For Our Good (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 25, 2015)

If I see another online post featuring a pretty text box with a serene image in the background and a paraphrase of Romans 8:28 printed on top, then I’m issuing a warning right now that I might very well scream. “God works all things together for our good,” says the sign. That sounds sweet, but what does it really mean? You need to read the whole chapter to put it in context.

 

Two verses earlier, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak; in fact, when we don’t know what to pray in our distress, he even pleads on our behalf (v. 26). A few verses before that, we learn that our sufferings pale in comparison to God’s glory that we’ll experience in eternity (v. 18-21). Later in the chapter, we read about how God is on our side through every spiritual trial (v. 31-34) and that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love – no troubles, danger, or even death threats (v. 35-39).

 

So, with all that talk of trials and suffering, does verse 28 really mean that life is supposed to be sunshine and roses, because God works everything out for our good? I think we have a general misunderstanding of what “good” means. We’d like it to mean that things work out the way we want, so that we’ll get what we want, when we want, how we want. On the contrary, I don’t believe that’s what it means.

 

Look at verse 29: God has called us, and he wants us to become like his Son, Jesus. That’s for our ultimate good. When we experience trials and come out on the other side stronger in our faith, then we’re becoming more like Jesus. When we encounter setbacks or face opposition, but we don’t compromise our faith, then we’re taking more steps toward having a character like Jesus.

 

Living a life that mirrors Christ is for our good; that doesn’t mean we are exempt from suffering! What it does mean is that God can use every circumstance (even the gut-wrenching ones that keep us awake at night) to his glory and to help us become closer to his character. Sometimes those situations aren’t even reconciled in our lifetimes; it’s a hard pill to swallow, but you may not ever have all the answers about why things happen in your life the way they do. In eternity, it’ll all make sense, but in the here & now, it often doesn’t make sense at all. The challenge is how we handle those issues. Do we behave like the world – blaming God and cursing our lot in life? Or, do we stand firm in our faith, despite the inexplicable circumstances?

Black Jellybeans (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 18, 2014)

It takes a lot of courage to play the kids’ game of “Open your mouth & close your eyes, and you will have a big surprise!” You could end up with a delicious caramel or a licorice jellybean. (Unless you actually like black jellybeans, in which case, more power to you. Just thinking about them makes me want to gag.) I’ve been on the receiving end of one too many yucky surprises, so I am reluctant to play the game anymore. The trust just isn’t there.

Isn’t that like life, though? Sometimes we go through phases that feel like we’ve been given one bite of bitter licorice after another, so we lose trust and decide that God must not have our best interests in mind, after all. Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse, which reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for us. However, if you read the verse in context with the rest of the chapter, it illustrates this notion of choices and tricks very well. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. God tells them straight up that they might as well make the most of their situation, since he intended to leave them there for 70 years because they had turned their backs on him and followed false prophets, instead.

Granted, I don’t think that God plays tricks on us for a good laugh, but I firmly believe that he often lets us experience the consequences for our own choices. It might sound like a silly analogy, but we can’t expect to hang out with people who love licorice, keep candy jars full of black jellybeans in our homes, frequent the candy store, and then have the gall to complain about the licorice.

Sometimes we go through unpleasant times simply because we didn’t bother to step off the path that took us there.

Hopefully any trials that you are experiencing are more along the lines of icky jellybeans than decades of exile, but regardless of what your “Babylon” circumstance looks like, heed the instructions of Jeremiah 29:7: “And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray for her, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.” Don’t wallow in your misery and feel sorry for yourself; strive to make it better, and honor God through your efforts.