by Michael Kelley
Pretty Seuss-ian title, right? But let’s get down to it:
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” —Romans 8:28
That’s arguably one of the most quoted verses in the Bible—the stuff that sympathy cards are made of. But there are two ways that I think we typically misunderstand this beautiful promise from God’s Word here.
The first way happens by replacing in our thinking the word “good” here for the word “comfort.” God does not work all things for the comfort of His people; He works all things for their good, and those are two very different things. A yearly physical at the doctor’s office might not necessarily be comfortable, but it’s good for us to have. And eating three gallons of ice cream might be a very comfortable thing for us to do on a Saturday but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. The promise here, then, is not that we would, as the people of God, be supremely comfortable in our big houses with our big incomes and our big lives, but instead that God will engineer and work everything for our good. So what is that good, ultimately, for us?
That we might know Him in a deeper and more full way. That we would be conformed, little by little, into taking on the character of Jesus. And that we might learn the true value of the kingdom and the King and help others see the same. God is actively—all the time—working things for our good.
Couched in that promise is a three-letter word that deserves some extra attention, which is the second misunderstanding we might bring to this promise. The word in question is this:
The way we read this word betrays our obsession with the big and important. When we read that God works all things together for our good, we tend to think of the most significant, life-altering situations we’ve ever experienced. We think of the cancer. The job loss. The death. The difficult relationships that go on for years. On the good side, we think about His miraculous provision during times of need. The healing. The wonderful friendship of another. The child. We take stock and look back over the course of our lives and realize that, in both the best and worst of times, God has been working for our good, even (and perhaps most especially) when we could not, for the life of us, perceive how.
But those are all big things. The milestones. The dividing markers. Curious, though, that the verse doesn’t say that God works the big events of life for our good. In fact, we could go so far and say that if we only think of this promise in terms of the “big” then we are failing to grasp the true—and somewhat ironic—immensity of what we find here. “All” is, if I could say it like this, much bigger than just the big things.
“All” means all.
It means the daily commute. The casual conversation over coffee. The date night with your spouse. The almost nightly discipline of your children. The prayer before dinner and the bedtime stories at night. “All” means all. “All” even goes beyond those events of which we are immediately aware. It means those things right now happening halfway across the world we have no idea about. It means political decisions made at the highest levels. It means acts of nature and random news stories we read about. Somehow, even these things are for our good. Such is the amazingly intricate work of God—that God might be working in yet unknown ways and in yet unknown people to provide for His people in yet unknown ways.
The group environment provides a unique opportunity to reflect together on “all”—not just the big, but also the small. It affords us a chance to view the everyday with new lenses, confident together of God’s enduring presence and work.
“All” means all. Breathe it in. Because it’s happening right now.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.