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.
– Romans 8:28

Paul does not say that all things are good, but that God works for the good in all things. And what is the good? To conform us to the image of His Son—to help us become more like Christ. “All things” include the good, the bad, and the ugly. God can use all the experiences of our lives to help us become more like His Son. We cannot predict what God will do, or many times even perceive His work while He is doing it. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34, ESV). But we can be sure that our God is ever at work for His purpose, and we can trust that He will bring good things out of those experiences.

Sometimes we do get a glimpse of God’s providential purpose. For instance, here at First Church, we have been escorted into the 21st century realm of technology in new ways not even imagined just a few years ago. Due to the pandemic, we needed to get creative about how our congregation could stay connected during the lockdown and their subsequent reluctance to gather in person. Our new normal now includes livestreaming our worship services, developing online teaching resources, utilizing Zoom meetings, and incorporating our new recording and production studio into our spiritual mission. The amazing thing is that, despite the pandemic, we are reaching more people with our ministry than ever before! God has led our church to develop some amazing new ways to do ministry that will impact a greater number of people throughout the years to come.

As we learn to trust God in times of trouble, we are better able to look forward expectantly rather than get weighed down with fear and despair. This is an essential element of the Christian life; otherwise, we are in danger of being overcome with anxiety when we cannot make any sense out of what is happening in our world or our personal lives. We have witnessed racial unrest and political upheaval in our beloved nation and such things can feel threatening to our beliefs and way of life. We can easily succumb to fear regarding our future.

Except for the 9/11 trauma, many of us have had the luxury of a relatively calm and consistent national experience for decades. But there are those who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and other challenging times our nation has faced and overcome. We know that such struggles are like birth pangs—trials that humanity must go through to move us forward to progress and opportunities. This of course depends on how people choose to respond to these encounters and how we move forward after they are concluded.

We must always ask ourselves: Do we allow the difficulties before us to defeat us, or do we rise to the occasion, meet the challenge, learn from the experience, and be the better for it? Why would we assume a defeatist attitude when we have such a great God whom we worship? The Gospel tells us that Jesus has already won the victory and all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. God requires us to live in faith, using the resources He has given to us. This requires a renewing of our minds as well as our hearts without sacrificing our fundamental, God-given principles. As President Abraham Lincoln said during an annual address to Congress at the time of the American Civil War:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. (December 1, 1862, Washington, D.C.)

Not all things are good. It is our God who is good. And He will lead us to wherever He needs us to go, for His glory and His purpose. “Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare” (Psalm 40:5).

by Pastor Steven Grant