Forever Hopefull even when things go wrong
Romans 8: 12-28 – Forever Hopeful
Although Paul’s passage is primarily an encouragement to the suffering persecuted church at the time, it should also be an encouragement to today’s church. That includes both the persecuted church, where in the last 100 years worldwide more Christians have lost their lives than the previous 1900 years since Christianity started and also those of us who make up the church in such countries like the UK where we have an easy ride so to speak.! At the present time here we don’t come under such persecution, our lives are not under such a threat as places like Pakistan, India, China, Syria or Philippians just to name a few, however nobody, including Christians are exempt from other forms of suffering. Although it’s vitally important that we never forget and prayer for our brothers & sisters facing persecution, today I want to look at some of the other issues of suffering we are and will face!
I guess many here including me have in the past and if honest still do sometimes ask this question ‘Why God?’ or ‘How can there be a God with all this suffering’ Sometimes life hands us some tricky situations. Former President Ronald Reagan likes to tell a story which he says is true about a newspaper photographer out in Los Angeles who was called in by his editor and told of a fire that was raging out in Palos Verdes. That’s a hilly area south of Los Angeles. His assignment was to rush down to a small airport, board a waiting plane, get some pictures of the fire, and be back in time for the afternoon edition. Breathlessly, he raced to the airport and drove his car to the end of the runway. Sure enough, there was a plane waiting with all the engines all revved up, ready to go. He got aboard, and at about five thousand feet, he began getting his camera out of the bag. He told the fellow flying the plane to get him over the fire so he could take his pictures and get back to the paper. From the other side of the cockpit there was a deafening silence.
Then he heard these unsettling words: “Aren’t you the instructor?”
Some of us have been in situations like that one. Our lives have been going along smoothly, flying on cloud nine. We thought we were in control, when “oops!” something changes and we realized we are in trouble. Illness, Bereavement, Marital or Financial problems, the list goes on!
Our text for this morning is a recognition that life does not always operate according to plan. St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Some of us know about those “sufferings of the present time, as do those effected by the awful events of 7th July 2005. Certainly for over 700 people their day didnât go according to plan, and many more people shared in their suffering. Praise the Lord that on 21st July, the bombers plans didnât go to plan!
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale the famous Author & Methodist Minister who wrote the book ‘The power of positive thinking’ writes about walking down the street, when he saw his friend George approaching. It was evident from George’s downtrodden look that he was deeply concerned about something. Dr. Peale asked him, “How are you, George?” While that was meant to be a routine inquiry, George took him very seriously and for fifteen minutes enlightened him on how bad he felt. Not being unkind but I know a few people like that, you learn not to ask how they are if in a hurry! Finally Dr. Peale said to him, “George, I’m sorry to see you in such a depressed state. How did you get this way?” “It’s my problems,” George said. “Problems – nothing but problems. I’m fed up with problems. If you could get me rid of all my problems, I would contribute $5,000 to your favourite charity.” That got Peale’s attention. He said, “Yesterday I went to a place where thousands of people reside. As far as I could determine, not one of them has any problems. Would you like to go there?” “When can we leave?” answered George. “That sounds like my kind of place.” “If that’s the case, George,” Peale said, “I’ll be happy to take you tomorrow to Woodlawn Cemetery because the only people I know who don’t have any problems are dead.”
That’s true. To be alive is to have problems. Some problems are big. Some are small. Some of us have health problems. We’re not alone. Each Christmas and sometimes at Easter choirs all over this country perform Handel’s immortal “Messiah.” This work has endured and thrilled audiences for almost 250 years. The next time you hear it try to remember that five years before composing Messiah at the age of fifty-two Handel suffered a stroke. Isn’t it comforting to know that people can often come back from strokes, cancer, heart attacks, the loss of a limb, etc. and live noble, productive lives?
