If God Be For Us
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
This week I was reading about the misadventures of Michael Phelps. You probably have seen the picture of Phelps apparently smoking marijuana from a bong at a party. He has admitted that he made a mistake and exercised poor judgment. He has apologized and he has been suspended from swimming for 3 months. Probably that is enough said about that, but I also remember all those other pictures of Michael Phelps at the Olympics, where he won eight gold medals. I remember all those pictures of him celebrating victory, and we celebrated with him.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do anything, and do it well, with a global audience watching? How do you swim like a fish, knowing that if you make the slightest error, 100 million people will laugh at you? Most of us can never know what that kind of pressure feels like, and probably we never want to know.
I don’t know what Michael Phelps’ secret is, or was, for handling that immense pressure, but I do know the stress-handling method that is generally taught to our Olympic teams. It is called positive visualization or positive imaging.
Kara Goucher of Portland, Oregon is a track and field U.S. Olympian. She talks about how she uses this method to calm her nerves and enhance her performance. She says, “On hard days, I picture myself crossing the finishing line and being elated. You have no idea how many times I have already ’won’ the gold.”
Research by sports psychologists has shown that the repetitious practice of visualization trains the body and mind just as the action of physically practicing a given move trains both body and mind. For example, if you were a coach training runners for the Olympics, you would have your people run and run and run and run—practice physically for their event, but sports psychology says that you need to do more than that. They need to visualize winning, and do that over and over and over.
There are basically five steps to this visualization.
1. Sit in a comfortable position away from any distractions or interruptions
2. Relax your body and take five deep inhales and exhales.
3. Close your eyes and envision your ideal outcome. Envision details. Imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of this positive experience.
4. If your mind wanders to a negative image or thought—and it probably will—bring your attention back to your breath and replace the negative with a positive image.
5. Always end your visualization practice with a positive image.
(retrieved from http://www.dietsinreview.com/diet_column/08/how-olympic-athletes-manage-pressure)]
Now this is powerful stuff. I am not talking theory here. This is the kind of stuff that has been tested by people who function under immense pressure. This works. But I was wondering how can we take this Olympic pressure handling method and apply it to everyday life. You might say that we don’t have the stress that they have in the Olympics, but that depends upon the person. In the Olympic games, athletes are incredibly stressed for a short period of time, but then the Olympics are over for four years. Some people live with stress that goes on and on and on. Frankly, I do not see how they do it. I do not see why they don’t crack up and shoot everybody in sight—and occasionally they do, but most of the time nothing spectacular happens, they just somehow endure. They don’t eat right, they don’t sleep well, they feel kind of sad and down. They are miserable, they are depressed, but somehow they endure—and that is a recipe for a horrible life.
Now that may not describe your life, but you would be surprised how many people, and I mean people you know, that does describe. It is estimated that about 20 million Americans are clinically depressed and—get this—everyone at some time in their lives is at least somewhat depressed.
This does not mean that everyone needs to go to a therapist and be analyzed, but everyone has times when they get down. They think that no one likes them, they think that they are not doing anything of significance. They are just breathing air and taking up space, and the world would be better off without them. Everyone has feelings like that sometimes.
So we all need a kind of five step method to help us overcome feelings of depression, but Olympic Positive Visualization, the five step method I just mentioned, does not work well against depression. Think about the people for whom that method was intended. They are already the best athletes in the world, and they know that. They already have a positive image of themselves, and they just need to have that image channeled and reinforced.
But the depressed person is not like that at all. They are so overwhelmed with negative thoughts that just telling them to think positive is not going to work. Tell them not to think about negative images, and they will just think more about negative images. They may try to cling to a positive image, but they don’t really believe it, they don’t really believe that there is anything positive about themselves, so it does not work.
Notice we are not talking about their situation; we are talking about what they believe and think. Psychologists tell us that they often encounter patients whose circumstances are pretty good, but they are terribly depressed anyway. So the problem is not their circumstances. The problem is inside their skull, in their thinking and attitudes.
They need help. They need a 5-point plan to lift them up when they are feeling the blues. I have such a plan, and it is much like the positive visualization I mentioned earlier.
Number 1 is the same. Sit in a comfortable position away from any distractions or interruptions
Number 2 is the same. Relax your body and take five deep inhales and exhales.
