Before reading your passage today, take a deep breath, relax, open your heart to what God wants to say to you through His word, and pray this simple prayer from the Psalms: show me your way, teach me your path, guide me in your truth.
Passage for today: Romans 5:1-5
I am a planner. Every week I sit down with my family’s schedule, and it’s like playing a game of Tetris (you know, where all your failures pile up and your successes disappear?!) But, I like having a good plan, a good list, a bunch of goals. I like to at least pretend I’m headed somewhere fantastic and exciting!
What I don’t usually plan for though is a change in the plans. I don’t want to have struggles. I don’t want to have difficulty. I don’t want to have to deal with difficult people; I don’t want to have to deal with my difficult self. Yes, I want to be a strong person, but I’d rather avoid all the things that actually develop strength, thanks. Yes, I want to be someone with great courage, but I would rather avoid situations where I have to be brave. Yes, I want to be an overcomer, but sometimes I’d rather just stay home in my yoga pants drinking copious amounts of coffee while pinning workouts on Pinterest that I will never actually do.
And whether you’re a planner or not, difficulty is never part of the plan, right? We don’t usually plan for things to be hard. We don’t plan for people to hurt us. We don’t plan for problems and trials and disappointment. In fact, we’d all avoid it if we could. Here’s the thing: we can’t. In this life, we’re going to have trouble, but what I’m learning is that God is so good that He uses it all--the good, the bad, the ugly--for (at least) two reasons.
First, because it makes us strong. Like Paul talks about in this passage, it’s all the hard things that produce in us the person we actually want to become. One of my favorite quotes from Erwin McManus is, “If you wait for guarantees, the only guarantee is that you will miss endless divine opportunities...we all want miracles but then spend our lives avoiding the context in which miracles happen.” If we’re honest, we’d probably all avoid the hard stuff, the brave stuff, the scary stuff; but when we do, we avoid the becoming stuff. God wants to use all that in our lives to show up for us and help us become the person he’s set us apart to be.
Second, it reminds us that God’s Presence is greater than our plans. Even if you’re not a big planner, you’ve probably got a lot of plans--and some good ones too! Maybe it’s that we would get married, preferably to someone handsome and talented and great at cooking. Maybe it’s that we would have children, preferably beautiful, smart ones who always obey. Maybe it’s that we would have an incredible legacy, maybe it’s that we’d make a lot of money, maybe it’s that we would be beautiful and finally fit into our jeans from 6th grade.
But then life happens. And it doesn’t seem to go according to our good ideas. It doesn’t work out with the guy we’re dating. We can’t get pregnant. We keep screwing up or the job falls through or someone gets sick or we are stuck in cycles of addiction and fear. And we begin to wonder if our plans are so great, why isn’t God cooperating with them?
And sometimes it can make our thinking about how God works very linear. (The equation for this is found in Larry Crabb’s amazing book The Pressure’s Off.) It looks like this: A (my part) +B (God’s part) = C (I get what I want) As long as I show up and do my part, and God shows up and does his, then I get the life I want.
The problem with this thinking is that if this is the way it works, it’s very hard to come to God without an ulterior motive. If my prayers and my obedience are factors in me getting the life that I want, then that is going to be the motivation for me to pray and obey instead of a desire for a relationship with God Himself. Linear Thinking = God’s presents are better than His presence.
Also, in this linear way of approaching God, the pressure is on. In this equation, God and I kind of have equal roles, so if I don’t get what I want, and God never fails, guess who did? Suddenly, I have to approach God not only knowing what I want, but I’ve got to have enough faith, say the right prayers, get myself cleaned up, so when God does His part, I can do mine, and then my life will finally be great.
But here’s the deal...this is actually not how it works. We know this because we all know plenty of amazing people who have done all the right things and loved God well who have died of cancer, amazing people who have had children walk away from them and never look back, faithful people who have had one bad thing after another hit them over and over and over again with seemingly no relief.
Plus, we see it over and over in the Bible. Literally EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER IN IT had struggles, trials and pain,, including Jesus--who asked God to change the plan when it got hard, and God didn’t. So, can we really sit back and say they must have done something wrong? That they didn’t believe enough? Didn’t trust enough? Didn’t do good enough?
Or could there be something else? Could there be something better? Because what we actually get from trusting God with our plans is quite simple, and it is the only thing that is guaranteed. When we say to God, you can lead my life, you can have the control, do what you will; the ONLY thing we 100% get? HIM. But don’t worry...because really, it’s actually the only thing we really want.
We think we want a handsome husband, white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a dog, but what we really want is to be loved, to have peace, to be cared for, and we get that with Him. We think we never want to be sick and have health and money and for everything to not have to be a struggle, but what we really want is to be provided for, to not be forgotten, to have peace. With God, we have abundant life and a promise that even to our gray hairs he will carry us and save us and deliver us from our distress...that He will be with us wherever we go.
We think we know what we want, but the truth is, we could get it all, and it would not satisfy us. Check out what C.S. Lewis writes, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there. There is no such thing. God is not being stingy and withholding joy apart from our obedience; there simply is not joy apart from a life with and for God. “God, please give me happiness and peace,” we plead, “but let me also live my life as I please.” And God answers, “I cannot give you that. You are asking for something that does not exist.”
The true equation that Paul is talking about in Romans 5 is actually so much easier...it’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything! Because of Jesus, we have ACCESS to what we really want. We have Him. It’s in these hard moments that bring us to our knees that, “we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:5, NLT). We may not get everything we think we want; our plans may not always work out how we planned; but we can live our lives FULL of hope knowing that we always have access to what fills our greatest need: Him.
God, thank you for being enough for me today. I want to experience the kind of life where I actually live out what I am learning to believe--that I need nothing besides you to have everything I need. All those places where I feel empty and void, you know my deepest longings. I trust you to meet me there today, and when you do, I trust that your love will FILL me full and be enough for me today.
Take one morning and write a “to do” list of your responsibilities. Say a quick prayer of surrender, offering them to God and if you’re really brave, just mention to Him that you’d rather do His “to do” list than yours. At the end of the day, write a “God did” list by going back through your day looking for and writing down some of the amazing ways God showed up for you today.
(See if you can commit to memory, or commit to remember this verse this week.)
“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5, NLT)