I have heard it said that a preacher cannot preach a text from the pulpit without first having wrestled with it in prayer.
Unfortunately, I have heard, and even preached, a few sermons that sound and feel like very little wrestling ever took place. In fact, it seems that when the passage took the ring for the bout to begin, some preachers forfeited the match, and rather than wrestle with the text in the heart, they give a walking commentary through the text and never get closer than an arm’s length away.
All that to say, my preparation for this Sunday’s message is coming out of a few rounds of wrestling. I’m preaching through Romans 8, one of the greatest chapters in Scripture, full of promise, hope, and glory. I’ve heard one Pastor call this chapter the “Tion” chapter; where we read of condemnation, election, redemption, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification – all in one chapter! Yet in the midst of preaching through this beautiful chapter, I have been wrestling with assurance and vocation, struggling with the “old man of sin,” and feeling like my prayers are lacking in zeal and effectiveness.
This wilderness experience is a dry and barren land where there is no drink (Psalm 63). Whether I came here by some sin that I have been harboring in my heart, or whether God has chosen to hide His face from me for a period, I do not know. But I walk in the wilderness hearing the promise of Scripture, that “for those who love God, all things work together for God, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). All things, even this wilderness, God is using for the good of those who love Him.
What good can come from the wilderness? Let me share with you what I read from Martin Lloyd-Jones* sermon on this passage:
God, as it were, averts His face, turns away from us, and we feel that we cannot find Him. This is a method that God often uses for the good of His people… It is a way of convicting them, and of humbling them; it is a way of getting them to repent and admit that they have been wrong and are sorry, a way to make them ask for forgiveness and for restoration. For this reason sometimes there are periods of dryness and barrenness in the life of the Christian… It is one of the ways of God doing us good.
Even such an experience of barrenness and aridity and dryness of the soul in one’s spiritual life can be used to our advantage; it makes us desire Him more; it makes us seek Him more, and long for Him. There is nothing in life which is of greater value than the experience that you have when such a period is suddenly ended, and when God again smiles on you… When the period of withdrawal ends you enjoy the nearness and the presence of God to a greater degree than you have done before. All these things are to comfort us. All things are made to work together by God. What appears to be so wrong, and so opposed to us, is meant and designed for our ultimate good.
If you find yourself in the wilderness, learn to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. Long for Him, cry out to Him, and wait upon Him. He will fill your heart with good things, He will make your cup overflow. God is working through all things for your greatest good, for your salvation and life in Christ! Trust and rely upon Him.