watch gears

All Things Work Together For Good, How Gears Turn & Romans 8:28

There are good things and there are bad things and good things are not bad things. But those who love God have a staggering promise: that all things- good things and bad things- work together for their good. That’s Romans 8:28.

 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. 

We know this verse and many of us know it by heart. It’s on shower curtains and calendars and notecards. But when you really stop and consider it, Romans 8:28 is baffling.

To some ears, it might even sound like divine hocus-pocus.

Is Romans 8:28 Spiritual Hocus-Pocus?

Romans 8:28 almost sounds like the work of a fairy godmother.

As if God waves his silver wand over the bad things in a believer’s life, things like cancer and conflict and infertility and injury and accidents and temptation and pain, and then- bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!- the lowly pumpkin suddenly becomes a golden coach that whisks the suffering saint straight to the palace and prince.

Like hocus-pocus magic. As if to disguise the reality of the badness, because we know good is good and bad is bad and good and bad are quite often opposites. And yet Romans 8:28 boldly states: All things work together for good to those who love God. And of course, all things means good things and bad things.

But how can this be? How can things working in opposite directions-things like health and disease, kindness and mistreatment, birth and miscarriage, reconciliation and separation, comfort and distress- both be working, pointing, moving for our good? 

If good points right and bad points left, how can they both be leading to our good? 

I don’t know about you, but visuals help me understand. And I need a metaphor to grasp this hard thing. My little pea-size mind needs an image to help make sense of such a staggering promise.

But it’s not a silver wand. It’s a watch.

Watch The Wheels Turn.

In “Working for our Good,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers another image. It’s at the end of his sermon, but it hit me so hard I played and rewound and transcribed for an hour so I could describe this unbaffling image. Here it is:

Take your watch and open it. What do you see? You see wheels turning in opposite directions. You see one wheel moving in an anti-clockwise direction attached to another wheel going in a clockwise direction.

And you… look at this machinery and say “This is mad. This is quite ridiculous. Here are wheels working in opposite directions. The man who made that watch must have been a madman.”

 Of course he wasn’t. This is how he’d arranged this watch to work and move the hands around. Because all these different wheels are ultimately controlled by a main spring.

There’s a purpose at the back of it all. At the back of the main spring is the watchmaker who made the watch and wound it up… One gear is turning this way and one turning that way, but they’re all working together to move the main wheel and tell the time.  All these things that seem to be in contradiction are working together to the same end. It’s like that.

See the Gears Spin with a Spiritual Eye.

You look at life and say at first, “What’s happening? I can see that certain things are good for me, but look at all these other things. These are all against me.” 

“Think again,” he says, “Think again. Think of the One who’s planned it all. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look for an ultimate purpose. Look for an ultimate end. And if you do so with a spiritual eye as you should you will soon begin to see that God knows what he’s doing.”

Yes look at it again with spiritual eyes and will come to the conclusion that all things- everything- yes everything- that’s happening too you is working together. God’s made it like that. He wound it up. He keeps it going. The watchmaker is working it all together for our good.. 

Could there possibly be a more comforting and reassuring truth than that? Could there be a more heartening promise?

 

Don’t Slap It On.

I could stop here. After the watchmaker is working it all together for our good.

But I know Romans 8:28 is so encouraging we might be tempted to apply it quick and loose to others in pain. At our best we do so because it’s we’ve felt it’s immense comfort and we want to comfort others with the help we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). There may well be a time to share Romans 8:28.

At our worst we apply the verse like a slap job. It’s a take-this-pill-and-get-over-it. It’s saying, “It’s all for the best,” at a funeral for a child. It might mean, “Hurry up and heal, so I don’t have to see you hurt.”

Besides that, it might come off as if we’re saying that bad things are good. They’re not. In the context of Romans 8, Paul had just finished talking about trials and suffering and all creation groaning (see Romans 8:17-27).

Paul was not calling black white or dark light and neither should we. To do so would be “false spirituality and a crass insensitivity.” 

Because evil does enter our homes. Things invade our lives that are just plain bad. We’re not to be glib and slap on Romans 8:28 like we slap a band-aid on a crying four year-old’s knee, to quiet him and send him away.

Our freshly wounded friends need our presence and hugs and listening ears. A slapped-on Romans 8:28 won’t heal their hurt.

Fools rush in. Wisdom can sit and wait when words won’t come.

But Hold On Tight.

But we, reading this now- we need grasp the watch and the gears- and hold on tight to the image when things go “anti-clockwise.” Because bad things will come to us. Things will go anti-clockwise.

That’s why we need to latch on to ALL THINGS. Because Romans 8:28 tells us that no meaningless trial comes to us. It affirms that no suffering- no bad thing- is wasted. Romans 8:28 teaches us that there is no experience ever in the Christian’s life that will not be worked for good.

