“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
For this last devotional in our series on spiritual fruit, God put a word of exhortation and encouragement on my heart: God has allowed the very circumstances we are in today for a purpose. In order for us to move on to the next level in our walk with Jesus and produce greater fruit, we must learn the lesson lovingly offered for us through today’s circumstances. If we squander the circumstances of today, we will not grow up to mature in our identity in Christ.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 28). This verse in Romans is beloved by most Christians, and it is indeed true. The verses which follow are not as popular, but just as important. They explain just why we can be assured as Christians that all things work together for our good: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and to those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” In other words, God knew before time that He would call YOU to become a Christian. Therefore, He was at work arranging circumstances to conform you to the image of His son before you were born. He justified you in Christ, so We are in Him. But His hand in your circumstances doesn’t stop there. He still orders the world so that you may continue to be conformed to the image of Christ–for your ultimate good.
How does God conform us to the image of His son? Sometimes, through circumstances we think of as traditionally “good.” He orchestrates meetings of people who go on to be our precious friends in Christ. He puts us in different places so that we may access the resources and connections we need to live out our purpose in Him down the road. Through joyous occasions with family and friends we understand His love for us.
Yet we also see throughout scripture that God allows circumstances that one would not think of as “good” on their face in order to achieve the greater good later. For example, throughout the Old Testament, prophets like Isaiah explained that God was allowing the Hebrews to be conquered and go into exile (a terrible situation on its face) in order to remove the unhealthy alliances with foreign nations and terrible injustice that begun to dominate Israeli society–in order to achieve a greater good later.
To this day, He continues to allow tests and trials and thorns through our circumstances to develop His people in the image of Christ. “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7) We see throughout the New Testament that God loves us too much to let us remain as we are.Jesus did TOTALLY love each person He encountered–but this love was shown by healing, transforming, and calling them to something greater. NOT letting them stay the same. EVERY person Jesus encountered was changed. God loves us not by letting us stay as we are now, but by developing us into our unique identity in Christ.
We think of tests and trials as things we must pass in order to move on to the next level with God. But that’s only part of the truth. Instead, we must begin to be excited about our circumstances. Circumstances are first and foremost opportunities to develop in our relationship with God. We must say to ourselves, “hooray, a test with what appears to be a shortage of money or resources–what does God want me to hold on in faith to here? What does He want to develop in me here?” Instead of being overwhelmed by life’s tests, we are called to stay “alert, sober-minded,” and to “pray at all times” not being surprised by trials, but knowing that they WILL come (1 Peter 5:8).
We are called to pray because God doesn’t want our circumstances to hurt us. He is gracious enough that He has already provided the solution. But everything in the Kingdom paradigm is relational. Why would God provide a solution when we won’t talk to Him about the problem? We must remember that God is the most loving and kind person in the world. Just as a Father withholds candy and sweets from their children so they can be healthy later, sometimes God withholds things from us so that we can become spiritually healthy later. But remember: He loves to show and prove to the world how good He is. We see in Job sometimes the Enemy cooks up terrible circumstances for us. And God allows them because He thinks, “Aw man, I know he/she loves me…I can’t wait to see how we prove this devil wrong together! They are going to come to me! Pray to me! Love on me until I respond to them! And when I respond…wow! Am I going to bless them sevenfold!” He has already provided the answer to the problem, and oftentimes, that answer is learning another part of His character and allowing that to become more real to us.
The point is this: we are in a spiritual race. There WILL be obstacles. Part of growing in maturity as Christian is learning to NOT be surprised by circumstances externally, or sins internally. Maturity as a Christian is when our instincts change so we are coming to God faster and faster each time something hits the fan. We develop intimacy with God that in turn allows us to develop shortcuts around our circumstances. We may even begin to be able to predict the tests and trials that will come into our lives! For example, if you in a season where you know you’ve been called to wait on God for His timing, you can predict you may encounter circumstances and people which tempt you to run ahead of God.
God called me to end this series by pointing us all back to the greater picture. The world needs help. This broken world needs people totally sold out to Christ now more than ever, and committed to fruitfulness. The power of God’s spirit is a GIFT that comes with enormous privilege and responsibility. I pray today we would be more conformed to Christ than ever. Amen.