In 2004, my wife and I moved to Pennsylvania to begin seminary. We arrived excited about what God was going to do in our lives, and excited about the future in general. While in seminary, we wanted to serve and be mentored in a smaller local church, and God in His sovereignty had our paths cross with the pastor of a local church who was looking for help with the youth. Thus a relationship was born. Looking back, I had no way of knowing the impact that pastor and his wife would have on our relationship and future. Pastor Jim Spears and his wife Kathy took my wife and I under their wings. They were older, experienced ministers of the gospel, having spent ten years in the Philippines and another ten in pastoral ministry. We were rookies, with no clue what a life of ministry would look like. They were conservative (we labeled them “old school”). We were conservative, but not that conservative. They were set in their opinions and thoughts, and we were bursting with all the new ideas and strategies that would revolutionize our church. We were oil and water…except that we weren’t. For seven years we worked together. For seven years, I watched this man and his wife minister to the flock, even when the sheep would bite. I watched them be gracious, humble, bold for the gospel, but always willing to learn and change when their positions were shown to go beyond the text. I learned so much from that couple.
This Saturday, we will say goodbye to Kathy Spears. The Lord saw fit to bring her into His presence way too early (from a human perspective). At 61, cancer overcame her mortal body, and those of us who loved her were reminded that we live in a sin-cursed world in which death and disease are a daily reality. We crave the consummation of all things, when Christ will return and make right all things. But in the meantime, we live in a world that is groaning under the burden placed on it by man’s sin and rebellion against God. As I reflected on the life of a precious sister, I wrestled with confidence in the gospel, confidence in my life, and confidence in the calling God had placed on me. And in that period of time, God brought Romans 8:26-39 to mind. This text is precious to me. I am not going to exegete the text (I may do that at a future date), but just give three great confidences that arise when we meditate on this portion of the very Word of God.
1) We can have confidence that our prayers are heard (verses 26-27). There are times when we struggle with how to pray. We sense our inadequacy when it comes to knowing exactly what we should pray for. But in the midst of that weakness, we have an intercessor. The Holy Spirit indwelling us also prays on our behalf, communicating with the heart of God in ways too deep for words to express. This intercession is based on two facts: first, that God knows the mind of the Spirit, and second, that the Spirit always intercedes in accordance with the will of God. So, even when I don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit does. My job is to be faithful in prayer, knowing that my Lord hears and understands that I am but dust.
2) We can have confidence that God is in control (verses 28-30). Believers can wrap their souls in these verses. We know that all things (that includes sickness, cancer, persecution, suffering, weakness, etc) work together for good. Good has to be defined though. Good points to our conformity to the image of Christ. This is NOT “everything will turn out okay” but “everything will work for our ultimate good.” We must begin to see our present existence as set in God’s activity from eternity past to eternity future.
And that is where verses 29-30 come in. See, the promise of verse 28 is rooted in the reality of verses 29-30. It is God’s sovereign will that allows Him to work all things for good. This immense confidence rests on the certainty of our redemption, which began before time and will end after time. God works in the circumstances of our lives because of His calling on our lives. This truth is rooted in five verbs put into a beautiful chain of redemption. We were known before time, predestined to become like Christ (through the things we would endure), we have been called, justified, and will be completely glorified at the resurrection. All of these have God as the subject. He has begun something, and in that process there is no “off ramp.” He will finish it. He can guarantee that because He is in control of all things.
3) You can have confidence that God will not let you fall (verses 31-39). While we will have many people and things against us in this life, we are promised that evil will never prevail against us. This argument is supported by three statements:
a) God will withhold nothing in taking care of us (32). Since God gave His only Son for our redemption, what would He possibly withhold from us in our walk with Him?
b) God will allow nothing to condemn us (33-34). Who can bring a legal charge against us at the final judgment? The answer? No one. The Judge Himself has declared us righteous. Once the Judge says you are righteous, nothing else that anyone else can throw at you will stick. With God, there is no court of public opinion.
c) God will allow nothing to separate us from His love (35-37). Troubles faced by Christians are nothing new. They will strike believers. But in Christ, we are more than conquerors- all of these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God. Through Christ, we live life not as grim Stoics or Pollyannas, but as victors.
Three things to take Home…
1) God has promised to help with your weaknesses in your prayer life…don’t use “I don’t know how to pray” as an excuse for not praying. Pray, and watch God work.
2) God has started something in you. If you are a Christian, you are in process, and the process if God’s. You are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10), and He will use everything in your life to bring you to completion. Change how you look at trials.
3) You are loved. Not only are you loved, but you are perfectly united with the One Who is Perfect Love.