Most of all, we know- not think or hope, but know- that in his providence God uses every single seemingly isolated event, to bring about his purpose- that we be conformed to the image of Christ and finally brought to glory.

Finally, in a Romans 8:28 sermon of his own, Pastor Geoff Thomas quotes one Daniel Howland,

All the events that take place in the world carry on the same work—the glory of the Father and the salvation of his children. Every ill­ness that may seize you, every loss you may meet with, every reproach you may endure, every shame that may color your faces, every sorrow in your hearts, every pain in your flesh, every ache in your bones, is for your good.

Oh, Christians, see what a harvest of blessings ripens from this text! The Lord is at work; all creation is at work; men and angels, friends and foes, all are busy, working together for good.

Oh, dear Lord Jesus, what have you seen in us that you should order things so wondrously for us, and make all things- all things – to work together for our good?

The Lord is at work. Clockwise or anti-clockwise the wheels turn for His purpose.

Rest assured, the watchmaker turns all things for our good.

 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.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:28-29

watch gears

The Cure For My Passive-Aggressive

Pat thought what you wrote was a little passive-aggressive, a mutual friend relayed, her eyebrows raised.

The charge caught me off-guard and I winced. I’d never thought of myself that way- as a sort of silent and brooding, wounded-then-wounding type. Then again, sometimes we are blind.

So I raced off to re-read that post, with a sharp eye for the signs. But try as I might, I didn’t see the backhanded jabs of passive-aggressive. And as much as I can know my own heart, I knew that there was no motive to hurt in those words.

But, like Chesterton said, to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it. The words came off as hurtful to friend I respect. So I pulled the post.

And that was the end of that.

Or not.

Find The Kernel.

Turns out, I’ve been sitting with Pat’s passive-aggressive charge for  2 1/2 years now. Which, I suppose, might prove the point. Maybe. We’ll sift that out later.

Regardless, I’m learning to look for the kernel of truth when I’m criticized. Because even if the charge is mostly false, there’s usually some truth.

And why, you ask, are you so relentless about this kernel business? 

Glad you asked: It’s because I know that letting hard truth land on me– painful as that is- always propels growth. Because I’m learning that if by God’s strong grace, I can chew on the seed without shattering my teeth, the odds are that its truth will nourish my soul and change me for the good.

What Is Passive-Aggressive?

Passive-aggressive, for the record, describes a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials. 

Passive-aggressive behaviors might include:

  • Putting off responsibilities
  • Carrying out responsibilities late, not at all, or inefficiently
  • Sulking
  • Using forgetfulness as an excuse not to do things
  • Having pent-up feelings of anger
  • Resenting and blaming other people

Avoiding direct confrontation, resenting, sulking– who can’t relate, at least a little?

Not guilty. And guilty.

But even in light of the list, I have a clear conscience about the post.

But what about the kernel? What about me would make Pat think that?

  • Do I sulk and pout?
  • Do I resent those who hurt me?  
  • Am I tempted to hurt others back even when they hurt me unintentionally?  (But only in socially acceptable ways of course- like avoiding eye contact or withholding smiles, or forgetting her special day when she forgets mine?)

I do and I am. Guilty as charged. Pat was wrong about the particulars. But Pat was right about me.

And I suspect I’m not alone. Because passive and aggressive come natural.

Here’s what I mean.

Get past natural.

Once upon a run, a ferocious German Shepherd bit me in the hamstring. It broke the skin. It hurt. At once, I wanted to kick the dog as hard as I could and run away as far as I could.

I think that’s our reflex reaction when someone hurts our feelings, too- fight or flight.  Lash out or flee. Both are knee-jerk natural.

But Christians are called to something more. We’re called to supernatural. We are called to love one another. Loving people like Jesus loved means we have to move past the soul’s passive-aggressive preset.

Some situations might call for boundaries. I get that. But if we cordon ourselves off too tightly to prevent hurt, we might miss out on kingdom blessings (see Matthew 5:1-12) that come from giving love. I’m learning to be  wary of promising in my pain, “I’ll never get close again.”

To Forgive Is Divine

Human love demands risk. There is no safe investment, C.S. Lewis said. To love is to be vulnerable.

Maybe you’re less prone to retreat and more apt to fight back.  Your preset is “To vent,” and “Tell ’em like it is.” When unfair stings you,  it’s up to you to let her know how much she hurt you or let him feel the pain he gave.

These reactions all come natural. In a comment, commenting on ​1 Peter 1:6–7,John Piper explains that,God allows trials in our lives that could make us very angry. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be trials. But the reason he does is to refine our faith the way gold is refined by fire.”

