Think of the many things that you have gone through in your life that were less than pleasant, though you endured them to get to a better time and situation.
I look back on my educational years and still marvel that I put up with nine consecutive years of post-high school pressures and continual life transitions. I often wondered if I was ever going to grow up! There were five years of a double major in college (although I was encouraged to have gained a wife out of that time). And then there was the oft terror of seminary and its high-level academics and language study demands. Along the way were jobs as a painter, UPS package sorter, North American Van Lines, and swimming pool maintenance. A great music ministry position in a wonderful church gave me a breeze of hope that all of this might someday lead to a ministry career, which it did, now totaling 34 years.
Or think about medical things we might endure. Something is amiss physically and you have to give attention to a remedy that might be a bit painful. Someday, some year, somewhere, somehow I’m going to get my dumb arthritic knee fixed. It ain’t going to feel good. But the hope is that on the other side of a season of suffering will be a longer time of being a healthier beefcake than I am already!
If you listen to financial guru Dave Ramsey, he is always encouraging the life disciplines that will help one pay off debts. He will say, “Until you pay off that debt, it’s going to be beans and rice, rice and beans every night for dinner.” He is saying that you need to endure hardship now for the promise of a better tomorrow.
The better tomorrow – when does that really arrive? It is a general pattern of life that wise living leads to successful outcomes, but there is no guarantee. You might get a rare cancer or be run over by the drunk driver who missed the red light. Even without randomly grave circumstances finding their way to you, life is filled with more than a few challenges and inevitable sorrows. Though some few folks may appear to live a charmed existence, nobody escapes difficulties and sadness.
But for the child of God, it is all worth it. The pain of this life is real for sure, but it is so small in comparison to the eternal glory that awaits in the promised future. So, my 9 years of educational suffering will result in something like 4x as many years of joy in service. The several months of knee surgery and associated recovery may result in perhaps 20 years of pain-free greater mobility. Financial moderation by folks now should result in decades of greater stability and reward. Those are good ratios … up to maybe like 60:1 in the one instance.
But think about suffering here now, as compared to eternity. If you have 70 years of difficulties and the accumulated sadness of the human condition in a sinful and fallen world, what is that compared to, oh, say about 7 million years of eternity? The ratio is 100,000:1 … and that is just the bare beginning. So Paul writes in Romans 8 …
8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
8:22 – We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
For both the creation and for us as redeemed, adopted sons of God, the current situation is far from perfect. Paul describes it as “groaning.” The pain and difficulty is real. But bigger than all of this is the “hope” we have that is a part of our waiting. Just because we don’t have the perfection of heaven as a present reality does not mean that God is not good.
And we’re not without resources. The text above says that we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit as a “firstfruits” of the full crop of God’s eternal reward that is yet to come. Paul describes how this works practically, even in a fallen world …
8:26 – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
There are those times in life where we do not know how to pray for ourselves or for someone else. We might say that “it’s complicated.” Do we pray to have God give us that job that will move us 500 miles away from our family and a happy place of serving Christ in the church? What is better? We want God’s best for us, and we can be assured that the Spirit of God prays for us in a wordless way that is understood by the Father. And that’s just one ministry of the resource of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Hey, let me throw at you some of that painful Greek language education I endured 35 years ago. You’re going to like this one! The word for “helps us” in verse 26 is “synantilambanetai” (let me hear you repeat that three times quickly!), and it has the literal picture of someone who comes alongside another person to help them carry a heavy load.
Beyond this, God has a plan for us, and it is a good plan …
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Even in a sinful world, even in a place where not all things that happen to us are good, God harmonizes all of those “lesser experiences” in a way that is ultimately good for us. The Greek word for working things together is “synergei” … from which you don’t need to be a language scholar to see the roots of English words like “synergy” or “synergize.” Yep, there is a synergy to God’s plan for us.
And it is a plan, step by step. God foreknew us – meaning He took the initiative to establish the relationship we have with him. Then he predestined or predetermined that we would know him and follow a path that would bring us into relationship with Christ and growth in his likeness. And this works out by us being called, being justified (declared righteous), and ultimately glorified.
Yep, there’s a plan. It hurts a bit right now. But the big, guaranteed truth is that THINGS ARE GOING TO GET BETTER!