31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
More Than Conquerors
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
Whenever you visit a boat harbour, if you look carefully, you’ll see a large triangle on the foreshore. If you then look at the high ground behind it, you’ll see another one – only this time upside down, so that the two points face each other. At night they are lit up in red light.
These are called leads and are there to guide vessels along the safe channel into the harbour. The approaching vessel lines them up, one directly above the other then steers directly towards them.
I remember once on Moreton Bay when Marilyn and I were trying to get home to Manly Harbour ahead of an approaching rainstorm. We suddenly got caught in a deluge and couldn’t see the channel markers.
So, we sailed parallel to where we thought the shoreline was, keeping away from the dangerous sandbanks. Then we spotted a red light. A moment later we spotted another one, lower down and further along.
As we sailed on, the 2 lights came closer together, until eventually one was immediately above the other. At that point we turned towards them, keeping them in line and a few minutes later, to our relief, we saw the first channel markers emerging through the driving rain.
Well, today I want to talk to you about what I’ve always considered to be my two lead lightsin the journey through life. The first is from Jesus who said: ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all the things you need will be given to you.’
The second is from the Apostle Paul who said: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.’
These two great statements are fundamental to the life of faith to which we’ve been called. And if we only paid sufficient attention to them, we’d eliminate much heartache and anxiety.
In the Sermon on the Mount, speaking about the things that cause so much anxiety, Jesus said: ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you.’
I’m the sort of person who, by nature, likes to be in control of his life. But life is often not like that. Things happen over which we have little control. We get caught up in things we never wanted nor expected, and the worst part of it is the feeling of helplessness.
But even though we may have little control over outward circumstances, the thing we do have control over is how we respond to them. And this is where my first lead light comes in.
In the Sermon on the Mount, speaking about the cares and anxieties of life, Jesus said: ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself…But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’
In other words, he was saying: ‘Don’t spend your emotional energy worrying about how you are going to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Concentrate on doing God’s will, and God will provide for the rest.’
Jesus was telling us to channel that emotional energy away from futile worrying into a single-minded determination to do what we believe God wants us to do – consciously living in the centre of God’s will.
Some years ago when we moved to Brisbane to take up a new ministry our delicately balanced finances got hit by a series of unexpected events, causing me some sleepless nights.
I remember lying awake one night - my brain working overtime trying to sort out how to deal with the situation, when I suddenly thought to myself: ‘I’m tired of all this. I don’t want to be living this way.’
So, I asked myself: are we here because we are meant to be here? As I thought this through and reflected on the things that had led us to where we were, I felt sure that we were supposed to be there.
So, I said to myself: Well then, I’m going to concentrate on doing what God wants me to do and leave God to worry about the rest.
Not long after, I took a day off for quiet reflection. I was sitting in my car overlooking Moreton Bay reading a Psalm how God provides for those who do his will - which was serendipitous because I’d allowed myself to sink back into my old habit of worried thinking.
I closed my eyes and recalled how Jesus talked about ‘looking at the birds of the air’ and how God provides for them. At that moment I opened my eyes and saw a sea eagle flying right into my line of vision, then turning and flying back out of my line of sight. In its talons it was holding a large fish.
Now I didn’t hear any voices from Heaven, but the fact that that took place right before my eyes at the very moment my mind had been on those very words of Jesus made me feel that was a message for me.
A message to live trusting God, who provides for birds and flowers, to also provide me with all I need to live the life He’s called me to.
The message is simple. When your mind starts racing, wondering what to do, centre it on simply doing what you feel God wants you to do, and leave the rest to God. This is my first faith lead light.
The second flows from it. In Romans 8:28 Paul says: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.’
Many of us grew up with the old King James rendering of that verse which said ‘All things work together for good to those that love God…’ which, unfortunately, gives the wrong impression, because much of what life throws at us does not in itself work for good.
Paul wrote these words out of a profound conviction that in whatever life may bring – even seeming disasters - God is at work for what ultimately will be our greater good. It’s not that the circumstances produce good, but rather that God will use them for good.
And if ever there was a man qualified him to speak like this it was Paul. His life experience was the very opposite of that childish theology we so often hear these days – often based on poetic imagery from the Old Testament like: ‘When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you’ – giving the impression that believers are exempt from the tragedies of life.
This is how Paul described his life: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked…’ and so it goes on.
What separates Paul from some of the popular preachers of today – with their name it and claim it theology, is that Paul knew that true faith and great souls are developed in the furnace of affliction, and we’ll only make sense of it all when we arrive at our destination.
I often think back to my first experience as a member of the Army’s character training team at Kapooka Army Camp. On the first morning the deputy commandant gave the opening address we took over.
I remember him saying to them: ‘six weeks ago you arrived here as slovenly, ill-disciplined civilians whose mothers ensured that everything in life would be for your comfort.
Then you found out that the Army is not like your mother. The Army is not concerned about your comfort. But because Australia is about to entrust to you its ultimate sanction – the controlled destruction of life and property - it is concerned about your character.
I thought to myself: ‘That’s almost a paraphrase of what the scriptures so often say about God. We also tend to think God’s main concern is for our comfort. But it’s not. God’s greatest concern is that we should grow increasingly into the likeness of Christ.
The book of James begins by saying: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when it is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.’
And this, for me, has become my second lead light which, when lined up with the first, becomes my sure guide through the perils of life.
Now, looking back over my life, I remember things that at the time seemed disastrous for my wellbeing. But now, I thank God for them, because of what God through them produced in me.
Let me finish by telling you about something I used to see when walking past a certain Lutheran church in Minneapolis. It was a sign over the front entrance that just had the letters W.W.J.D.
One evening I saw some teenagers there, and I asked one of them what the sign meant. She showed me a bracelet she was wearing. On it were the same letters. She told me they stood for: ‘What Would Jesus Do? And it was to remind her always to ask that question.
The more I think of it the more convinced I am that that simple question is the key to navigating our way through the dangerous shoals of life to our ultimate destination.
The habit of asking ourselves: what would Jesus do, whenever we are perplexed, reminds us to look to those two great lead lights of faith -‘Seeking first the kingdom of God and remembering that whatever happens God is at work for our good.’
Only then will we share the peace of those who know that because they are living in the centre of God’s will there’s nothing to fear.