Some of us have money problems. It’s no disgrace. When he was young and
impoverished, Pablo Picasso kept warm by burning his own paintings. To be honest as far as I’m concerned no great loss looking at that personal portrait! It amazes me people buy that sort of rubbish! Mozart was so poor that he was unable to buy wood to heat the shabby room in which he lived. He sat with hands wrapped in woollen socks to keep them warm, while he composed the music that was to make him great. He died of consumption at the age of 35, his vitality lowered by constant hunger, cold, and lack of proper nourishment. Just six people followed the cheap coffin and even they turned back because it started to rain. His pitiful funeral cost about £1.70
We have health problems, money problems, family problems. We are alone and lonely. We have problems at work and the young at school. We are unhappy about our appearance, we are hurting with the heartache of a broken relationship, we are grieving over a loved one no longer with us. There’s nobody in this room who does not have problems.
Our reading, though is not about so much about having problems. It is about hope. It is about positive expectation. It is about a Creator God who is at work bringing order out of chaos, joy out of pain, character out of conflict.
A certain man was troubled with dizzy spells. He went from one doctor to another and none could tell him what the problem was. He tried everything, it seemed. Finally, it was bothering him so much he started to lose weight, and he couldn’t sleep at night. He became a nervous wreck and his health began to deteriorate. He had lost hope that he would ever recover. So he decided to prepare for the worst. He made out his will, bought a cemetery plot, and even made arrangements with the local undertaker for what he was convinced was his soon demise. He even decided to buy a new suit of clothes to be buried in. When he went into the Menâs wear shop he was measured for everything and picked out shoes, socks, coat, pants–and he asked for a size 15 shirt as well. The clerk said, “But, sir, you need a size 16 1/2 shirt, not 15.” But the man insisted he wore a size 15. Finally, in exasperation the clerk said, “But if you wear a size 15 you’ll get dizzy spells.”
How often do we make a mountain out of a molehill? Our reading also means, donât shut the door prematurely on the possibility of a favourable outcome, there is a simple remedy! How many of us turn to prayer as a last result when it should be first!
V19 “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed; for the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope; that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
The truth of the matter is, that right now we live in a world that is less than perfect. This world is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. That law states that everything in this universe is decaying. What seems fresh and new one day will someday be old and broken down. Something that is growing and vibrant will someday shrivel up and die. To use Paulâs language, this world is in “bondage to decay.”
So the plant that pops up through the soil and looks so alive and fresh will one day die and rot away. Especially if in my garden, I donât seem to have green fingers! A couple of years ago I brought a large selection of annual bulbs from the Sunday Times they promised a massive yearly display that would flood my garden with colour and beauty. Fine chance! The reality, out of over 80 bulbs about 10 have survived! Even they will not bloom forever. The reality of the situation is that everything on earth is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. Even those of you with green thumbs canât make a plant live forever! Every living thing will eventually die and decay. That includes me and that includes you. The second law of thermodynamics doesnât offer any hope for anything on this earth. And when you run smack dab into the unyielding wall of that truth, it is sobering.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell was an outspoken atheist. He even wrote a book called Why I Am Not A Christian, considered one of the most blasphemous philosophical documents ever written. When Russell was 81 years old, he was interviewed on a B.B.C radio talk show. The interviewer asked him what he had to hang onto when death was obviously so close. Russell responded, “I have nothing to hang onto but grim, unyielding despair.” What an honest yet hopeless response. You see, when you live only for this life, when you invest your life in the flesh, when you think that this is all there is, you canât help but live in despair.
St. Paul paints a magnificent picture of a world in which hope is triumphant, unlike the picture displayed in the Sunday Times to sell bulbs, his picture represents the truth and results can be achieved without having green fingers! The good news is we can live in the light of that hope today. What does it mean to live with such hope? For those of us who are in Christ Jesus there is hope, because we anticipate a time when death and decay will no longer exist. In verse 19 Paul says “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” That phrase “eager expectation” is a picturesque word that means “to stretch the neck in anticipation.” Have you ever waited for someone to come home on a plane or crowded train? As the people come off the ramp you stretch and strain to see them as soon as possible. Paul says creation is in that type of existence, longing to see what God is going to do.
