What would you like to see happen more than anything else in the world? Some people might call this idea a wish, or a dream. But whatever you might call it, what would it be? In other words, what do you long for? (Pardon the grammar.)
So, what are you doing to make it a reality?
If you are like most people, the answer is: “Nothing.” That is why it is just a wish. You wish someone else would make it happen. And we (all) make excuses when it doesn’t or can’t happen. That is what humanity does. We learned to make excuses or blame others from the first two humans (who did it in Genesis 3), and we have not stopped yet. Well, if only this would happen? Or, if only that could take place, then…
Sure, it is true that sometimes a person (or group) is willing, but other factors are necessary to make it happen. For instance, as scientists try to better understand this coronavirus, and much of the world waits for a vaccine, we realize that a certain knowledge is necessary to do the research and create the right chemical mix. That is simply a fact. So, even though many have a desire for a vaccine or for peace, other factors also need to be considered.
But we all have wants and desires and wishes. But do we have the courage to act? Yes, my desires may be different than yours. But, and I am speaking to the church here, if we are brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have one Father, and our desires should eventually conform to His. Thus, my desires and your desires eventually become our desires because they are His desires.
So, whether our desires are good or not, what should we do about them? How can we seek to be faithful to our own desires without turning away from the desires of God? Well, for that let us look at Romans 1.8-15.
I began by asking what you longed for (again, pardon the ending preposition). Paul longs to go to Rome for four specific reasons. In the order listed, he wants to:
- Strengthen them with a spiritual gift (v. 11)
- Encourage them in their faith and be encouraged by their faith (v. 12)
- Reap a harvest (v. 13)
- Preach the gospel (v. 15)
His longing to go to Rome is for these four reasons. But Paul has never been to Rome (v. 13), so he has not fulfilled any of these desires in Rome – yet. So, what does Paul do? He does two things which are the answer to the question above about fulfilling our desires while remaining faithful to the desires of God.
First, Paul prays to God. Second, he keeps doing what he is supposed to do where he is. That’s it.
Now, I must admit that an assumption is made here – that Paul’s desires line up with God’s desires. But as I just mentioned, if we are seeking God, eventually our desires will move in the direction of God’s desires. If we consider the four reasons Paul wants to go to Rome, I think we can clearly see these reasons are in alignment with God’s desires.
Does God want people spiritually strengthened? Yes.
Does God want people to encourage one another in, and by, their faith? Yes.
Does God want a harvest? Yes.
Does God want the gospel preached? Yes.
So, Paul’s reasons for visiting Rome are not about taking a vacation or taking a break from ministry. In fact, each of the reasons he mentions directly encompass ministry. But until this point in Paul’s life, he has been prevented from traveling to Rome. We are not given a clear answer as to why. We might speculate that God has prevented it. But that is speculation. The Bible does not say.
But whatever the reason, Paul has not made it there, despite his desire to do so (v. 13). It is a good desire. So, how do we reconcile the fact it had not happened with Psalm 37.4? That verse says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Was Paul’s desire in line with God’s Word? Yes. Does all the evidence appear that Paul found his delight in the Lord? Yes. So, why would God not allow it?
Well, God did allow it – IN HIS TIME.
See, sometimes what we think we desire is just a passing fancy. I am not suggesting that was the case for Paul, but sometimes we have to prove ourselves – to ourselves and to God. Consider how many “desires” you have had, but soon afterward you forget that you even wanted it. Paul wanted to go to Rome. Based upon what Paul wanted to do there, I see no reason why God would not want him there. But for whatever reason, the timing wasn’t right.
So, Paul prayed. And he prayed. And he prayed. Verse 9 says he prayed without ceasing. Verse 10 says that he mentions the Romans “always” when he prays. Paul proved his desire was not some short-term fad. And eventually God honored Paul’s request because it was truly in line with God’s desire.
Let’s consider Paul’s prayer.
Paul prayed for the Romans. He prayed because of their faith. He had obviously heard about them. Rome was the hub, and as people travelled to and from Rome they brought and took messages with them – even to the remote regions of the empire. A part of those messages was certainly about a group of people in Rome who chose not to bow before the emperor, and instead bowed at the name of Jesus. Paul knew that. Paul prayed for that. Paul prayed because of that.
