For Our Good
You may have heard it as a child. A parent, or teacher, or maybe a doctor holding a very long needle said to you, “This is for your good.” Why was it that this phrase never seemed to precede something that we found pleasant? Why didn’t it ever involve ice cream or a candy bar? Why was it broccoli, or studying, or having to do chores, or getting a spanking?
And, yet, just like it says in Hebrews 12, discipline, especially the kind that God ordains in our lives, works a harvest of righteousness to those who are trained by it. In other words, it doesn’t just pay off a little, it’s harvest time—abundant! But the qualifier to this abundance is, “to those who have been trained by it.” Not everyone is willing to submit to the discipline, or have the attitude which understands that, in Christ, everything works together for our good. Let me rephrase that and choose a different word than “understands”, because way too often we are not going to understand, we are just going to have to trust—trust in His character, in His love for us. Everything works together for our good because He is good—unfailingly so. He can’t do anything but good—despite how it may feel in the moment.
The past few weeks have been filled with things that are beyond our understanding, apart from the worldview that God is in control, working a perfect plan, and will eventually reveal His goodness and good intentions toward us. Our local community has been rocked by something so horrific and evil that it is difficult to fathom—the killing of a five year old by his own parents. On a wider front, Christendom has been jarred by the church bombings in Sri Lanka, and the mass killings of Christians in Nigeria (if you missed that one, it’s because the news media has been silent).
Christians are being brutally oppressed in China, and in our own nation we are being increasingly marginalized and denigrated. It is said that the bias against Christians is the last acceptable form of discrimination. Jesus told His disciples that since He was hated, they should expect to be hated as well. If we do not believe that God is still undisturbed on His throne and working His plan, it would be very easy to despair.
Pulling the focus down closer to home, how many people can you name in your personal circle who are experiencing dire circumstances—devastating illnesses, deaths, prolonged job losses, unremittent mental illness or addiction? Sometimes they are struggling with seemingly hopeless situations where prayer is not producing what we’d consider a noticeable, much less miraculous change in circumstances, and we begin to wonder whether or what to pray. This is where the anthem reminds us that we need to rehearse truth to ourselves. The lyrics talk about God stilling our anxious hearts again.
Again is an important word, because we don’t just make a one-time decision to trust God with the circumstances of our lives. There are even some days when we have to do so on a moment by moment basis, because things are just that out of control. That refining fire is burning at a temperature that threatens to undo us. Sometimes all we can do is pray, “I trust You…I trust You…I trust You…” And those desperate, clinging-to-the-last-thread-of-faith prayers are a sweet fragrance to the God who knows just what a sacrifice it is for His child to cling to trust when all around him tempts him, as Job’s wife did, to “curse God and die.” It is an act of profound worship to trust at these times.
Sometimes trust calls us to do as the lyrics say, and surrender our dreams. We had plans. We had these expectations of how things would turn out. We projected a future which may not now be possible. We have potentials which won’t be realized, and ambitions that lay shattered at our feet, along with our broken hearts. And yet that trust in the goodness of God allows us to exchange our human-sized dreams for His God-sized promises.
Martha’s disappointment that Jesus didn’t arrive to heal Lazarus was far outstripped by the joy of his resurrection. The disciples’ devastation over the death of Jesus evaporated in the reality of the risen and ascended Christ. Their dashed hopes of the renewal of an earthly Jewish kingdom swallowed up in the glories of an eternal kingdom of the New Jerusalem to come. Paul’s disappointment that he wasn’t healed was more than compensated by the grace of God he received to bear it. But we have to be willing to really surrender, to open our hands and not cling to the smallness of this world, to trust beyond what we can see and feel and understand in order to grasp and experience God’s goodness on the level that transforms our despair into peace and joy and that wellness of soul which only the passing through the fire can bring.
Each of us has a story of how we have experienced God’s goodness when circumstances seemed bleak at best. Sometimes we need to revisit these to encourage our own hearts to face new uncertain times with the certainty of who He is. Sometimes we need to share our experiences to encourage others. Ask the Lord to give you opportunities to revel in His great goodness and share it with others, for our Good God is forever, faithfully, working things together for our good.