Harvey Mackay once said, "Optimists are right. So are pessimists. It's up to you to choose which you will be." Does it make a difference as to how we view life? I believe it does. Today there are multiple studies linking health and optimism, and one of the best came from Harvard. The particular study began with a group of physically and mentally healthy members of the Harvard classes of 1942 through 1944. In all, 268 young men were included. The study has continued until today and has provided invaluable insights into those men's lives and health. Each year, the men have voluntarily taken health and psychological tests to gather data across their life span. Now that they've reached their sixties, one finding stands out loud and clear: Overall, those men who were classified as "optimists" at age 25 are far healthier today than those who viewed life and its circumstances pessimistically at that age. In other words, optimism early in life is associated with good health later in life.
And that's not just a finding reserved for Harvard students. In a major study done at the University of Michigan on those in the workplace, researchers found that the more optimistic people were, the fewer sick days they reported. Even cancer patients have been shown to live longer and go into remission more often and for longer periods if they have a more optimistic view of their circumstances and future.
We've been studying a favorite Bible chapter for many: Romans 8. Previously, we've seen from our study of this chapter how important it is for us to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our thinking. Next Sabbath, Elder Gettys will conclude this series on Romans 8 with verses 31-39, "Facing Fear with Faith." You won't want to miss it. Today, I invite you to reflect with me on the meaning of verses 15-30, to see how the apostle Paul invites us to observe the big picture from God's view and to know that God's perspective is all-important to us.
So let's look at Romans 8:15-30. In fact, at first, let's just take a very quick tour of the key points of this passage. Let's observe that they give us reasons for optimism as Christians. Romans 8:16-17, first of all, tells us that we are children of God. It says, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." This was actually read last Sabbath. But how comforting to know in the grand scheme of things that God is our Father and that we are His children, no matter what we go through.
The next point, as summarized in Romans 8:18, tells us that we have a glorious future. Here is what it says: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Isn't that good news? Romans 8:26 tells us that God's Spirit helps us now. The apostle says, Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. All of this is excellent for Christian optimism. We know who we are; we're children of God. We know where we are going: we have a glorious future ahead for us. And we're not alone in our struggles right now. The Holy Spirit is our companion.
The final section in this passage of big-picture optimism begins with Romans 8:28 which teaches us that all things work for good. Paul says, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Wait a minute. What is God's purpose? That's very important to know because this often- quoted verse tells us that everything works out according to God's purpose. Let's read the next verse: Romans 8:29. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. What is God's purpose? It is to transform us into likeness with His Son. In short, God desires to heal us completely from the damage that sin has caused.
How does God accomplish that purpose in our lives? According to the words of verse 30: He calls people to Himself, individually, by name. That means that God doesn't give up on us. He pursues us, continually inviting us to a relationship to a friendship with Him. He justifies or sets us right with Himself. That means that God graciously accepts us just as if we had never sinned. Isn't that marvelous?
The third step: He glorifies us. In other words, He shares His glory with us by going all the way with His healing work of transformation in our lives. What a wonderful God we have! How beautiful, how loving and how glorious is God's plan really is for us!
There's a superb article written by Ellen White that was printed in The Signs of the Times, January 20, 1890, entitled "God Made Manifest in Christ." In that article, she wrote, "The only way in which [Christ] could set and keep men right was to make himself visible and familiar to their eyes. . . . Christ exalted the character of God, attributing to him the praise, and giving to him the credit, of the whole purpose of his own mission on earth to set men right through the revelation of God." What that means is that in Christ we see a forgiving God who reconciles us back to Himself. Continually inviting us to a relationship with Him. In Christ we see a gracious God who restores us. In Christ we see a powerful and yet gentle God who seeks to heal the damage that sin has caused, if we will just listen to Him and trust in Him.
It brings to my mind the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18, But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. The New International Version says, And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. We must be like Moses the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3. Moses beheld the glory of the Lord and then was transformed into God's image and we must be like that as well, and because of that, reflect God's image to those around us. But let's not hide that glory. Let's not put a veil over our faces like Moses did. Let's fully reflect the glory of the Lord. Let's let our light shine. Let's let faces shine for God because of what He is doing in us. That's how the Spirit works miracles of transformation in our lives.
God invites us to a relationship with Him. God does that by being gracious to us and forgiving. The goodness of God heals us, it leads us to repentance and trust, it transforms us. For by beholding we become changed.
To use the apostle's language, what can we say about such wonderful things as these? What is the conclusion that we are to make? Here is what I believe God wants me to see. In this life nothing really matters more than God's loving goodness toward us and His perspective. Somehow we need to constantly remind ourselves to see the big picture. God's purpose, His plan, that is the last word. Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The key part is "to those who love God." The difference is not what happens around us necessarily but what happens in our heart. "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Imperfect as we are and no matter what happens to us, this is telling us that for Christians, God Himself is present in our lives and is working for good, not for bad. Isn't that amazing? What a wonderful perspective. Isn't it incredible that somehow every detail of our lives for God is somehow worked by Him into a loving and beautiful tapestry? Somehow, in our lives, we must link all of our nitty-gritty experiences to God's great plan. We need to pray that we would see everything from God's perspective. We need to ask ourselves "What is God wanting to teach us? How can we have a closer relationship with Him?"
If we could just see everything from the God's view, we would realize that God is miraculously capable of using everything in our lives even the bad elements to somehow transform us into the image of His Son. And that would make a huge difference in our day to day life.