Paul prayed for the Romans. He prayed that their faith would continue. He prayed that he might be able to come to them to strengthen them, to minister to them, to partner with them. He prayed for opportunity. But as he waited for an opportunity in Rome, he did not neglect his responsibilities elsewhere. And that fact deserves more attention.
See, Paul’s longing was not just for the Romans (although that is the focus here). It was for all people. He desired that everyone know Christ. He desired to impart wisdom to help everyone be strengthened in their faith which, in turn, encouraged Paul to continue the work. Paul wanted to proclaim the gospel because he wanted a harvest. He wanted to proclaim the gospel because God has a harvest waiting.
But for Paul it all began with prayer. What is interesting is that in verse 8, he says, “First, I thank my God.” In other words, his first action was prayer. What is strange is that Paul never mentions “Second.” It is not there. It begins with prayer, and effectively ends with prayer. Prayer engages God from the beginning through the end. But in the middle we have our own work to do and we are to do it wherever God has us in the moment.
What do we want to see?
Do we want people to have spiritual insight? It begins with prayer.
Do we want people to be encouraged and to encourage others? It begins with prayer.
Do we want to reap a harvest for God? It begins with prayer.
Do we want to proclaim the Gospel so people live for God? It begins with prayer.
Yes, it begins with prayer. But it doesn’t end with prayer until we have done our part too. Paul didn’t just pray for people to have spiritual insight, he took time to teach. Paul didn’t just want people to be encouraged, he encouraged (and challenged) them. Paul did not just want to reap a harvest for God, he went out “in the fields” and did the necessary work. Paul did not just want the Gospel proclaimed to people so they could know and live for God, he proclaimed it, despite the risks.
Yes, Paul longed to go to Rome. He desired to do these four things in Rome. But he didn’t just wait until he got to Rome. He did them where he was. He didn’t just pray and wait for his chance to minister in Rome, he ministered as he lived his life in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, and elsewhere – doing in each of those places what he also longed to do in Rome. In other words, Paul did not just pray for his desires, He lived them – each and every day. He prayed that God would do what only God can do, but Paul did all he could to make his desires come true as well. And because his desires were God’s desires, Paul got the opportunity – in God’s time, in God’s way.
Paul’s prayers showed his true desires. They show how much he longed for Rome. They showed how much he valued prayer. They show how much he trusted God. Many people listening to this message might say something similar is true for them. You long for your family, or your church, or your town, or your nation, or this world to be changed, and you pray for that.
But here is the greatest challenge I see in this set of verses. In Romans 1.9, Paul wrote, “For God is my witness….”
Would God testify as your witness that you prayed constantly about such things?
Would God testify as your witness that you serve Him faithfully?
Would God testify as you witness that you proclaim His Word continually?
I cannot answer for you, but I can for me. My answer is “No.” I may desire to be faithful in living, to better serve Him, to proclaim His Word more effectively, and to pray more often and more fervently, but I promise you, I would be lying if I wrote (or said) the words Paul wrote.
My guess is that the same would be true for most who listening to my voice (reading this post). And that is why we need Jesus. Jesus did do those things perfectly. And God did serve as a witness to the life of Jesus. It is that witness that raised Jesus from the dead. And it is that same power that can make it true for you and me – if only we will choose to long for the things of God, as He longs for them too. When we long to live our life for God, we can only have one response. We must engage.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is E – ENGAGE.
Desiring and longing are not enough. We need to engage. We need to put aside our comforts and complacency. We need to stop worrying about getting back to normal, and start getting busy for God. God is out in front of us. He is waiting to lead us into a better future. But we want to go back to a familiar past. The same was true for the Israelites after they left Egypt. I don’t want to go back to Egypt, I want to go forward with God.
LIVE. While we wait for God, let’s make sure He is not waiting for us!
So, let us pray. But let us act. Let us wait on God for His direction, but let us do what we know to do while waiting. We all have insights we can share. We all have encouragement (and exhortation) to give. We all know people who need Jesus. And we all have a message to proclaim. We need not wait to do those things. We must not wait to do those things. Let us act. Let us engage. Let us truly live. And then let us be willing to say, “For God is my witness,” because we lived our lives as He wanted us to live.