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And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Most of us have heard or read this verse many times and probably memorized it, yet do we really comprehend its message? It is easy to quote Romans 8:28 to show how God takes care of our needs in a manner that pleases us, but what about the sorrows, tragedies and disappointments in life? We have had many such experiences in 50 years of missionary life. Can we honestly claim that all these losses, difficulties, and painful experiences "worked together for good?"

What is the difference between things and stuff?

I keep up several websites. One is our church website and another is for the Seeing Eye Puppy Raisers. I also have a website to promote the book I wrote, Rabban Gamaliel. I have two personal websites, and

The latter site,, is about "things" that are very important and dear to me. It contains information about our family and ministry.

My other personal site is, which I call, "Ralph's Stuff" because it is mostly about trivial stuff. I have stuff to sell, photography stuff, car stuff, boat stuff, stuff to see, stuff to read and lots of other stuff on

Because people are more interested in "stuff" than in our family and work, "Ralph's Stuff" gets many more hits and visits. Google gives the website a Page Rank of 2 (out of 10), with 2,095 average unique visitors per day!

In Romans 8:28, The Greek word translated "all things" is pas, actually one word that simply means "all". It could mean all good things or all bad things or any mixture of both. It could include sickness, health, abundance, need, birth of a child, death of a loved one, a pay raise or getting fired. All things work together for good IF certain conditions are met.

A. IF you consider all things together
B. IF we love God
C. IF we are the called
D. IF we are living according to God's purpose.

I will deal with these four conditions in detail later, but first, I want to to direct your attention to another very familiar verse that speaks of "all things," Matthew 6:33.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

In this verse, Jesus describes "things" differently. The Greek word, tow-ta refers to things that are of lesser value or importance. We might say, "all that stuff" or "all that baggage." Verse 32 says, "the Gentiles seek after all these things" (tow-ta = all that stuff). In Matthew 4, Satan offered Jesus all that stuff (tow-ta) if he would just fall down and worship him. Matthew 15:20 says, not what enters the mouth, but "the stuff" (tow-ta) that comes out of the mouth is what defiles a man. When the Pharisees spoke of Jesus, they asked, "Where did Jesus get all that stuff?" (tow-ta).

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says that necessities of life, such as food and clothing, and even treasures - all that stuff - are not worth worrying about or seeking after. I might paraphrase verses 31-34 as follows:
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all that stuff do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all that stuff. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all that stuff shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for tomorrow just brings more stuff to worry about. There is enough stuff to worry about today.

Now let us get back to those four conditions named in Romans 8:28. It is important to remember that all things…

I like to sail and work on sailboats. It is not only an enjoyable hobby, but I have found it to be economically profitable instead of costing lots of money. Boat owners say that a boat is "a hole in the water that you throw money into." I crawled into the hole and am catching some of that money. Most of the 25+ boats that I have sold in the past decade were donated.

In past centuries, boats and ships were built primarily of wood, but most materials used today are heavier than water. If those components are properly fitted together, however, the vessel will float. "All things work together for good."

Good times and bad times must be viewed together in order to recognize God's goodness. We come to love and appreciate the Good Shepherd when he leads us in green pastures and beside still waters, but our love becomes much stronger when he leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. "Tribulation worketh patience." Paul wrote, "My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Even the best built boat is of little use if it has no captain. Whether a large ocean-going freighter or a small pleasure craft, boats are modes of transportation and need people to guide and control them. Even a model boat has radio control and an operator. The Greek word translated "love" is agape, which indicates "total submission and dedication."

If the boat has its own way, the wind and waves will drive it onto the rocks where it will break apart and sink. A boat must be kept in submission, be responsive to the commands of the captain. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.

Every boat has a specific calling. The sailboats I prefer to work on are "called" dinghies and larger sailboats are "called" yachts or ships. The "calling" is an important distinction. Dinghies are meant to sail on lakes, bays and safe harbors.

Children and new Christians are like dinghies. God knows that they could easily succumb to opposition from evil forces in this world. God doesn't expect his children to venture far from a safe harbor.