To change the metaphor, God is the master painter. And we have an incredible advantage since God has told us what the painting is going to eventually look like. But only God knows how to take the dark, ugly colors of our lives and combine them with His beautiful, striking, rich colors and produce an innovative, creative and beautiful portrait. I believe it's important to remember that God never designs evil and bad to happen to us, but He can use those experiences to weave His lines of mercy, kindness and goodness into our lives if we will just pay attention and listen to Him.
Not everything, of course, that happens to us seems or feels wonderful. That's not the point. But it all can somehow fit into God's plan and purpose to fashion us and mold us into likeness with Jesus. That's important because often we pray for God to release us from whatever bad experience we find ourselves in. Have you ever prayed for God to take you out of something? Romans 8 is telling us that God wants, instead, to draw us to Himself. That's what His purpose is. God wants us to be like His Son. That is the purpose for which He has called us. That is the purpose that gives meaning to everything.
Have you ever noticed that many times our agenda is different from God's. We tend to have this view that reflects the "American" dream, and we don't even realize it's been drilled into our subconscious. In that idealistic, humanistic dream, there is no room for suffering, pain, or illness. And so when bad happens, we often feel like crying out to God, "Why is this happening to me? This was not supposed to happen! God, get me out of this!" But realy, it's our agenda that needs to change, not God's.
As I will share in a few moments, Melana Hunt Monroe, in her struggle against cancer and living through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, began to experience a closeness with God that she never had before. She began to regard the treatments as her time to focus on God's glory, on faith and hope and trust in God. Her walk with the Lord became so close and intimate that on the last day of her treatments she prayed, "God, don't leave me. I still want to have the closeness with you that I've had during these treatments." Her agenda had changed to that of becoming close to God and trusting in Him to work out His purposes in her life. She had a major perspective change.
The bottom line: there are two things that we need to remember. First of all, what does God want me to learn in this trial? In other words, how can I be more like Jesus through whatever experience I am going through? Something else to remember: God intends for us to be filled with His goodness, and to remember that His goodness, that His purpose toward us is always loving.
Have you ever noticed that often our troubles are made more troubling simply because we have a selfish orientation? We don't want our lives to change. We don't want to be inconvenienced. We don't want to experience disruptions. But if we can see just how unselfish and loving God's purposes are toward us, it will fill us with His goodness. And ultimately, as with Job, the only answer to the evils that plague us is an encounter with the goodness of God.
In the book, From Heaven's View, author Melana Monroe describes her experience with cancer and how she learned to view suffering from God's view. In January 1999, tests revealed that Melana had an extremely aggressive cancer in one of her breasts. And so after a medical plan was formulated, she underwent three months of chemotherapy to try to shrink and control the large mass. Her greatest sorrow at that point became losing her hair. The baldness felt obscene to her. It was a nakedness that left her feeling stripped of any femininity. And it made her feel unworthy of her husband's love.
After the chemotherapy was completed, her first mastectomy was scheduled It was in the recovery from that operation that she learned her first lesson in love from Heaven's view. She was struggling to recover from the anesthesia. And her husband Steve helped bring her to consciousness by holding her hands and telling her how much he loved her. He never left her and became her nurse through the first hard week, emptying drain tubes, charting information the doctors needed, feeding her, holding her as she began to try to move or get up and walk. The doctors told them not to remove the bandages for several days after leaving the hospital. And she dreaded the time, of course, when the bandages would come off and she would have to look at the scar. She knew in the back of her mind that somehow God would work a greater glory in their lives, but what absorbed her attention was the loss for her husband and how incredibly ugly she felt.
The afternoon came when their children were not home. She and her husband, Steve, both knew the time had come to remove the bandages. As they went into the bathroom, she knew she could not go through with it. She collapsed in a grief that was so intense that she could not even cry and breathing seemed almost impossible. Raging in her mind were the questions and the thoughts; how could she ever be his wife? She felt as ugly as a woman could be. No hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. Her lips and her eyes were swollen with the grief. She felt physically worthless; she was helplessly weak. But in the next moment, God revealed His love for her as she had never understood it before. Her husband put his arms around her. Holding her, he whispered, "Melana, I love you because that is who I am." In that moment, her universe changed. She saw in her husband a living picture of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the church, who loves us. We have nothing to offer Him. We're ugly with deception and manipulation and pride. But He still loves us because that is who He is.
Christ's personal identity is "the one who loves us, His church, His bride, and has given Himself and everything He has for her."
Melana went through five more months of chemotherapy, another mastectomy and six more weeks of radiation. And instead of losing their marriage as she had feared, God gave them the same kind of love that Christ has for His church. They now feel that God used this trial to bring out the best in their lives. Their perspective is that God is continually working out all things for His good, for His loving purposes.
Can you now sense the importance, of what the apostle is telling us in Romans 8, of having this wonderful big picture? Nothing is more important than having this view of God's loving purpose toward us. Nothing except our own choice, our own wrong perspective, will ever drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us. Absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love for us because in Jesus God holds us close and says, "I love you because that is who I am."
_________________ 1) C. Peterson, M. Seligman, & G. Vaillant, "Pessimistic Explanatory Style Is Risk Factor for Physical Illness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55 (1988), pp. 23-27. Cited in John Trent, Ph.D., LifeMapping (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1994). 2) Signs of the Times, Vol. 16, Number 3, January 3, 1890 (Reprinted in The Ellen G. White Signs of the Times Articles, Vol. 2, 1886-1892, pages 350, 351). 3) From Heaven's View (Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tenn., pp. 5- 9) __________________ Hymn of Praise: #93, All Things Bright and Beautiful Scripture: Romans 8:23-30 Hymn of Response: #250, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
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last updated 5/17/04 by Bob Beckett.