Some mornings are rougher than others.
Mornings are often the time we receive the latest news from Africa. Most of our southern Africa communication is received when John and I wake. Being ten hours behind our friends, John and I rise to their news through Whatsapp, email, and Facebook messaging. This has been our way for the past 16 months since arriving in the States in November 2019.
The news from southern Africa brings a menagerie of emotion. Sweet, heart-lifting morning greetings bless us. News of bitter struggle, food insecurity, and hardship pain us. Personal stories of corruption, betrayal, and deception flat-out disgust us. Our friends in southern Africa are family. And when our family hurts, we hurt. When our family grieves, we grieve.
This was one of those weeks.
Text messages included the following news…
One friend discovered that her sponsor had been embezzling monies from her preschool account for the past 15 years. My friend had entrusted the running of the account to her sponsor. She was shocked to learn of the deceit. Feeling vulnerable, feeling angry, feeling loss, my friend asked for my prayers.
Another friend texted to say that his family was struggling with food insecurity. Because of the drought, the pandemic, and other factors, food is scarce in his country. He needed help.
Another friend texted to share that her cancer was back. It roared back with ferocity and her doctors said there is nothing more they can do. She wanted me to know.
My heart ached for each of our friends. They are so far, far, far away. Oceans and continents away. If I were in South Africa, I could have jumped into our Prado and rushed to their side to hug them, pray for them, care for them.
But I cannot. I’m here.
So, what could I do?
I sought my God for a word of encouragement. For a specific way, I might pray in the days ahead. Gratefully, He sent me to Romans 8:28. It’s a verse I have known almost my whole life. Like many of you, I’ve memorized it. But this time, I asked the Lord to give me something new to consider and embrace about Romans 8:28 and its exhortation of trust.
First off, I will list a few different translations that blessed me:
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.
New International Version, Romans 8:28
And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.
The Living Bible, Romans 8:28
That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
The Message, Romans 8:28
My friends each experienced something difficult and traumatic in their lives this week. In fact, none of these challenges will be fixed with a snap of the fingers. Worry and fear plague the souls of my friends. Is there anything good here? For them to embrace this feel-good idea that God is at work in the midst of their struggles sounds almost ludicrous.
How is God at work in deceit and betrayal?
Where is God in our friend’s food insecurity and lack of resources?
And cancer? What good could result from my friend’s death sentence?
And yet, there is something sacred and divine found in the steadying, strengthening words of Romans 8:28.
There is the purpose of God.
Prothesis is the Greek transliterated word for purpose. Prothesis in its literal meaning is defined as setting forth in advance something that has sacred, resolute purpose. To offer a more visual definition, prothesis is like the placing bread in the center of the table for all to see, to smell, to taste, and then, for all to consume. God’s purpose gives life-sustaining nourishment – not just for one, but for all who will sit at the Lord’s table. Understand this: this wondrous bread has been prepared in advance and is waiting for us at the table.
But there’s more!
Romans 8:28 promises that…in all things God works for the good of those who love Him….
Here’s a new thought that I had not completely grasped before in how God works. He is not distant in His care of us or in His working in our lives. He is with us. He is working in this difficult thing – together with us. Here’s one more Greek transliterated word to throw into the mix of our understanding. Synergei is the Greek transliterated word for work together. Synergei means to cooperate with, work with, and strain with. In other words, in our betrayal, in our food insecurity, in our cancer, in our struggle, our God is working with us, straining with us, cooperating with us to bring about His sacred, divine, glorious purposes. To be clear, as we strain, God strains. As we groan, God groans. As we work, God works. As we love, God loves. He’s not dependent on us to do this work, but rather he holds our hands in the work and helps alongside us.
He is with us in the loss, the disease, the betrayal, the worry, the fear, and the pain. We’ve heard this before, of course. Our God is in all things, right? But, what I really want us to take hold of is that there is a joining together in the sacred working of it all – us with God.
All of the pain
All of the hardship
All of the suffering
All of the loss
All of the yuck, yuck, yuck
And all of the beauty and blessing, too
Because this world is bursting with joy and sorrow, blessing and loss, and beauty and ashes. Yet, in it all, is the love we have for our God and the love He has for us – enjoined together, working together for some divine, amazing, good.
We may not see it yet.
We may not hear it yet.
We may not taste it yet.
We may not feel it yet.
Yet, our Lord is preparing the bread with us and for us – with all of its kneading, molding, shaping, and working together – to present His gloriously baked good for all the world to see!
Can we take comfort, solace, and strength in these words of encouragement?
James puts it this way:
You see that his (Abraham’s) faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
New International Version, James 2:22
Our love, faith and trust in God is working with God to make us complete!
Betrayal can do this?
Food insecurity can do this?
Cancer can do this?
Not in and of themselves.
The key factor is that in these challenges and through them, our God works with us to make us complete in Jesus Christ.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
English Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 3:18
This is the purpose of God.
This is His end-game.
No matter the situation – whether good or whether bad – the Lord works with us to shape us more into the image of Christ. We’re not alone in the struggle. God is straining with us, groaning with us, crying with us, and cheering us. All for our infinite, everlasting good in Christ.
He’s preparing the table.
He’s about to present the Bread of Life.
He calls us to His gloriously, amazing, good.
He invites us to rest, to sit, and to partake at His table.
It may not be easy. Cancer isn’t easy, that’s for sure. Yet, He bears the cancer struggle and our own, unique struggles with us and will help us through to the table.
Will we take a seat?