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Four words of encouragement

By George O. Wood

On September 11, 2001, disaster and death flew into the World Trade Center in New York City and the hearts of all Americans.

Perhaps an airplane of a different kind has recently flown into your life and exploded. You’ve lost a loved one, a family member is on drugs or alcohol, a son or daughter languishes in prison, you’ve been laid off from your job, or just learned you have cancer. Someone close to you is dying from AIDS or an affliction of a different kind. Your spouse walked out on you. Or, your retirement fund has disappeared in investment quicksand. Your Christian faith has not met with approval from others.

No matter what your disaster or difficulty, Romans 8:18-39 provides four great encouragements for every believer walking through dark valleys or along lonesome trails. These encouragements show why it is always the right decision to trust God!

The apostle Paul wrote the Roman letter to believers who, within six years, would be crucified by the Roman Emperor Nero, their bodies doused with pitch and set afire to illuminate Nero’s gardens by night.

Paul writes to them and to us — to every believer who, despite faith and fervent prayer, finds that God is not delivering them from their adverse circumstances. Paul uses words like these to describe our frailty in such moments: “sufferings” (v. 18, NIV), “frustration” (v. 20), “groaning” (vv. 22,23), “weakness” (v. 26), “trouble” and “hardship” (v. 35).

COMING GLORY OUTWEIGHS PRESENT GROANING (Romans 8:18-25)
Think of an old-fashioned pair of scales. Put groaning on one scale and glory on the other. Which one is heavier? Which one tips the scale?

We load up groaning on the first scale. It’s so heavy. We think nothing could ever outweigh more than our present load of sorrow. We notice we’re not the only ones groaning. Even nature groans! All around us, plant and animal life is dying (v. 21).

Surprising, isn’t it … to find the word “groaning” ascribed to Spirit-filled believers? Have you noticed? The apostle Paul tells us that not only is nature groaning, but we ourselves (v. 22). Lest we think he mistakenly used the term, he repeats it again, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” (v. 23).

But, wait! The groaning is the groaning of a mother in the pangs of childbirth! That’s a different kind of groan. It’s not the groan that comes when something terrible is to follow; it’s the groaning that comes before the great joy!

So, Paul says, “Look at your scales again. You’ve put your groaning on one side, and it’s tipped the scale downward. Now, take from God’s truth about the future the word ‘glory.’ Glory! That five-letter word sums up all the wonder that awaits us as the children of God: the resurrection of the body, eternal life, our home in heaven, reunion with our saved loved ones, our joyous appearance before the throne of God. Glory! Take glory and put it on the remaining empty scale. Now, watch the scales tip. The glory will outweigh the groaning.”


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That’s our first great encouragement — don’t lose sight of the glorious future!

The late Christian writer Joe Bayly told about losing his three sons: one as a baby, one at the age of 5 from leukemia and the last at age 17 from an auto accident. Sometime later he darted out of his house on a cold winter day in Chicago to get his mail. As he stood by the mailbox on the side of the road, he quickly scanned the correspondence until he spotted a Burpee Seed Catalog on the bottom — bright zinnias on the cover and huge tomatoes on the back.

He said, “For a few moments I was oblivious to the cold, delivered from it. I leafed through the catalog, tasting corn and cucumbers, smelling roses. I saw the freshly plowed earth, smelled it, let it run through my fingers. For those few brief moments, I was living in springtime and summer, winter past. Then, the cold penetrated my bones and I ran back to the house.”

Bayly says that later, as he reflected on that experience, it struck him that both Christians and non-Christians feel the biting cold. Yet, there is a difference! As believers, in our cold times, we have a seed catalog, God’s Word. “We open it,” Bayly says, “and smell the promised spring, eternal spring.”

I think it’s this very way of looking at things that Paul has in mind when he encourages us with this truth: The coming glory will outweigh the present groaning.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS HELPING (Romans 8:26,27)
There are some things we know and others we don’t. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning”
(v. 22), 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” (v. 28).

Is there anything we don’t know? Yes, indeed! “We do not know what we ought to pray” (v. 26). Does that surprise you? The great apostle Paul saying that sometimes he was stumped about how to pray!

Now, Paul does not say, “We never know what to pray for.” His own prayers, recorded in Ephesians 1 and 3, tell us his prayers were profound. He gives us a sample of a specific prayer request in Romans 1:8-15. We also know how to pray as we follow Jesus’ prayer of John 17.

The “we do not know” applies to situations when we are groaning, when despite our most ardent pleas and exercise of faith, deliverance is not forthcoming. We’re stumped. How do we then pray?

Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is helping; He’s praying through us with unutterable words. Most likely Paul is referring to praying in other tongues (1 Corinthians 14:15), but the phrase can also be inclusive of an inarticulate sigh or inexpressible emotion.