 So will we? Will we look through the hurt to the sovereign goodness of God that allowed them? Or do we shut God out and let our passive-aggressive grow.

Only one is supernatural.

The Cure For Passive-Aggressive

There is a cure for every one of our sinful, destructive patterns. They’re not all named and described like in the DSM-V, but our Maker is our Healer and  He wrote the complete diagnostic and treatment book. What’s more, through his Holy Spirit, he gives his children the power to carry out the cure. 

Here it is, the Passive-Aggressive cure. It jumped out at me on another run when I wasn’t being chased by dog. It’s found in 1 Peter 4:19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. When I got home, I jotted this down:

1. Passive >> Continue to do good.

2. Aggressive>>Entrust yourself to your faithful Creator. 

3. Passive-Aggressive>> Forgive (and keep forgiving whenever the  hurt wells up) and cover with love.

And remember, If you hold a grudge, you doubt the Judge. Surely the judge of the earth will do right. His eyes see all. The thoughtful, or spiteful, lips and hands and the unforgiving, bitter hearts. 

Do Good.

God will give you opportunities to do good to those who hurt you. I know He will. Years ago, in the throes of some big hurt, I prayed that the man who hurt me would need help, and that I would be able to give it.

God answered that one before I’d prayed it more than a handful of  times. I saw said man with a broken down truck on the side of the road on my way home from work, and I thanked God and stopped to ask if I could help. It was part of my cure.

Do good. Trust God. Cover in love.

Cover WITH Love

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Keep on loving. Stay engaged. Fake it till you make it. I keep coming back to a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Here he explains what it looks like in real life when we cover with love.

A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk…-all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own. Who would rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night’s sleep, or a joke mend all? 

It’s supernatural, strong grace when we’re able to  “get over our tantrums” and just get on with it. Sulks come far more easily than doing good and trusting God and proving I do by telling a joke or smiling at the one who hurt me.

But that’s covering. It’s humility. That’s love.

Covered BY Love

The last part of the passive-aggressive, bitterness cure, I think, is to remember that we ourselves are not always so lovable.

I’ll close with a quote from a previous post. Incidentally, it’s a revision of  the post that Pat took issue with. And it’s as true now as  it was then. It’s about covering.

It’s Lewis again: 

There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved…You might as well ask people to like the tastes of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All may be sure that at some times…they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.

There’s no other way. You are, and I am, receiving Charity. And it’s not because we’re always lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love us and cover our sins.

That’s it, folks-what Paul called faith expressing itself in love. This is the only cure for my passive-aggressive: trust God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good.

The fix is not fast or flashy. But it works.

“Come Down, O Love Divine”

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

 

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
   
– Bi­an­co da Si­e­na
watch gears

Winter’s Past. Go On Into Spring.

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us.

C.S. Lewis

The last JoyPrO was about pain that’s real and pressing and all creation groaning and our way-long delayed spring.

That was last week.

Winter Is Past

But it’s 78° today. Windows open, shorts on and the daffodils are smiling at the doves.

Spring came this way slowly. But, as C.S.  Lewis wrote, the great thing is that the corner has been turnedThe winter is past, the snow is over and done. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, The corner has been turned- at least, outside.

And who in his right mind wouldn’t prefer spring over winter?

Don’t Sympathize (With Yourself)

But some don’t. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I prefer to wait in the cold and withstand the spring.

Don’t get me wrong, My heart thrilled in the breeze in the season’s first big bike ride today.  I mean the inner spring. The one Christ said wells up to eternal life. I mean, if I’m not careful, my soul lingers in woe-is-me winter. I’ve noticed that when my soul winters linger it’s because I’m stuck sympathizing with myself. 

Now sympathy for others is good and right. It’s beautiful. We are called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15b) and to have sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

But our hearts are supposed to feel tender toward others, to be directed outside of ourselves.

I know- too well- that melancholy and self-pity are a slippery, wintry mix for my soul. They tend toward dark nights. When I sympathize with myself, I choose winter over spring. I choose not to turn the corner and I deprive my Help, my God, of glory.

But my inner self loves spring. Which is why I’m on a sophron quest, a self-control, sound-mind mission to not let my emotions rule me. It’s why I’m learning to distract my wintry thoughts by thinking on excellent and lovely things. To get a grip and push the brakes.

Get a Grip. (Talk to Yourself.)

It is a work. And a process- a Spirit-guided process.

But taking myself in hand is the only way I know to get my soul to spring. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.

Here he  explains why we must get a grip.

This other man within us has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you…

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Lloyd-Jones is only echoing the Psalmist’s 3,000 year-old cure for the downcast soul that can’t – or won’t- turn the corner from winter into spring.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Let’s take ourselves in hand and leave winter behind.  Hope in God, O my soul. Don’t withstand the spring.

