Steven Furtick - Be Set Free Today
Some addictions you were fighting against, you know, the invisible prisons you live in, the things you do over and over again? I was thinking about how some of us are in invisible prisons today, even as we try to appear free to people. There is a spiritual depression on so many thousands who I will preach to this weekend, and nobody can see it. We paint the walls with a smile, but we live behind bars on the inside. It's an invisible prison. It's ways of thinking and reasoning and fearing.
When I realized John was in two different prisons at the same time, it clarified the text for me. One was the one Herod Antipas put him in for saying what he didn't want to hear, but the other one was an invisible prison. The other one is one I'm all too familiar with. This is the prison of your expectations. This is the prison of your plans. This is the prison of what you thought God was going to do. "Hey, go ask Jesus, 'Are you the one? Because, uh, I told everybody you were the one. I told everybody you had your fork and you were about to start a fire.'" Watch what the messengers say back to John. "Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see…'" Look at this list. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me".
Watch what wasn't in that verse: the fork and the fire. Jesus wasn't doing any of the things John wanted him to do. Read the list again. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Go tell John that". John is like, "I'm just checking, Jesus. Where's the fork? Where's the fire? WTF"? Have you ever had a moment…? Why do y'all hate me today? You never had a "Where's the fork? Where's the fire"? John is having a moment. John is in a WTF moment with the Lord. Walk out if you want to, but if you'll be really honest, there are some things in your life you're trying to figure out right now.
Come on, where is it? What in the world is this? "I don't know. I just need to know, because I thought you were gonna". That is the prison we spend so much of our lives in: what we thought God was going to do. But I have a question for you. What if he really is able to do immeasurably more than you ask or imagine? What if he wants to do something so much better than your mind can comprehend? Would you be open to that? What if God didn't want to meet your expectations because he wanted to exceed them?
Now I'm going to make you sit back down, because you're not going to like this. The way he grows my faith is usually to disappoint my expectation. John is like, "This? This is what I gave up my ministry for? This"? "I gave my life to Jesus and I'm still struggling with depression and anxiety. This"? It was your expectation of deliverance that is causing your disappointment. "Go tell John the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. Tell him I'm touching people nobody else would touch, who were quarantined because of this dreadful disease called leprosy, and they're able to go back to their family because they're cleansed, and they can live their life. Tell him all that".
He's not making this up. This is what he came to do. This is what he announced that he came to do. In Luke, chapter 4, he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me…" He's quoting Isaiah 61, because he is fulfilling the prophecy. Not fulfilling their preferences…fulfilling the prophecy. It's very different. He's fulfilling what he said he was, not what they thought he was going to be. That's what God is trying to deliver us from. Do you see it? From what we thought he was going to be. He's so much bigger than that. He's so much better than that. His plan is so much bigger than that. His purpose is so much greater than that. John said, "Are you the one"? He said, "Go back and tell him that the deaf hear and the blind see and the lepers are touched and the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf…"
This is all from Luke, chapter 4. Look it up. When he unrolled the scroll, when he stood up to read in his hometown and said, "This day is this prophecy fulfilled in your hearing. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind. He sent me to open deaf ears. He sent me to do all this". But one thing he left out when he sent the message to John, and this is crazy. The only thing he left out… He added some stuff to it, but he left one thing out: freedom for the prisoners. Look it up right now. Reference me. It's in Luke 4. I can wait. I know I'm right about this…unless you have some weird Bible you made for yourself.
Luke 4:18. What does it say? Gospel to the poor. Heal the broken heart. Liberty to the captives. Where's that? He said, "Tell John I'm doing it all. Tell John that everything I said I would do I'm doing, but what I said I would do is not what he was expecting. Tell John I need his faith not to rest in his idea of who he thought I was". I'm going to preach this home right now. "I need his faith not to rest in whether or not I fulfill his agenda". So many of the things Jesus did in the Scripture were hidden agendas. In fact, he even spoke in parables. Not so the people would get a cute little story about a father and a son who ran away and ate with the pigs and the father welcomed him home. That isn't why he taught in parables. He taught in parables because he didn't want his wisdom to be ascertained with the human mind. He taught in parables so that the Spirit of God could reveal to the unlearned not the wisdom of this world but the things of God.
So much of what he does is hidden, yet we spend all of our time in our minds, trying to figure out whether God is good, trying to figure out whether life makes sense. It's a prison. You'll never figure it out that way. You can't get out that way. You can't solve your problems on the level of self. It's going to take a great big God with an eternal plan. It's going to take a really good God. It's going to take a majestic God. I'm going to have to decide whether or not I'm going to interpret him through the lens of my expectations or set my expectations on the basis of who he is.
