“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,.. to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world… Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles… So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Romans 1:1,7-13,15
There is something poignant about the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Romans. The quintessential Jew, he loved and longed to visit the predominantly Gentile church in Rome, a congregation that was known across the empire for its faith. Hindered from doing so to this point, but anxious to meet with them as part of his gospel call to the Gentiles, Paul used his period of longing and waiting constructively, to compose what Martin Luther described as “the epitome of the Gospel.” He took time to write, and prayed for the church from afar, endeavoring to build them up and motivate fruitfulness. He decided that although he could not accomplish this in person the way he had hoped, he would do what he could to stir them up in mutual and increasing faith by way of a letter that would lead to spiritual maturity not only for them, but for millennia to follow. Imagine what we could have missed were Paul’s longings immediately met!
We can have noble plans, planted in us by the will of the Father, that do not always come to fruition in our timetable. We can long for spiritual sight or humble repentance in those we love, and not see much evidence of the Spirit’s work. How actively, earnestly do we wait, and what should our priorities be in the meantime?
How willing am I to make a plan B when the Lord prevents me from carrying out my plan A? Where do I see and take new opportunities, or try fresh methods, to serve, love, write or speak truth into others’ lives? If I long to be with those far away, are there some near in the meantime who need my encouragement? Who in my path could benefit from a ministry of love and mercy and gospel truth? In this day of bite-sized electronic messages, who needs a note that can be read over and over?
Father, thank You for Your redeeming purposes in my longing. Teach me to make the most of the time You ordain before what I desire, or what You intend, comes to pass. Bear fruit in my every word and deed. May I know You better that I can make You better known. (Ephesians 5:15-20; Colossians 1:10-11)