“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God [via their faithful obedience], who are called according to his purpose.”
~Romans 8:28 (NRSV [added])
Accepting the bad circumstance for the good God is drawing out of it is a gospel basic. But we have all sorts of difficulty bringing this into our day-to-day lives. We can hopefully conceptualise the theory, but the practice of it is abundantly difficult—until we rationalise the simplicity of the necessary faithful obedience. Faithful obedience is how we show we love God.
But what is simple seems not to be simple at all.
Faithful obedience is tested most when times are, within our minds and hearts, darkest. Our perceptions are pivotal. How we think and feel about our circumstances impacts upon our responses. And we can always expect to be tested, not so much by the testing circumstances, but by our negative perceptions.
We have the opportunity to reshape our negative perceptions. Our goal should be for our attitudes and behaviours to line up with the shape of faithful obedience when we are tested. This is achieved at once when we allow God’s Spirit to transform our attitudes.
Consciously, we ask Jesus for help to trust and obey whenever we are flagging.
The Shape of Faithful Obedience When Tested
In our trials we do better by response when we remember role examples like Joseph. He had the opportunity of revenge. His bullying band of brothers had betrayed him more than once. Yet, guided perhaps by his father’s death bed wishes, and not at all to downplay his learned level of graciousness these betrayals taught him, Joseph decides to forgive:
“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to...’”
~Genesis 50:19b-20a (NRSV)
Joseph had learned to look beyond his situation. He had also learned that he was not God—that he had no right or role to judge situations. He had learned that, through his previous faithful obedience, God intends everything for good. He could reflect on the faithfulness of God.
We struggle to understand these, especially that last one; how God intends everything—even the bad—for good. We struggle with the lot of it, but particularly this one.
Sackcloth and Ashes Work
How can we progress in the faith if we do not obey? We might accept the tests that come our way at the level of theory, but in our complaint we are revealed as disobedient. It may be okay to complain as part of a biblical lament—in the tradition of David—so as to use complaint as a prayerful vehicle to eventual faith. But most of our complaints aren’t intended that way.
There is no problem, however, in lamenting our feeling before God. This is sackcloth-and-ashes work. This is work nobody likes to do, because it is about our messy, inconsolable grief.
But, it is necessary if we are to progress through to genuine, heartfelt, committed faithful obedience. And consider this...
Afterwards—after the trial—we don’t deny the value of this sackcloth-and-ashes work. It takes courage and wisdom to enter into this trudging work.
The outworking of this work is a newfound vision of wonder about ‘the mystery’—that which will come out—the good out of it, which God has designed and is now bringing into fruition!
Faithful Obedience To Wonder About ‘the Mystery’
The good that God desires, through everything bad, is the infusion of godly character within us. The bad that is handled well is catalyst of the process. The vehicle getting us to the Promised Land of godly character is our faithful obedience.
We need a catalyst to grow—a fiery furnace of testing. But we also need a vehicle that ensures we endure the fire. And perhaps we need a third thing; the motivation, or inspiration, to keep travelling through the furnace that is our testing circumstance.
If we are captivated by the wonder in the mystery of what God is doing, our faith is helped. If we see the tests as tests we are more likely to predict and expect them. If we handle our tests well we derive confidence, that, with God, nothing can defeat us.
We realise the value of sackcloth-and-ashes work—which brings us to repentance—because it takes us directly to wonder regarding the mystery of how God is making good out of the bad.
The key to every test and every trial is faithful obedience. When we can endure our sackcloth-and-ashes work, God rewards us with a vision of wonder: the mystery of how God converts our bad circumstances into material for growth that we can prosper from. Nothing is truly against us; everything works for us, who love God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Image Graphic: Rosh PR.