(This Day’s Thought is pleased to bring you Eric Elder’s new sermon series, “Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind.”)
Lesson 19 from Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder
I want to encourage you today that God is working for your good in ALL situations that you’re facing, if you love Him and are called according to His purpose. He really is FOR you, and even in those things that seem hardest, you can trust that He can work even in those things for your good.
I’ve been reading the book Pollyanna this week to my kids. The book was written back in 1913 about an eleven year old girl whose contagious optimism transformed an entire town. If you’ve ever heard someone described as a “pollyanna,” it’s a term that came from this book.
But as I read the book this week again, I realized that for all her optimism, Pollyanna was in no way a naive little girl who was ignorant about the real pain that people face in life. Her profound optimism wasn’t the result of ignorance, it was the way she was able to keep sane and healthy in spite of severe losses she faced. Born on the mission field, Pollyanna lost her mother when she was young, and lost her father when she was eleven. She was sent to live with her severely stern and strict aunt on the East Coast, where she often had to fight back tears at the unfair treatment she received.
Yet with all the bad that was thrown at her, Pollyanna chose to train her mind to try to see the good in life, believing that there was always something she could be glad about. It was something she learned from her father when she was on the mission field. He called it the “glad game.”
In talking about the game to a woman named Nancy, Pollyanna said:
“We began it when some crutches came in a missionary barrel. You see, I’d wanted a doll. But when the barrel came the lady wrote that no dolls came in, just the little crutches. So she sent ’em along. The game was to find something about everything to be glad about, no matter what. We began right then—on the crutches.”
Nancy said, “I can’t see anythin’ to be glad about–gettin’ a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll.”
“There is— there is,” Pollyanna crowed. “I couldn’t see it either at first. Father had to tell it to me. You just be glad because you don’t—need—’em! You see, it’s easy when you know how! Only sometimes it’s almost too hard, like when your father goes to Heaven” (from Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter).
Rather than being naive about life, it was Pollyanna’s disappointments in life that helped her to see things in a whole new light. She went on playing the “glad game” in her new town, helping the people see that no matter what they faced in life, there was always something to be glad about. Without giving away too much of the story, Pollyanna even found a way to be thankful when she had to use crutches by the end of the book.
In a similar way, the Apostle Paul is known for saying some of the most optimistic things in his letters in the New Testament. For instance, in his letter to the Philippians he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Some people might think, “Sure, that’s easy for Paul to say, as he was one of the most highly educated and influential people in the early church.” But the truth is, Paul saw more suffering in his lifetime than most of us would ever see in ten or twelve lifetimes, if we were able to live that many. Paul wrote:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, 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 own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored 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. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 23b-30).
Yet in spite of all this, Paul was still able to encourage people to “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul explained why we can rejoice always. He wrote:
“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” (Romans 8:28, emphasis added).
I have quoted this verse more often—to myself and to others—than perhaps any other verse in the Bible. It’s a statement that I’ve tested for myself and found to be true over and over again. It’s not just a “pollyanna” way of looking at the world. It’s a truth that God has given us to hold onto tightly, knowing that no matter how things look in the situations that we’re facing, we can trust Him to work in those situations for our good, if we’re willing to trust them to Him.
But like Pollyanna in the book, there are times when finding the good in a situation seems like a daunting task. But rather than running away from such tasks, Pollyanna relished them. At one point, a sick and bedridden woman challenged Pollyanna to find something in her situation that she could be glad about. Pollyanna sprang to her feet and clapped her hands. She said:
“Oh goody, that’ll be a hard one—won’t it? I’ve got to go, now, but I’ll think and think all the way home. Goodbye, I’ve had a lovely time!”
And Pollyanna did think and think, coming up with several ideas, one of which was to encourage the woman to be glad she had her hands and arms. That simple statement made the woman wonder why she didn’t do something with her hands and arms, so she began to knit little things for fairs and hospitals. She became so glad to think she could do something with them.
