The previous post presented the idea that the primary good that God works out of all things is conforming His children to the image of Christ. Often God also works some amazing providential good through the challenges of life, but His more important agenda is that of molding Christian character. If a believer is looking only for providential life results worked through unpleasant circumstances, he can easily become frustrated and disillusioned, even tempted to give up on God. On the other hand, when a Christian understands the eternal aspect of what God is doing, the important internal factor in his own heart, and the gradual, life-long process utilized to achieve these purposes, he can rest at peace even when he fails to see anything good result from his situation.
In this post, I want to focus on practical application of the above truth. As an illustration, let us consider a twenty-nine year old lady who is approaching a much-anticipated wedding. She has trusted God and remained faithful to Him through years of yearning for marriage and wondering if it would ever happen. Just as it appears that her heart's desire is about to be fulfilled, her fiancé calls off the wedding and moves to another state.
How can that incredible disappointment work for good in her life? Some people might try to console her by suggesting some possible good. They could theorize that the man might turn to alcoholism and violence in later years, and that the breakup spared her from that. They might suggest that God stopped that marriage because He had a different plan - a more suitable man in the future, parents who unexpectedly need care, or an unanticipated ministry opportunity. Time might even confirm these or similar positive circumstantial outcomes.
In reality, God is doing something bigger and more important. He may or may not ever work the outcomes listed above, but what He can do through the situation is to advance that believer in Christ-likeness. He can lead the jilted bride to depend more fully on Him. God can use the situation over the years to work greater contentment and peace in her life as she willingly walks forward on the path He has chosen for her. He can make her better prepared to serve Him and to be a testimony for Him.
I realize that this concept has happened in my own life. I have had several "aha" moments in which I realized the significance of what God had previously done in my life. I think of (at least) three specific manifestations: writing my devotional book for the chronically ill, starting this blog, and volunteering as a chaplain at the hospital. These ministries were made possible through God's previous arrangement of my life: chronic illness, unemployment, Bible study, journaling, writing devotionally, a summer devoted to seeking God, and multiple years of teaching English. These factors helped to prepare me for the ministry opportunities. In fact, as each of these three ministries began, I recall thinking, "God has been preparing me for this throughout my entire life!"
There is a practical level of truth in that; without my illness, I would not be able to minister as deeply to others. Without my times of dedication to Bible study, I would not be able to share God's truth as well. Without the years teaching English, I wouldn't be able to communicate as effectively. These correspond with the common interpretation of Romans 8:28 - that God brings good things out of bad things.
There is, however, a deeper level of truth. Those practical experiences were necessary, but in themselves they were not the most important. Far more critical is that through the years of illness and Bible study and teaching, God was gradually working in my heart. He was progressively teaching and maturing me so that my heart would be better prepared to serve Him. Realistically, it is not the illness or the unemployment or any of the other factors that best prepared me to serve God. Rather, I can do what I do for Him because of what He has done in my heart and character through those things.
In a difficult circumstance, therefore, the question should not be about what external good God will work out, but instead about how the circumstance aids in producing greater Christ-likeness. A believer may not be aware of what particular trait God is trying to work in him, (and it's probably more than one), but he can be aware of God's ultimate objective of greater maturity. The circumstance itself might never change into something humanly identified as good, but a Christian can be at peace and can yield to God more readily when he understands the good spiritual result toward which God is working.
A believer does not and cannot know what will be required to bring him to the level of Christ-like maturity that God desires for him. If he is the least bit honest and insightful, however, he will realize that it will take a lot of work. Maybe caring for a handicapped child is the only way a particular believer would ever learn the level of love God desires. Maybe continued health issues are the only way God can bring a believer to a right submissive spirit. Perhaps only a troubled marriage will adequately teach patience, or nothing but a failed ministry would properly teach forgiveness. Years of singleness or widowhood might be required for the achieving of contentment. The tools might be "bad," but they produce something good.
God uses these personally-designed tools to produce the fruit that He desires in each life. A believer can have confidence that God is using every circumstance ("all things") to accomplish meaningful growth in the heart. He can submit to God's choice of tools when he also desires the intended result; even if he does not know specifically what God is trying to work in him, he can sincerely pray in the midst of each difficulty, "Father, help me through this to more fully reflect Your Son."