Mature, knowledgeable and experienced Christians can be compared to yachts. Larger sailboats are built differently from dinghies, but as with dinghies, most components of yachts are heavier than water. The swing keel of an 18-ft. fiberglass cruiser that I restored weighed 400 lbs and you needed a winch to raise or lower it. Marvin Creamer, who sailed around the world without instruments, chose a 36-foot steel-hulled vessel for the voyage. The fixed keel on that boat was filled with lead and weighed tons! A large yacht is unlikely to capsize, but if it does tip over in a storm, it can right itself and continue on its voyage. Creamer's Globe Star experienced several knockdowns and once, the mast was 45 degrees below the surface! (I created a website about Creamer's voyage)

A healthy church has many workers and several leaders, but all are called by God. All are equally important and there are no inferior or superior Christians. There are only those who love God and recognize their calling and those who don't. He that is faithful in little, will be entrusted with much (Luke 16:10-11).

It has become popular for churches to select young, dynamic and enthusiastic pastors who appeal to the youth, but the Bible warns about placing inexperienced believers in leadership positions. When we present our bodies to Christ and pledge to serve him, he doesn't give us some great task to fulfill right away. As we become stronger in the faith and knowledgeable in God's Word, he entrusts us with more difficult tasks. God uses us according to our faith, and seeks to stretch us.

Each person has natural and spiritual gifts, but even more important is God's calling. As a missionary, much of the work I did, I felt unqualified or unprepared for. But God called, burdened and equipped me to fulfill his purposes.

I often ask people, "What is a boat built for?" They usually reply, "For the water." Although I have seen some boats that were converted into children's sandboxes and flower beds, a boat without water is of little use. The conclusion is understandable, but it is false. A boat or ship is built to sail ON water but not built FOR the water. Water is it's enemy!

Many people make that same mistake and think that they are made for the world, therefore they live for the world. In Christ's prayer for his disciples recorded in John 17, he mentions the world 20 times, reminding us that we are in the world for a purpose, but not for or of the world.

Romans 8 is about the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit. We can't see him, but the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit empowers us, fills us, and leads us in all truth. Faith is teamwork with the Holy Spirit working in, with and through us.

A boat may be intact and properly rigged. The crew may be made up of experienced sailors, but without air, the water will swallow up both. We can't see air, but that is what keeps boats and ships afloat. If a boat's hull is damaged, it can sink, but the water doesn't sink it. The vessel is sunk by it's own weight - because there is no air within to keep it floating.

With sailing vessels, air also provides propulsion to move the vessel forward. The sailor's worst enemy is not the wind, but rather doldrums. A captain can guide his vessel over stormy seas and safely into the home port, but only in cooperation with air. When "all things work together," a boat becomes useful and fulfills its purpose.

Another difference between dinghies and yachts is the manner in which air is involved in giving support. A yacht can sink, but it doesn't capsize. A dinghy can turtle but is unsinkable. It may flip over in rough seas, in strong winds, or when the crew does something dumb, but there is floatation built into it to keep it from sinking. The Styrofoam flotation or air-filled tanks that keep the dinghy afloat gives the young and inexperienced sailor confidence and security.

So it is with new believers, children and weaker Christians. They may fall often, but the Holy Spirit helps them up and gives them a fresh start. The Holy Spirit gives buoyancy and support. Accidents can happen, we make mistakes and commit sin, but it is important to seek (and grant) forgiveness. Conditions will seldom be optimal, we will at times experience failure, meet with tragedy or be discouraged. Some day when we look back, we will be able to say, "All things worked together for good."

More experienced Christians are expected to be stable and live a consistent testimony, but when they do allow sin into their lives, the consequences can be disastrous. Consider the tragic plight of those well-known TV evangelists who fell into sin involving misuse of money or sex scandals.

Another important lesson we can learn regarding God's purpose for us is recognizing and observing the boundaries and limitations. Most items that we purchase include stickers or notices that warn of misuse. Medicine is to be taken according to the doctor's orders. You don't use the power mower to trim a hedge.

We must be careful to keep our purpose constantly in mind. When I served as a missionary in a foreign country, I was careful not to get involved in politics. There were times when I encouraged Christians to take a stand for certain principles, but I avoided political arguments. Several times, Europeans began criticizing Americans for their treatment of native Americans and keeping black slaves. I just listened until they were finished and then commented, "The early settlers in America were nearly all Europeans, but God is willing to forgive sinners who repent." I then shared the story of the converted English slave trader, John Newton, who wrote the hymn, "Amazing Grace."

What is true of a boat is also true of Romans 8:28. We must be careful to see all components of the verse together as a whole. Only those who love God, who are called and who live according to his purpose can claim the promise: All things work together for good!

Ralph V. Harvey, April, 2014