I think people sometimes view me as being a little too “pollyanna-ish,” too, when I tell them to trust God completely in every situation that He can work it for our good. But I’ve found that sometimes when I tell people stories of God’s faithfulness to me in my life, they often don’t realize, or take seriously when I tell them, how desperate the situations I’ve prayed through have truly been. They only hear the outcome of the stories, knowing that somehow God turned even awful situations into something good.
I think that’s the way we sometimes read the stories in the Bible, too. Since we already know how they end, we can sometimes gloss over how dramatic the turnarounds really were.
For instance, when Moses and the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, with no where to turn and the chariots from Egypt pressing in, all of a sudden, God opened up the Red Sea so they could pass through on dry ground. It was a near-death experience for them all, yet God delivered them through it. But since it only takes a few paragraphs to read through the whole story, we don’t always get the sense of impending doom that the people must have felt. I imagine Moses went through some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good. Yet God told Moses to stand firm, and he would indeed see God’s deliverance…and he did (see Exodus, chapter 14).
Or when Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den and came out alive the next day. People may just think that Daniel found a safe place to hide or that the lion’s just weren’t that hungry. But if you read the story closely, you’ll see that as soon as Daniel was lifted out of the lion’s den, those who had falsely accused Daniel were thrown into the den themselves, and the text says: “before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.” I imagine Daniel had some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good. Yet Daniel was extracted without even a wound on him (see Daniel, chapter 6).
When we hear stories of God’s faithfulness to others, we tend to minimize the adversity they faced, and maximize God’s faithfulness in bringing them through it. Yet when we experience our own life-dramas, we tend to maximize the adversity we’re facing, and minimize the possibility of God’s ability of bringing us through it.
Today, I want to stir up your faith. I want to help you see the truth that God is working for your good, if you love Him and are called according to His purpose. I want to encourage you to keep putting your faith in Christ. Regarding the situations you’re facing in life today, ask yourself:
“What good might God be doing through this? What good might come out of what I’m going through right now? What might God be doing that I can hang onto in faith, and hope for, and pray towards? What good might God be doing on my behalf right now?”
God wants to turn your thinking around today. He wants you to see that He really can—and does—work all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
This isn’t just a “glad game” from a children’s story. This is a truth from God, recorded in His Word, in order to help you see your life the way He sees it, full of hope and promise and significance.
God loves you and really will work for your good in ALL things, if you love Him and have been called according to His purpose.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for showing us that there are different ways to look at the things we’re going through in life. Help us to look at the things we’re facing and see them as You see them. Help us to look for and to see the good that You’re working in those situations so that we can face them with courage and faith. Help us to overcome our weakness so that we can keep putting our trust in You for everything in lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I’ve had several people ask me this week about ordering some of my books and CD’s as gifts for the holidays. As I’ve been sending them out to people, I thought I’d mention it to you, too, as they do make great gifts… not just because I helped create each of them, but because they inspire people in their faith in Christ. If you’d like to take a look at each of the books and CD’s I’ve helped to create over the years, just visit the link below:
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 8:28. Having read some about Paul’s life, how might the trials Paul faced in life helped him to come to the point of believing that God really could work for his good in ALL things?
2. If faith is like a muscle that gets stronger and stronger the more we use it, what kinds of things might God put someone through to help them grow as strong in their faith as possible?
3. What good might God be doing in the situations you’re facing in life right now?
4. Like Pollyanna, what can you find to be glad about in those situations?
To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, please visit:
The Romans Study
To get more inspiring books and music like this, please visit:
The Ranch Giftshop
To make a donation of to The Ranch and get a gift as our way of saying thanks, please visit:
Get a Gift
To find us on Facebook, please visit:
The Ranch on FaceBook
To invite Eric to speak to your group of any size, whether by Skype or in person, please visit:
Invite your friends! We’d love to have them study along with us—and you! Just forward this email and encourage them to sign up for themselves at the link below.