place, worry would wiggle its way right back into your life. But God fills that space with peace so there is no more room for worry. But you have a part to play in this.
Let’s look at this verse one more time in the Amplified version:
Philippians 4:6 AMP – Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.
If we want what comes next, which you are about to find out is peace, then you have to ask God for specifics. In other words, you need to offload what is bothering you in a way that is no longer your problem. You give it to God.
Kind of like when grandparents drop the grandkids back off at their parents house. It was fun for a little while, but grandparents can only take so much before they have to take the children back to their parents.
So when we pray, we need to take the things that are weighing us down and completely hand them over to God. Give Him control. And don’t ask Him to co-own the problems with you. No, give him full control.
When you do this, when you really hand your problems over to God and completely walk away from them, here is what happens:
Philippians 4:7 NLT – Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Do you see it? When we pray, worry fades away and peace takes its place. And peace stands in your mind as a guard against worry. When you pray with a thankful heart and hand all your concerns over to God, peace comes in and stands guard in your mind.
I know, sounds too good to be true. But try it next time you get worried and you’ll find that it works. This is free to try – you are not going to be out anything. So you might as well give it a shot.
Here’s another scripture to show you this is true:
Romans 15:13 NLT – I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Notice the joy and peace is a result of something… because you TRUST in God. You have the attitude of, “God, I know I can’t do this. So I am trusting you.”
“I can’t keep tabs on my husband 24/7, so I am trusting you to keep him clean. I can’t be by my kids side 24/7, so I am trusting you to keep them safe. I can’t predict the economy, so I’m trusting you to provide.”
Some of you need to relinquish control and trust God. When you do, you are going to be amazed at how much peace and joy comes into your life.
Here’s the next thing prayer helps you with:
3. Prayer redirects our thoughts.
Have you ever been stuck in the wrong kind of thinking? Like, you start thinking about all the things your spouse does that annoys you and your mind goes off the deep end and before you know it, you’re mad at them for no reason.
Or how about those times you’ve messed up and all you can think about is your failure. And you dream up what might happen, who might be mad because of what you’ve done.
Sometimes we need something to help redirect our thoughts and slap them into submission. Prayer does that for you. Let me show you. This is a continuation of the scripture we’ve been reading:
Philippians 4:8 NLT – And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Where do you do this kind of thinking? In prayer.
One of the most common misconceptions about prayer is that we think we have to talk the whole time. Some people don’t even try to pray because they know they are going to run out of things to say in ten seconds.
All my talkers listening right now don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. And that’s okay. What we all need to know is that spending time focusing our thoughts on good things is a form of prayer.
This is something I do almost every morning before getting out of bed. I lay there and think about all the good things going on around me. All the good things God had done for me. I don’t say anything, I just fix my thoughts on good things. What a great way to start the day.
I love this quote by C.S. Lewis regarding the benefits of fixing our thoughts on God:
Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you’ll get neither. -C.S. Lewis
Think about the things of heaven, think about the good things, and your time on earth will be so much better. But spend your time thinking about all the problems here on earth and you’ll eventually forget all about heaven.
Here’s the next thing you need to know about prayer:
4. Prayer reveals contentment.
When you start praying you have all kinds of needs. And God is good with that. But if you hang out for a minute after presenting all your needs, you’ll realize that you already have everything you need.
Let’s look at how Paul explains it:
Philippians 4:12 NLT – I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
Paul found out that it didn’t really matter how rich he was, or how much food he had, or how big his house was, or what kind of car he was driving. Whether he was driving a new Tesla or an old Toyota, he was content.
Doesn’t that sound good? Wouldn’t you like to live your life content regardless of how much money you were making or what kind of car you were driving? Just like the Psalmist said:
Psalms 23:1 NLT – The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
How about living from a place of contentment? I have all that I need. I may not have everything that culture tells me I need, but they are lying anyways. Because I have a relationship with God, I have all that I need.
And prayer is where you find that contentment. Because it leads you into the last thing I am going to show you about prayer:
5. Prayer relies on God.
This is how you get to that place of contentment. It’s not that you don’t have needs. It’s not that everything is perfect. You’ve just stopped trying to do it all on your own. Just like Paul said:
Philippians 4:13 NLT – For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
I can’t do this on my own. But I can do this through Christ. When I let God’s mighty power work in me, He’s going to blow my mind with what He can accomplish in my life.
Try to do this by yourself and you’ll make it a little ways. But at some point you are going to crash and burn.
Get yourself out of the way and allow God to work through you, and you are going to go way further than you ever could have imagined.
Here’s how Paul ends the chapter:
Philippians 4:19 NLT – And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
You’ve probably heard this scripture before, but my hope is that you see it in a new light today.
When we pray, it leads us to a place where our needs are met, not because of our own striving and hustle, but because we simply receive the gifts given to us through Jesus.
This happens through prayer for one reason:
Prayer doesn’t move God closer to us. It moves us closer to God.
How do I make prayer part of my life?
Let me give you two practical ways to incorporate prayer into your life. Here’s the first one:
1. Pray first.
You’ll be tempted to worry first. You’ll be tempted to talk to someone else first. You’ll be tempted to wait it out and see what happens.
Instead, let your response be to pray first. Even if it’s just a three-word prayer, “God, help me”, make it a habit to pray first.
2. Pray continually.
You don’t have to wait until the house is quiet or until you are alone. Pray every chance you get.
At work, take a moment to think of the good things. Go for a quick walk and release your anxieties to God. Pray while your kids are screaming.
Any time you think of it throughout the day, pray. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to close your eyes. Simply acknowledge God.
That’s it! It isn’t complicated. And it doesn’t have to look like someone else’s prayer life. You don’t have to pray for hours at a time.
Simply let your first response to any challenge be to pray first. And throughout your day, take moments here and there to acknowledge and thank God. Do these two things, and you are going to find yourself content and at peace and full of joy. Just like it says in Proverbs:
Proverbs 16:20 NLT – Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.
Maybe you sense something on the inside of you stirring, excited, and ready to receive what God has for you today. The first gift He has for you is salvation through Jesus Christ.
Without Jesus, you couldn’t have a relationship with God because of all the things you’ve done wrong. But Jesus died on the cross and rose back to life so that your old life could die and you could be raised to new life.
Believe in Jesus right now and your relationship with God will be immediately restored. Jesus paid the price for everything you’ve done wrong, and everything you will do wrong in the future. All you have to do is believe that Jesus was raised from the dead for you.
I want to help you put your faith into words by leading you in a prayer. Wherever you are right now, go ahead and say this out loud:
“Jesus, thank you. You paid for my sin on the cross. You gave me new life when you rose again. I want you to lead my life. I believe in you Jesus. I trust you.”
Salvation Next Step
If you just prayed that prayer, we want to support you along the journey that’s ahead. But we can’t support you if we don’t know. So we set up an easy way for you to tell us. Simply text the word Jesus to 918-373-9883.
We’re not going to bug you. We’re not going to spam you. We are just going to help guide you through your next step. We’re here for you. So please, go ahead and send that text.