We do have that choice. The flowers don’t. The crocus can’t choose if it will come out in spring or not.

But we can.

Go On Into Spring

We can choose.  

There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of Man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. (C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock)

There is a season for everythinga time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. And God knows it’s not for me to determine the times and seasons he’s appointed. 

But spring has sprung and it is mine to choose if I will get on with it. If I will hope-in-God obey and rise and follow Jesus.

What will you choose?

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
    and come away,
 for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:10-12

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When Your Pain Is Real And Pressing

Some weeks we feel it more. Some days strung in a row, it’s heavy and it clings. Our pain feels real and pressing.

Some springs we just feel the fall more. Paul wrote: The whole creation groans

Last week, when April showers were snowstorms that dampened weddings and canceled ballgames and delayed burials and postponed buttercup plantings, I think I heard it groan.

Grandpa On Monday

It was Grandpa’s burial that was delayed last Monday.

Not that it that day so much when I heard the moan.  Because we’d watched him fade and Grandpa was blessed to make 98.

Two days before his last, we stopped to say our thank-you’s and good-bye. Grandpa’s head was a little bloodied and bruised from a nasty night-time tumble.

All creation groans.

Grandpa was thirsty. I swabbed three times with water- no hyssop, no wine. Then I leaned in to the “good” ear that could maybe hear a.  We love you Grandpa. He winced and softly moaned.

All creation groans. 

Still- or so?- we sang- Youtube and I- into that one good ear. 

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, not pain, no more parting over there. And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be! What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And on and on we sang for 4 or 5 more songs.  Until the troops got hungry and restless. For all creation groans. 

His funeral was Monday. I heard it then.

Groaning the Rest of the Week

But, got louder- it felt heavier- as the week wore on.

On Tuesday when a tearful friend detailed a long-standing heart-wrenching marriage ache. And Wednesday, I heard it when another friend described her pain as she wrote the hardest word on her son’s tax return- “deceased.” He would have been 18.

All creation groans. 

Thursday, I felt it when a newly widowed friend explained how a court and a judge are needed to unravel wrongs from before her husband died. And I heard it Friday when another friend requested more prayer for a heated custody battle her son is in.

All creation groans. 

Then, Saturday, I felt it in myself. In a struggle in my mind that comes and goes but may not end, I think, till I die, (And that’s okay- suffering is fitting.) And Sunday, Jim and I heard it when our friend’s sick lungs kept him in bed, even on the sunny day when spring came.

The whole creation groans. But He knows.

God knows what He’s about. 

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I’d heard this (anonymous) poem before. But when I woke up Friday last week – that string-of-days week – to hear Joni read it, it meant more.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

Hammers and hurts, converts. Bends, but never breaks, when his good He undertakes. For sure: amazed, by God’s methods and ways.

Which may include pain.

When Your Pain is Real and Pressing

But this blog is called Joyfully Pressing On and Philippians 3:8-14 is my theme.

I know this suffering, this all creation groaning, is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. I believe this. The pain and pressing now is not worth comparing to the glory then.

But more.

Our suffering now isn’t merely to be endured. In a sense, it’s to be a source of joy. Yes, joy! Because our groans, our faithful groans, our I-believed-and-so-I-spoke groans, are actually achieving glory.

Our real and pressing pains are some of the God’s means to prepare and produce and achieve this splendid glory. To try his splendor out.

When you see this, says Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)

Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

Eternal Weight Of Glory

Let’s don’t doubt it, friends: Our suffering is productive. If we’re in Christ, it’s working for us, even as we groan. 

While we waste away, God is preparing an eternal weight of glory– from our real and pressing pain.

Earlier this snowy, groany month of April, a friend gave me a new Wendell Kimbrough CD. I listened to track nine over and over last week. And if you’ve had your own string of days- if you’ve felt the fall this spring- you might enjoy a listen too.

So I’ll leave you with the lyrics to track number nine- Eternal Weight of Glory- since it’s high time I say good-bye.

Because the snow finally melted and I’ve got some buttercup bulbs to plant.

Eternal Weight of Glory 
Now the days and hours and moments
Of our suff’ring seem so long;
And the toilsome wait and wond’ring
Threaten silence to our song.
Now our pain is real and pressing
Where our faith is thin and weak,
But our hope is set on Jesus;
And we cling to him, our strength.

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

For behold! I tell a myst’ry:
At the trumpet sound we’ll wake

“Death is swallowed up in vict’ry!”
When we meet our King of Grace
Every year we thought was wasted
Every night we cried “How long?”
All will be a passing moment
In our Savior’s vict’ry song

We will see our wounded Savior.
We’ll behold him face to face;
And we’ll hear our anguished stories
Sung as vict’ry songs of grace.

Words and Music: © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough.