Podcast available at: https://anchor.fm/diane-simcox/episodes/Rerouting-to-the-Buts-e1aaili
Romans 8:18-39 – Week Ten
I was driving home from having dinner with my sister and a friend a little more than a week ago. Normally I would have left the restaurant, hit I-75, and headed straight to my home. As I was leaving the restaurant, blinking blue and red lights punctuated the area to which I had intended to go. Traffic was quickly piling up and I thought it best if I went a different route. I’m not that unfamiliar with the area so I knew I had a few options. As I made my way going the opposite direction of my home, there were more emergency vehicles and more traffic; a lot more traffic than what’s normal for that area. Whatever was happening was a big event* and the roads were becoming more and more congested. I tapped on my GPS to determine the best route home.
My GPS had me go down a major road that I had traveled on before; however, it didn’t keep me on that road. I was told to take a right down a side street. Then a left followed by another left. I found myself deep in a neighborhood. I kept following the instructions, but it seemed as if I had entered some sort of maze of which there was no exit.
Mildly frustrated and confused, I decided to pull over and take a look at my GPS. Sure enough, it showed me in the correct location, right in the middle of this neighborhood, but it didn’t make sense to me. It was dark, there was obviously some major event that had taken place. I was by myself and it was a bit unnerving to be meandering around a strange neighborhood. Why wouldn’t it have been better for me to stay on that main road where I was comfortable and familiar? It wasn’t until I took my two fingers and zoomed the area out on my phone that I saw I was, in fact, nearing an exit that would put me back on the main road, and actually, I had avoided a major traffic jam on that main road by taking this detour.
Once I zoomed out and saw the bigger picture, it made sense. Even though it didn’t make a lick of sense at the time to take the route I did, the GPS was actually looking out for my best interest.
The reason I had followed the GPS instructions rather than going on my own instinct was that I had been in the same general area just a few days before and, as usual, traffic was crazy so I had used my GPS. I didn’t like what it had to say, so I took one of my usual routes. All along the way, the GPS is telling me to take a U-turn. Puh-lease! I obviously knew better than the GPS and was certain I’d make it home in record time. That is until I saw the “Road Closed” sign blocking me from continuing. I slowed down, made the recommended U-turn, and dutifully listened to the GPS until it guided me safely back to my home. Even though I didn’t like the path that it had recommended for me to take, once again, the GPS was working for me and not against me.
There are periods in our life in which we can feel as if everything is working against us. It may seem as if we are caught up in a loop of unfortunate events. We become the poster child for Murphy’s Law. If it can go wrong, it will. This is not isolated to any particular group of people. We all experience this. Christians and non-Christians. How we respond to these times should set us apart from non-Christians. But does it?
I was talking with a friend this week and she was literally counting off several aggravating and frustrating occurrences that had taken place. Overflowing toilets. Dead car battery. Flat tire. Sick child. Sick cat. The freezer full of food died during the night. She’s a single mom with no real support so that certainly inflates the weight of all of these things. But as she ticked off every bad thing, she ended with “but”. Overflowing toilets, but I got the water turned off, no damage was done. And I was able to get this stuff that took care of the problem. Dead car battery, but fortunately I was in the Walmart parking lot and was able to get a new battery. Flat tire but my neighbor took care of it for me. The child was sick but I just took her to her grandparents’ house and she had a blast. The cat was sick but it turned out she had just eaten something she wasn’t supposed to and her sickness only lasted about a day. The freezer died but it needed cleaning out anyways.
We forget the “but” sometimes, don’t we? That little conjunction of a word is used to transition between two statements that contradict each other or cancel each other out. It’s used to reveal a twist in the story. We often neglect it or acknowledge it. We tend to pitch a tent and set up camp on the negative side of things. That “woe is me” mentality.
As we continue in Romans 8, there are keywords that pop up in verses 18-39 that aren’t necessarily comforting. Here are just a few.
Sufferings-ruin-pain-weakness-groans-death-troubles-problems-persecutions-danger-killed. Not exactly a feel-good summation when you extract just those words. But! The word “but” is sprinkled all throughout these verses to contrast or cancel out the negative.
Romans 8:18 ERV We have sufferings now, but these are nothing compared to the great glory that will be given to us.
Here’s another translation of Romans 8:18 found in J.B. Phillips New Testament. “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us.”
I can’t speak for you, but it’s hard to look back on the rough times of my life and classify them as “less than nothing”. Those challenges and rough patches were scary, painful, breaking, and oftentimes very dark. There didn’t seem to be any glimmer of light, any pinhole of illumination to give me any hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And truthfully, I’ve had a much easier life than most people. But there were times I felt like I had been swallowed up or buried because life and its complications became just too much. Christine Caine once said, “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”
“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”Christine Caine
She’s absolutely right! When we are going through times of suffering or pain or troubles, it can be dark. We could very well experience that feeling of being swallowed up. A lot of times that’s exactly how we feel. But our own perspective of the situation is what determines whether we are buried or planted.
I do not have a green thumb. I have tried and tried over the years but I have come to accept the fact that if I am to grow anything, it’s going to need to be hardy, easy, and self-sufficient and even then there’s a good chance I won’t get a lot out of it. And I will certainly not even attempt to grow something from seeds. I’ve tried before and I might as well have just buried the money I spent on the seeds because nothing grew. My perspective was I should be able to take a seed, dig a hole, put the seed in, water it from time to time and it should grow and produce whatever it was supposed to produce. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers. My dad, however, knew how to garden. He prepared his soil ahead of time. Whereas I was planting in the good old Georgia red clay, Daddy would create a bed of healthy and nutrient-filled soil. He knew just how deep the seeds needed to be. Some thrived by being planted several inches down while others didn’t have to strength to push through that much soil. I wasn’t that considerate with mine. I would dig down an inch or so and throw them in. He carefully placed the seeds in the hole, covered them with more healthy and nutritious soil and then he would tend to them every night. He watered them. I wasn’t as attentive. If it rained, I considered them watered. As Daddy’s seeds began to break through the surface of the ground, he would install stakes or cages and gently tie the stems or stalks to the support so that the new plant wouldn’t flop over but would grow upwards. I did unbend a wire hanger once but it was less sturdy than the plant itself. Daddy’s garden was always plentiful. His vegetables kept us fed all summer long and after Mom did some canning and freezing, his bounty continued to feed us all fall and winter as well. You see, Daddy planted seeds. I buried seeds.
God doesn’t bury us. He plants us with the intention of causing us to grow. If we embraced every period of suffering, troubles, pain, weakness as an opportunity to grow, how might that change our outlook during those times? I look back on difficult times in my life and have regrets about how I responded. I’ve played that “poor, pitiful me” role so often when I should have considered my blessings. Some of those difficult times were short-lived; others lasted weeks or months. But things always got better. The situation got resolved. The difficulty, the suffering came to an end.
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
We focus so much on the weeping that we fail to anticipate the joy that is inevitable. We focus so much on our sufferings now that we fail to anticipate the glory that’s promised us in the future. I mentioned earlier how we will often find ourselves looking for that light at the end of the tunnel. In other words, we look for the light after the darkness. Flip back to Genesis 1 for a moment.
Genesis 1:1 GNT “In the beginning, when God created the universe, 2 the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. 3 Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared. 4 God was pleased with what he saw. Then he separated the light from the darkness, 5 and he named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” Evening passed and morning came—that was the first day.”
Over and over in Genesis 1, the phrase “evening passed and morning came” is used to define each day. When God was creating, He went from evening to morning. Darkness to lightness. Our way of thinking is completely the opposite of that. We see the mornings as the beginning of the day and each day ends in the night. We begin in lightness and end in darkness. We apply that same mentality to life itself. We view it as transitioning from morning to evening and then lights out; it’s all over with. But God’s intention is that we view it as transitioning from evening to morning and that’s where it begins. If God moves from evening to morning, dark to light, shouldn’t we? How much more positive would our outlook be on life if when we experience troubles, sufferings, uncertainties as we fumble through the darkness that we can rest assured that morning is on its way?
