Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When God's Plans Are Better Than Ours

Tuesday, July 31
Scripture Reading—Romans 15:22-33

Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the most profound pieces of theology in the New Testament.  It has exercised great power throughout the history of the Christian tradition.  Martin Luther rediscovered the central message of this text, realizing that we are justified by faith, not by works and ignited the Protestant Reformation.  John Wesley heard Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on the Letter to the Romans at a house on Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738 and said he felt his heart strangely warmed.  The Methodist revival that had a profound impact on all of England and subsequently led to the formation of a powerful denomination in the United States traces its beginnings to that chance encounter Wesley had with Paul’s letter to the Romans.  But Paul wrote this letter, not so much to offer a profound summary of his understanding of the heart of the Christian faith, but to prepare the Christians in Rome for a visit he intended to make.  Paul did not start the church at Rome, which at the time of the writing of this letter probably only consisted of a hundred or so people.  No, Paul had in mind going to Rome, strengthening that church, gaining their support all so he could have a forward base of operations to press further west, on into Spain with his missionary work of planting churches and spreading the gospel.  He apologizes for his delay in getting to Rome because he has been busy collecting an offering among Gentile Christians to take to Jerusalem to aid the struggling church there.  With a sense of foreboding, he realizes he may meet opposition in Jerusalem.  That turns out to be the case.  He is nearly killed there and then imprisoned and sent to Rome, not as a preacher traveling under his own authority, but as a prisoner to stand trial before Caesar.  Most scholars do not think Paul’s great hope of pressing onto Spain ever materialized.  But as one writer points out, if Paul had not had the dream of going onto Spain to proclaim the good news, he would not have gone to the trouble of writing the letter to the Romans, a writing we turn to over and over again to gain insight into what God intended to do for the world in Christ, and what it really means to be made right with God by faith through grace.  If there is a lesson here for us, it is that so many times the great dreams we aspire to don’t always materialize as we hope, but along the way of chasing a dream we believe God has placed within us, with God’s help, we often make some unexpected contribution that turns out to be even more lasting and important than would have been the case if our original dream had been fulfilled as we’d hoped.  Keep chasing your dreams.  Though they may not be fulfilled as you imagine, God is going to do something great with your passion and effort—perhaps something far greater than you could have ever dreamed!

Thought for the day:  There are times our dreams do not materialize as we’d envisioned, but we discover along the way that God had something even better in mind!

Prayer:  O God, give us great dreams of what you’d have us do with our lives.  And when the dreams we have pursued don’t materialize as we’d envisioned, help us not to despair, but to give you thanks that along the way, you have used us in some wonderful way we ourselves could never have envisioned.  Amen. 

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