Now here's what I know. I am preaching to so many different types of people today. For some of you, you can hardly breathe right now because I'm speaking so specifically to you, because the Lord is trying to get this message to you. For others of you, you're in a much more dangerous place. You're not even listening. Do you know what God uses to develop your faith? Disappointment. Do you know what the Devil uses to destroy your faith? Disappointment. I think it's what you do with it. It's going to happen. It's going to happen in relationships. It's going to happen in careers. It's going to happen in churches to where what you thought it was going to be and what it really is… I don't even like the way this Bible story goes.
What I want to happen next in the story is that the angel of the Lord comes, breaks John out of prison, and John goes on to preach the gospel and has more success and double for his trouble like never before, like Job, and the Lord restores the years the cankerworm has wasted. We could have good church and all get a serotonin hit, go home, be happy, and watch a NASCAR race. But what I'm thinking is I need to tell you that the way you expect this story to end, since we're talking about expectations, is not necessarily the way it does. John doesn't get out of prison in Matthew, chapter 11. In fact, in Matthew 14, his head is served up on a platter because the king decides to cut it off. Yet there's something that's even more beautiful in the text than John getting what he wants. There's something much more profound than John gets what he wants. What it is is in verse 7 and following.
Now, this transitional phrase is really important. By the way, who am I preaching to today? There have been some things that weren't what you thought they were going to be, and it's affecting your faith now. Even, in a sense, God is not who you thought he was going to be. You're experiencing him in a different way than you have a template for, and it's challenging to you. What happens next is the part of the message I really want you to take to heart. It says, "As John's disciples were leaving…" What does that mean? Whatever Jesus says next, John doesn't hear it. He turns to the crowd and begins to speak about John. This is significant, because what he says next is what he wants the crowd to know about John. What he said before was what he wanted John to know about him. It's a critical distinction, because God never wants your faith to rest on you. He knows how fragile and fickle you are. He said, "Go tell John that there is a purpose that is greater. There is a plan that is bigger". Say that. "There is a purpose that is greater. There is a plan that is bigger".
I'm looking for 100 percent participation at every location. There is a purpose that is greater. There is a plan that is bigger. Look at the person next to you and say, "There is a purpose that is greater. There is a plan that is bigger". Other neighbor. "There is a purpose that is greater. There is a plan that is bigger". You've been seeing this one little thing, and when you're in the prison of your mind, it's an awfully small place. It's really hard to see the light of day in solitary confinement. "Go tell John we're right on schedule. Go tell John I'm using his preparation. Go tell John it wasn't in vain". I heard the Lord say, "Furtick, go tell John, go tell the people, go tell the discouraged, go tell the beaten, go tell the broken, go tell the depressed, go tell the sick, go tell the broke, go tell the hurting, go tell the young, go tell the old, go tell them it's working, go tell them I'm doing it, just not like you wanted me to. But I'm doing it". He turns around and says to the crowd, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind"?
No. John wasn't fickle. John wasn't fragile. When John made up his mind about something, that's just the way it was, and that's what's getting him in trouble, because he made up his mind about what he thought God was going to do, and when God did what God wanted to do… Is that you right now? Are you in an invisible prison? I know Herod isn't going to cut your head off. It's not that dramatic. Right? But you can't enjoy people, can you? Is that you right now? You can't create. Is that you right now or is that me? Who am I preaching to? Maybe I'm preaching to me. It's not that God didn't do anything for me. It's not that God didn't bless me. It's just different than what I thought.
As long as I'm in the prison of what I thought, I can't be a part of what God is doing. So be set free today. Be set free by the fact that God may not be conforming to your agenda or keeping all of your appointments. God might not be organizing everything to match your exact preference, but there is a greater purpose, and there is a bigger picture. Just like John was the forerunner of Jesus Christ, God is using some of you to fight battles for your children, and your children's children and your children's children's children will be blessed if you don't fall away, if you will resist the urge to control God. You can serve him and worship him, and it'll be all right. My faith is not the expectation that circumstances will be pleasant. My faith is the expectation that the voice of the Lord is upon the water.
"Go tell John, 'Blessed is he who does not trip over the way he thought it was going to be. Blessed is he who accepts what I'm doing in his or her life.'" The Lord wants to set you free today from the way you thought it was going to be. That's it. Because do you know what's going to happen once you get set free from the way you thought it was going to be? You can embrace what it is. Do you know what God is going to do? More than what you thought he was going to do. The blind see. The lame walk. God has something better than a fork. God has something better than a fire. The first place of deliverance is in the area of your expectation.