Illustration: In the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, a Japanese gymnast, Shun Fujimoto, was competing in the team competition. Somehow, during the floor exercises, he broke his right knee. It was obvious to all reasonable observers that he would be forced to withdraw. But they reckoned without the determination of a true competitor. On the following day, Fujimoto competed in his strongest event, the rings. His routine was excellent, but the critical point laid ahead the dismount. Without hesitation, Fujimoto ended with a twisting, triple somersault. There was a moment of intense quiet as he landed with tremendous impact on his wounded knee. Then came thundering applause as he stood his ground. Later, reporters asked about that moment and he replied, ‘The pain shot through me like a knife. It brought tears to my eyes. But now I have a gold medal and the pain in gone.’
This in effect is what Paul is saying to us. We will go through painful times but one day the pain will be gone and the glory will be lasting. There is no doubt that even though we are children of God we will go through some very hard and hurtful times. It doesn’t matter how much faith you have, how spiritual you are, or how many supposed spiritual laws you may practice you will suffer! This is true simply because we have not yet received the fullness of what it means to be children of God. We only have the beginnings of our inheritance. As Paul says in verse 23 we have the ‘first fruits of the Spirit.’ So for now we must understand that the Christian life will not be a rose garden!
This doesn’t mean our troubles cause us to go through life despondent, defeated, overwhelmed and without joy. We don’t respond to suffering this way because we recognize that ‘our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ In other words we can say, like that Olympian, ‘It is all worth it!’ The pains of this life are small and temporary when compared to the glory and eternity the future holds for the children of God.
A hospital chaplain visited a lady in the hospital. As he approached her bed he noticed that with the index finger of one hand she was touching, one by one, the fingers of the other, with her eyes closed. When the chaplain spoke to her she opened her eyes and said, “Ah, minister, I was just saying my prayers— the prayers my grandmother taught me many years ago.”
The chaplain looked puzzled, so she went on to explain, “I hold my hand like this, my thumb towards me. That reminds me to pray for those nearest to me. Then, there is my pointing finger, so I pray for those who point the way to others—teacher, leaders, parents. The next finger is the biggest so I pray for those in high places. After that comes the weakest finger—look it won’t stand up by itself, so I pray for the sick and the lonely and the afraid. And this little one—well, last of all I pray for myself.
I don’t know about you there are times when I just don’t know how to pray into a situation. I can remember the first time someone came to Maggie & I for prayer after being told she only had six weeks to live! It is in times like this that we need to claim the promise of the last few verses of our reading. We are told that we have the Holy Spirit with us as Christians, as children of God and he will help us with our prayers. By the way that lady lived another 18 months which in her words gave her time to put her house in order with both family & God!
How does the Holy Spirit help us in prayer?
1. Reminds us what to pray. (John 14:26).
2. Motivates us when to pray. (John 14:17).
3. Guides us in prayer. (John 16:13).
4. Will point us to Jesus. (John 15:26).
5. Gives us strength to pray. (Col. 1:8-12).
A young man, a Christian, went to an older believer to ask for prayer. “Will you please pray that I may be more patient?” he asked. The older saint agreed. They knelt together and the man began to pray, “Lord, send this young man trials & tribulation in the morning; send this young man trials & tribulation in the afternoon; send this young man….” At that point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray for trials & tribulation. I wanted you to pray for patience.” “Ah,” responded the wise Christian, “it’s through trials & tribulation that we learn patience.”
Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”
Finally what about verse 28 which says ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who have been called to his purpose’ Do we know & believe that?… It’s hard at times to see the good in some things isn’t it? This passage doesn’t mean that all that happens to us is good. Can we believe God was in those bombings? No evil is prevalent in our fallen world, some many think God encourages it by giving us free will, but God is able to turn evil around for our long term good. God is not working to make us happy. But to fulfill his purpose.
If we had the time to follow on our reading to the end of the chapter we read Paul’s wonderful reassuring words ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, niether angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Hang on to that promise, I can reassure you it’s more reliable that the promise The Times gave me regarding my bulbs! The reality is that God is faithful to those who love & trust Him in all circumstances. Amen