Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

God's Unseen Work

Romans 8:26-39

 The Bible tells us a definition of faith:  Faith is believing in things that we cannot see.  Today’s Scripture lesson is about God doing things that we may not see.  Do we believe God is doing things in our lives and through our lives that we are unaware of?  I think the overall message of this passage is that God is working for our ultimate benefit, but we may often be unaware that he is doing so.  

Maybe two key phrases to this passage are in verse 28, “those who love God” and in verse 37, “through Christ, who loved us.”  Do we love God and do we know beyond a doubt that he loves us?  We will take things from someone if we know they love us that we would not take from someone otherwise.  If a friend tells us strongly that we are in the wrong or that we are making a mistake, we’ll listen.  But if someone we don’t like gives us a reprimand, we’ll tell them to get lost.  In the same way, if we know God loves us and we love him, we will be more likely to accept difficult things from his hand.  Whereas someone who doesn’t know God’s love might see them as a reason to turn their back on him.

Let’s have a closer look at our passage as we continue to think about that:

“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t know what to pray for, but the Spirit prays for us.”  This is a continuation of what we were talking about last Sunday.  Last Sunday we looked at four ways in which the Holy Spirit helps us as believers.  And here we see a fifth:  The Spirit intercedes on our behalf.

In our weakness, in our human limitations, we often don’t know what we should pray for.  In any given situation, do we truly understand everything that is happening?  Can we see a situation from every perspective?  Not just our own perspective, but other people as well.  Can we see it from the future?  No.  Do we know what God desires to accomplish through this situation?  Probably not.  Maybe all we can think about is how we want to escape the time of difficulty, but maybe God wants to bless us through the difficulty.  God may desire an outcome to the situation that is beyond our ability to see or understand.

When my wife Sharon and I were in our third year of seminary, we found ourselves in a somewhat unpleasant situation.  We were living in a house that we were renting from a couple who had gone overseas for mission work.  But they were coming back in a few months, so we needed to find a new place.  I had been working for a furniture store, delivering furniture, but business had slowed down, and as the “bottom guy on the totem pole,” I was the first to be let go.  So we also needed some income.  

We only had a few seminary classes left to go, so we called our district superintendents back here in Western PA to see if we could receive a student appointment.  We were told that that there was a part-time student appointment available.  It was not much money, but some was better than none.  They didn’t have a house for us, but they were willing to make an apartment available.  And it was very close to Sharon’s folks, so it seemed ideal.  Everything started to move along toward making that a reality. And then, it fell apart.  

I was really disappointed.  I was pretty upset, and part of my anger was directed toward God.  I was thinking, “Here we are, we’ve invested all this time and money, and now we can’t even get a part-time appointment.  Why did God bring us this far to leave us high and dry?”  

A few weeks later, on the last day of the semester, as we were really worried about where we’d go or how we’d support ourselves, I got another call from my superintendent.  Another student appointment had opened up, and he wanted me to go there.  The salary was three times as much as the previous appointment, and they had a nice house for us to live in.  And we had a wonderful appointment there.  If what we’d been praying for to happen had happened, we would never have had that opportunity.  My prayers weren’t answered, but maybe the Holy Spirit’s prayers were.

“The Spirit pleads for us in harmony with God, the Father’s, will.”  I once read that “Prayer is divine that is inside of us praying to the divine above us.”  How that happens is a mystery of the Trinity.  But God the Spirit is praying for us to God the Father to seek the things of God for our lives in ways we could not imagine.

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”  This is a very difficult verse.  What does that mean?

Some people seem to think it means “everything happens for a reason.”  I’ve never believed that to be true.  I don’t think there’s a reason for everything that happens.  I don’t think God “causes” everything to happen as part of some a plan.  

For one thing, it doesn’t make sense.  We all have free will.  Many things happen because we human beings choose to do certain things.  It makes no sense to talk about God “causing” things like car accidents when they happen because of human choices.  

I think a better understanding of this verse is found in a quote I heard several years ago, “God doesn’t will everything that happens, but in everything that happens, God wills good.”  In

other words, God doesn’t cause everything.  But in everything that happens, God desires to accomplish something good in the lives of those who love him and are called to his purpose.  

One of the difficult things for us to understand about the nature of God is that God exists outside of time as we know it.  God doesn’t see the world in terms of past, present, and future.  God can see an action and the consequences all at once.  And in ways that we could never understand, God orchestrates billions of events and human lives to accomplish good.  Out of tragic and heart-breaking circumstances, he brings about renewal and new life.  He builds our faith and character in ways we can’t understand.  

This requires some patience and faith on our part.  We may not see or understand what God is doing for a long time, if ever in this life.  And it doesn’t mean that we won’t have those moments when we feel doubt and despair.  But looking back now, I can see how many bad things in my life were ultimately used to produce something good.

I’ve been thinking lately about the story of Joni Ericsson Tada.  If you’re not familiar with her, she is a Christian speaker, author, and artist.  When she was about 17 years old, she broke her neck in a diving accident and was paralyzed from the neck down.  In despair, she asked family and friends to help her end her life, but they wouldn’t.  Eventually, she came to faith in Christ, and today her story is an inspiration to many.  She spoke at my seminary when I was a student there.  

I’ve been thinking about her story lately because my sister-in-law’s cousin suffered a very similar accident a few months ago.  At the age of 18, just out of high school, he is now paralyzed in both legs and has only partial use of his arms.  I’m sure that’s a horrendous experience, but I believe God can do something good through it.  I don’t think it was God’s will for him to suffer, but I believe that God can do something good in the midst of suffering.

Continuing to verse 29, “God knew his people in advance and chose them to become like his Son.”  If God knows past, present, and future, then he knows who will become his people through faith in Christ.  This brings up another difficult issue:  The question of divine foreknowledge and human free will.

Some say God knows his people because he “causes” them to become his people, also known as predestination.  God knows the future because he causes the future.  But I don’t believe that to be true.  Instead, knowing those who will come to Christ, all through our lives, God’s grace has been conforming us to the image of his Son.  

First, we are called.  This is what John Wesley called “prevenient grace,” the grace of God that calls us to trust in Christ.  This can happen in a number of ways.  We are called to Christ through people, places, events in our lives, the Holy Scriptures, our own conscience, and a hundred other ways.  

Second, we are restored to right standing with God.  This is “justifying grace,” and it happens in only one way.  We are made right with God through faith in his Son and trusting in him as our salvation.

And third, we are being glorified by God.  This is an example of God’s “sanctifying grace,” the grace of God that makes us like God.  Again, this happens in many ways:  Through the word of God, through our conscience, through the example of other Christians, through fellowship in the church, and so on.  

God is doing all these things in our lives and through our lives, and we are often unaware of it.  What then shall we say?  If God is for us, who could ever be against us?  And what would it matter if they were?  If God gave us his Son, what would he not give us?  If he has forgiven us, who can condemn us?  What could possibly separate us from the love of Christ?  Trouble, persecution, hunger, danger, even death?  No.  These things may be unpleasant, but in the midst of them, we are assured that in unseen ways, God is working to bring about our ultimate benefit.  Through them, we are being conformed to the image of his Son, which is the greatest gift of all.  

“Despite all these things, victory is ours through Christ who loved us.”  But what about death?  If we die, we go home to Christ.  What about life?  As long as we live in this world, Christ is with us, to the very end of the age.  Neither can angels or demons, the present or the future, or even the powers of hell separate us from the love of God.  Nothing in heaven above or here on the earth or in all of creation could ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.  

Do you have faith that is true even when you can’t see it?

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