When our daughter, Evangeline, was a toddler I stood at the door of her room late one evening, watching her sleep. I felt overcome by love for her, and began praying for her. I thought to myself, She’s not aware of my praying for her. Then, I felt the Lord whisper to my spirit, George, neither have you been aware of how many times I have prayed for you.

We are possessed with this wonderful truth: In our prayers, God is helping us. Not only is the Spirit interceding from within us, but Jesus also sits at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34), always living to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25) as our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). We therefore have an Intercessor in the heart and an Intercessor in the heavens.

GOD IS WORKING FOR THE GOOD (Romans 8:28,29)
Paul does not say, “Everything that happens to us is good.” Some events prove extremely destructive. Rather, the apostle declares, “God works good in all things.”

Your feelings aren’t what’s at issue here. Some years ago, John F. Kennedy Jr. felt he was piloting his plane through clouds right side up. His feelings led him astray — the instruments said he was flying the plane downward into the ocean and death.

Paul does not say, “We feel that in all things God is working for the good.” Oh, no. He says, “We know.”

A missionary friend and his family experienced a horrible trauma on a remote Pacific island that involved a savage attack against them in their home by four thugs in the middle of the night. In later reflection on that terrifying experience and the emotional aftermath, my friend said, “We learned to distinguish our feelings from our knowings.”

Note three things about the fact God works for the good in our lives.

1. The comprehensiveness of the working: “All things.” Did you ever try eating a tablespoonful of baking soda. Doesn’t taste very good, does it? But, put that same baking soda in a chocolate cake mix. The cake won’t taste good without it. Some things, taken by themselves, don’t taste good, but when mixed in with other things and fired in the oven, the result is good. God is working to transform all the distasteful ingredients of your life into a final recipe of good.

2. The goal of the working: “for good.” Theodore E. Steinway, the late president of Steinway and Sons, once noted, “In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony.”

In the 1980s a terrible wildfire burned more than 1.2 million acres in the greater Yellowstone area. Several years later foresters discovered the new seedling density was much greater than the original density. The reason? Some lodgepole seeds require fire to open them. Perhaps a fire has burned in your life recently, but trust God to work it for good, that nothing other than the blazing heat of circumstance could produce such an abundance of later good.

3. The limitation of the working: “who love him, who have been called.” This encouragement is not open to all humanity. Only those who trust in Christ are able to rely upon the promise of God’s working good in all things.

GOD IS FOR US (Romans 8:31-39)
Who is against us? Sin? Certainly! The devil? Surely! Death and hell? Absolutely! But, not God!

Here are the answers to the five great questions Paul raises:

1. Answer “No one” to the question “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
2. Answer “Yes” to the question “Will he not also graciously give us all things?”
3. Answer “Not God” to the question “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?”
4. Answer “Not Jesus” to the question “Who is he that condemns?”
5. Answer “No one and no circumstance” to the question “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

It’s the very last question, regarding potential separation from Christ, that Paul spends the most time answering. He rejects any one or all of seven adversities that try to separate us from Christ: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. He’s convinced that the polarities he mentions likewise have no ability to divorce us from Christ: death or life, angels or demons, present or future, powers, height or depth, or anything else in all creation.

There may be times when we feel that everyone and everything are against us, but there is One who is always for us.

At the end of each baseball season, I review the final standings for each team in the American and National leagues. My theory is that the teams at the top of the standings win more games on the road than they lose.

I’ve discovered, over the years, that about two-thirds of the major-league baseball teams actually win more games at home than on the road, but only one-third win more games away than at home. Simply put — champions consistently win on the road. Losers more easily win at home.

When Paul writes this Roman letter, he addresses all of us believers who are playing an away game. As the old gospel song put it, “This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through.” Paul stated it more elegantly in Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

The real winners, whether in major league baseball or among Christians, are those who do not get distracted by a hostile environment, or become discouraged when the cheers turn to jeers.

The entire Christian life is one long road game, and these encouragements are given to help us win.

At the end of this magnificent section of Scripture, Paul says, “We are more than conquerors.” The expression “more than conquerors” translates the Greek word hypernike. Nike comes directly across to us as a modern brand of shoes and sportswear. The word means “conqueror” or “winner.” The word hyper attaches to terms like hyperactive and hypersensitivity. It carries the idea of “above and beyond.”

When you put the words hyper and nike together, you get the idea of a super-winner. Not someone who wins the race by a whisker, but by a mile — a hyper-winner!

Take these four great encouragements — the glory will outweigh the groaning, the Holy Spirit is helping, God is working for the good, and God is for us — and win the race of life, not by a hairbreadth but by the margin of a super-winner.


George O. Wood is general secretary of the Assemblies of God.

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