Number 3 is different. Close your eyes and focus your mind on a great Bible promise. There are many verses you might choose, but let us say that you pick this great verse from Romans: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Don’t just say the verse one time. Say it over and over. Think about what it means. Change the wording a little. Apply it personally. If God be for me, who can be against me?
What does that mean for you where you are, in your situation, in your circumstances? “What shall we then say” when troubles come our way, when hardship comes? “What shall we then say” when it seems like the whole world is against us? “If God be for us,” none of that matters.
There is a story in Daniel chapter 3 about three Hebrew boys who were thrown into a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced an awful death, but that did not matter because God was with them. We read, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, ‘Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘True, O king.’ He replied, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god’”(Dan.3:24-25). God was there in the furnace, and if God was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it did not matter that they were in a furnace.
Think about Jesus. He came among us with a message of gentleness and love. He healed the sick and helped the suffering. But a friend sold him for thirty pieces of silver. He was whipped until his back was raw. They spit on him and mocked him. They placed a crown of thorns on his head. Then they made him carry his cross to that awful place called Calvary, and there they killed him. That seems terrible and final. He died. They took his body down and placed it in a borrowed tomb, but God was with him and, two days later, he rose from the dead. All the powers of the earth and death and hell were arrayed against Jesus. It did not matter. God was with him.
That gives us the strength and the faith to say, if God is for me, who can be against me? We can look death in the eye and say – if God is for me who can be against me? We can look all the troubles and anxieties of this present age in the eye and say – if God is for me who can be against me?
So say this verse and turn it over and over in your mind. You might even ask questions of the verse: Why should God be for me?. Because God loves me. Throughout the Bible, God expressed His love for His children in many ways. In Genesis, God created a paradise for Adam and Eve. In the book of the Exodus, God provided manna and quail for the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness. In Joshua, God gave a land to the people. In the NT, in an act that defies comprehension, God sent His Son to the world. A baby in a manger and a man on a cross are two images that prove God’s amazing, astonishing love.
That’s why Paul can ask this question in v31. If a God who loves us beyond all comprehension is for us, who can be against us?
Understand that had Paul thought in worldly terms, he could have had a list of answers to that question. Paul had opposition, enemies, difficult circumstances. Pagans often did not believe him, the Jews wanted to kill him, and many in the church did not believe he was an apostle of Christ, but all of that did not matter.
Because God is for us. In this eighth chapter of Romans, Paul shows us how much God is for us. Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He tells us that God has given us a part of Himself to walk with us every step of the way. Paul highlights the fact that for Christians there is an overflowing abundance of hope.
So, Paul says, with that in mind, who can be against you? When problems pile up against you, what power do they really have? And the point here is not your power versus your problems, but God’s power versus your problems.
Are you afraid that God can not handle the difficulties in your life? If you are, then you do not understand God. God called the universe into being. God created every molecule, atom, and quark. God created the dinosaurs and the mammoths, the bacteria and the gnats. He engineered the laws of the universe. God must laugh at our conceit that God cannot handle our problems.
But you may say, “Well it is not that God cannot help me, but I sometimes wonder if he will help me. After all, if God is running the whole universe, does he have time to help me when I am feeling a little depressed?” That is why Paul asks another question, in v32. ‘’He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’’ Would God go to all the pain and trouble to send His Son to die for you and then just forget about you in your hour of need? No way! Paul reminds us that God loves us too much to forget us. Therefore, God will be with us in the worst of times and the best of times. God will give us hope; God will give us purpose. Because God loves us, we can live without fear of ever being separated from God.
Sometimes we define an optimist as a person who sees the glass as half full and a pessimist as a person who sees the glass as half empty. In other words, you are an optimist or a pessimist depending on where you focus your attention. The apostle Paul would agree with that and say that our focus is Jesus Christ and therefore, we are always optimists. As Christians, we live with our eyes on Jesus, and that makes all the difference in our lives. We are not saying that we should imagine a positive outcome that we achieve with our own strength and power. Rather, we focus on God’s love and power, as we find it in Jesus.
So as our step 3 in our five-point plan, look at your circumstances and imagine in detail what God can do through you to change what is into what ought to be.
Step 4 is to keep that image firmly in our minds. If negative thoughts come in, remember that is Satan who is trying to undermine you and bring you back to the old attitudes of defeat and despair.
Step 5 is never give up on God. We worship a God who brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil; God gave us our salvation from the death of Christ. If God is powerful enough to do that, then God is powerful enough to bring good out of whatever we encounter in life. Never give up. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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