All Things Work
The phone rang sometime around 3:00 am. For a pastor it's not unusual to get a call at that hour, but it's rarely good news. "My little boy is dying," said the frantic voice on the phone. "I'm on my way to the emergency room now, please be in prayer and meet me there!"
The distressed caller didn't give his name before hanging up, but I knew it was Ben, one of the members of our church... whose little boy, Craig, had struggled with a rare medical defect from birth. Within a few minutes I was out the door, racing up the highway toward the medical center. Not only was I deeply concerned for his son, but also for Ben, whose faith had been tested deeply by recent misfortune in his life, especially the health of his child.
Arriving at the emergency room, I found Ben, who quickly alerted me that the doctor had ordered an immediate life-flight of his son to a larger, distant hospital. As Craig laid on the gurney, we barely had a moment to pray for him, then the crew rushed in moving him quickly down the hall toward the waiting chopper. Ben and I ran behind onto the flight deck... but I stopped short to allow him a few brief seconds alone with his little boy as they strapped him in for the flight.
Because of limited space and weight Ben was not allowed to fly along. Instead, we both would make the trip by car and meet them there. But before they closed the door to lift off, he reached out one last time to touch the hand of his child... amidst tears, calling his name, asking the Lord to save his baby boy. It was both a heart-wrenching and surreal scene to observe... the father weeping, praying, kneeling on the tarmac... while the chopper throttled its engines, lights flashing, lifting slowly above the powerful gusts. His tear-stained cheeks continued to point up toward the rising craft, hands outreached and praying until it was out of sight.
I'll never forget the images of that night, which brought about at least two remarkable results. First, the Lord answered the prayers of many and little Craig eventually recovered and went on to a normal, healthy life. The second occurred with his father, Ben, whose life began a transformation that evening. During his moments of desperation and travail, clinging to his child's life, he reached out to God with all his heart... and God reached back, pulling this dad closer to Himself than ever before. It was a painful thing to watch a father's trauma and desperate cries... but this together with the coming weeks and months of his son's recovery, deepened his faith and changed his life dramatically.
This was the precise kind of situation the Apostle Paul was referring to when he composed this encouraging passage to the Roman church: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). For this young Christian father, it seemed like his entire world was collapsing around the crisis with son... but the Lord turned this harrowing circumstance around and literally caused everything to work together for good.
During my years as a pastor I have preached and taught from this passage in Romans 8:28 hundreds of times, but from my observations I'm convinced that for many it remains one of the least understood and appreciated passages of the Bible. It's tough for many to grab hold of the idea that God doesn't let anything go to waste in our lives, that He has a purpose and a reason for everything that happens in the lives of His followers, and will even use the bad and difficult things to produce good in our behalf.
We all know from experience that life will often bring many hardships, disappointments and heartaches... but for those who love Him and follow Him, God promises to make such things "work together" for good... that is, to serve a higher purpose, to bring about beneficial results.
The Amplified Bible, a translation which helps more fully illuminate the meanings and nuances from the original texts, puts it this way: "We are assured and know that [[a]God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose" (Romans 8:28 TAB).
Jesus and His disciples taught repeatedly that trials and tribulations were sure to come to all of God's people (James 1:12, 2 Timothy 3:12), and were actually necessary to perfect the faith and spiritual character of God's people. James in fact wrote that such occurrences should be viewed not as something negative, but with joyful optimism… as opportunities for their faith to grow. "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" (James 1:2-4 NLT).
Paul also taught that a believer's faith and character must be refined, purified, tempered in order to grow and reach greater levels of maturity for God… so He can make us into what He wants us to be, or to perform the work that He has called for us to do. He said, "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation" (Romans 5:3-4 NLT).
Likewise, Peter described that trials served a similar purpose as when heat is applied to unrefined gold, to purge it from the undesirable raw materials. Gold melts at a lower temperature than other elements, and will liquify and separate from the dross, producing refined, purified gold. He said, "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold--though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (1 Peter 1:7 NLT).
Consequently, the Lord "allows" assorted winds and storms of life… including sometimes even "allowing" Satan… a "limited reach" (Job 1:12, 2:6), to bring troubles, trials, temptations to test our faith and spiritual character... so that such qualities can rise to the challenge and emerge above the grip of the old fallen nature.
By "limited reach," we mean that God has restricted the extent and effect of such temptations and trials... and says that He will not allow us to be tested beyond what we are capable of. This doesn't mean that our trials will necessarily be a walk in the park… some may be very severe… but it does mean that you will never face a trial that you do not have the ability to overcome.
This is very important to understand. You will never face any trial that you and Jesus cannot overcome. You see, when we became a follower of Christ, His Spirit and power is birthed within... and He wants each of us to learn how to yield to, and to exercise His power (Ephesians 3:20)... to rise in faith to conquer our challenges as well as to carry out works of ministry in His name. The scripture says, "...God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
This promise of "escape" doesn't mean that we will necessarily evade all such troubles, but that it will actually enable us to "bear" them. In other words, through faith, our heart can "escape" into the sustaining presence and power of the Lord, which will enable us to "endure" such trying and difficult circumstances.
Finally, the great message of Romans 8:28 is intended to amplify optimism and to arouse an attitude of faith... to assure the Lord's followers that He loves us... and that despite whatever circumstances come our way, He will remain on our side, will never abandon us, and will always make everything work together for our good. After all, if He already gave the life of His own son for us, what else would He withhold from doing for you? (Romans 8:31-32).
As with most things, attitude is everything and is more responsible for success or failure than anything else. As the well-known pastor Charles Swindoll once said, "Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it."
So when troubles come our way, Romans 8:28 enables us to look at them without dread and pessimism, but with a new attitude of faith... knowing that nothing can happen to us that God will not help us rise above... that He will ultimately turn around for good and use to our advantage. Trials need no longer to be a feared enemy, but an opportunity for our faith to be challenged and to grow.
To be sure, nothing can ever separate us from His parental love... and the Lord is aware of every incident in our life and loves us so very much that He will never allow us to face our difficulties alone or without purpose.
"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ...I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35,38,39 NLT).
NLT - The New Living Translation