“We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Whenever I read those familiar words, I find myself asking myself, Do I know this? Do I live from it? The new year gives each of us an opportunity to test the anchor of our souls, especially inside the waves of fear and anxiety about the future.
Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us. It’s important to see that Paul says, “All things work together for good.” Not, “all things are good.”
Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us. That may be the teaching of some leaders in the world today, but you will not hear it from God himself in Scripture. We suffer the same illnesses, financial challenges, bereavements, work stresses, relational heartaches, accidents, and challenges as anyone else in this damaged world we live in. We suffer like anyone else. In some places in the world, we even suffer more because of our faith in Jesus. As we faithfully follow Christ, something awful may happen in the next twelve months.
Paul is not saying nothing bad will come our way in the Christian life; he is saying that God can take whatever comes, and make it serve our good. He is not responsible for evil, but even evil and suffering cannot escape his perfect purposes for us.
This verse has been given to us because it is going to be exactly what we need to hear. Paul has already outlined the basic shape of the Christian life — sufferings now, glory to come (Romans 8:17) — a shape derived from the ministry of Christ himself. In a world full of painful waiting, this verse is an indispensable resource for us to take into this new year. We’re going to need to know that God is able to take everything that happens to us and use it for our ultimate good.
“All things” means everything that happens to us, including the very worst things that might happen. Even those things are not outside the scope of God’s loving purpose for our lives. In the Old Testament, Joseph could look back on the unspeakable evil his brothers did to him and say, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Worry tells us they meant it for evil — that it happened while God was distracted. Faith reassures us that God means it for good, and He is never distracted.
This “working all for good” is most clearly seen in the death of Jesus (Acts 4:27–28). It was the very worst thing ever to happen on earth. Yet through it God was able to bring about incalculable and eternal good. So what does this mean in practice? However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been. It may have been a very painful year for you. That may be so. But this is God’s word to us about this past year. It will be no less true of the year to come.
This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.
As Christians, we are those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. It is not that we first loved God and, in response, he called us to be blessed by him; it is precisely the other way around. The call of God is how we have come to know him and are able to love him. Not perfectly, but truly. We have a new heart and affection for God. We do love him. However deep your sinful impulses go, a Spirit-given love for God is found deeper still. And this promise is for
you: God is working all things for your good — for your conformity to his Son.
That is what God wants most for me. That is what I ought to want most for myself. Nothing in my life could be greater than this. There is not a single thing in all of creation, history, and reality that God will allow to get in the way of it.
Which must mean, there is not a single thing I need to worry about. If all things are being worked by God for my good, then God has ordered all things in my reality in the way I most need them to be. Worry on my part will only indicate that there are greater depths in my heart to which I need to apply this truth. I know what it means to struggle with anxiety.
But if we are in Christ, we need not worry about next year. There is not one moment we need to fear. Every second of it, God will be working to make us more like Christ. What could be better than that?