Ordinary lives are filled with devastations such as illness, death, betrayal, accusations, loss of job, barren wombs, and injuries among others. There are times when we find ourselves unsure as to how to pray. Even if we’ve been a child of God for many years and walk closely with Him, there will be times when the words just won’t come, the thoughts are not clear, the desire is unknown. One of the best examples of this is when someone you dearly love is in need of healing. They may be in pain. They may be just beyond tired of fighting for their life. It can be excruciating to pray that God would go ahead and take them. You may find yourself completely at a loss as to how to pray. Paul gives us encouragement in this area.
Romans 8:26 “Also, the Spirit helps us. We are very weak, but the Spirit helps us with our weaknesses. We don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself speaks to God for us. He begs God for us, speaking to him with feelings too deep for words. 27 God already knows our deepest thoughts. And he understands what the Spirit is saying because the Spirit speaks for his people in a way that agrees with what God wants.”
I love the fact that God has equipped me with a translator! I never have to worry that something gets lost in the translation when I’m praying. The fact that the Holy Spirit begs, groans, and pleads on my behalf is so empowering. Not only that but read the insight that the Holy Spirit has not only with us but also with God. 2 Corinthians 2: 10 HCSB “Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts[d] of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts[e] of God except the Spirit of God.”
How powerful that is! The Holy Spirit is our advocate. He is our internal GPS who is able to zoom out and see the big picture and reroute us in such a way that is in our best interest. Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” There just may be times in your life that the Holy Spirit says, “I know you always go this way, but we’re going to go a different way on this.” And we can confidently follow His lead simply because of the next all-too-familiar verse.
Romans 8:28 NRSV “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Many of us like to use the first part of that verse. When someone is having a rough go at it, we like to remind them that “All things work together for good.” But that’s not the complete verse and not finishing it distorts the meaning. Let’s break this down. What things? ALL things. How do they work? TOGETHER. In what way do they work? FOR GOOD. Who can claim this promise? Those who LOVE God. Not just those who know Him, but those who love Him. What is the other qualifier? Being called to HIS PURPOSE of glorifying Him and being conformed to the image of Jesus. In other words, our bad things turn out for good.[i] Is there a timeframe given? No. Does it guarantee that the good outcome will be revealed to us in our lifetime? No, but if not, what a legacy you leave. Right? God’s not going to cheat you. You will get all that He desires for you to have. John Newton said it this way: “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.[ii]
To proceed to the next verse in Romans, I’m going to use a different translation and re-read verse 28. Romans 8:28-29 ICB “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.[d] They are the people God called, because that was his plan. 29 God knew them before he made the world. And God chose them to be like his Son. Then Jesus would be the firstborn[e] of many brothers. 30 God planned for them to be like his Son. And those he planned to be like his Son, he also called. And those he called, he also made right with him. And those he made right, he also glorified.”
We are chosen, we are called and we are a part of His plan. Before the world was made, He knew you. That gives us the reassurance that what He plans for us is intentional and cannot be thwarted by anyone. Our good things can never be lost.[iii]
Romans 8:37 “But in all these troubles we have complete victory through God, who has shown his love for us. 38-39 Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not death, life, angels, or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us—nothing in the whole created world—will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Despite the troubles, the sufferings, the pain, the anguish, we have victory! The best things are yet to come. [iv]
And yes, all of that took place before he sat down to write this letter to the Romans. His sufferings continued to his death which is believed to have occurred as a beheading. Paul knew about suffering. Paul knew about darkness. He was familiar with pain, weakness, persecution, danger, and death. Paul also knew about the little word “but” that cancels out the darkness, the troubles. Paul knew that no matter what he faced, God was ready to mold it into something good.
We would not do these verses justice if we didn’t consider the source. Paul, the author of these words certainly had his episodes of pain, trouble, and sufferings. 2 Corinthians 11:23 MSG “I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.”
We can expect suffering, pain, persecution, problems, troubles. But we can also expect God to transform the darkness into light; evening into day.
They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?
*Tribute to Officer Paramhans Desai who succumbed to injuries incurred in the line of duty. https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/henry-county/henry-county-police-officer-dies-injuries-after-he-was-shot-line-duty/BA3QVUW6CRE5DOBLUWQQCLYNZ4/