In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 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 8:26-28 NIV)
The other night I was reading The Velveteen Rabbit to the kids before bed, and I was struck by a scene early in the book where the rabbit is talking to an old toy horse in the nursery. The rabbit asks the horse, “What is real?” The horse responds “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real…It takes a long time…Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
When I read this, it brought my mind back to Romans 8:28. I think I often read the phrase “and all things work together for the good” as “and all things work together for the comfort.” That, however, cannot be the meaning of this passage. Paul wrote this to Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero, who was a great persecutor of Christians. Nero jailed, tortured, and even executed Christians. The passage goes on to conclude with Paul saying that neither persecution nor death can separate us from the love of God. So clearly the phrase “for the good” can’t mean our comfort or even physical safety. What does it mean, then? I think there is a lot of insight to be gleaned from the words of the toy horse. If I alter my frame of reference from comfort or safety to what grows me to become more like Christ, it fundamentally changes what “good” means.
I think this has specific significance right now in the life of Creekside. As a member of the pastoral search team, I was dejected to have the person who accepted our invitation to candidate after months of conversations decline our call. On that same Sunday, we received word that our associate pastor, Noah, has accepted a call to another church. It would be easy to throw up our hands and say, “This is uncomfortable” and “This is going to be hard” and “Where did we go wrong?” I think within the context of Romans 8, the response to those reactions is “Yes, this is uncomfortable” and “Yes, this is going to be hard,” but “We didn’t go wrong; it’s all part of God’s ultimate plan.” God has a plan for our church, and it’s going to require hard work, but we’ll come out on the other side as a stronger, more real church that is better able to serve and reflect Christ to the world.
Andrew can be reached by email here.