“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
This brother of ours, the apostle Paul, called the disciples of his time to truly tremendous things when he wrote his letters to them. By virtue of our discipleship to Jesus today, we understand that we are being called to these same tremendous things. When he wrote to the Philippians, he instructed more than once to “rejoice in the Lord”. One of those times he even said to do it “always”! How could he really have expected people to do that? Didn’t he know that disciples of Jesus have troubles, face difficulties, and experience tragedies?
If anyone knew that disciples of Jesus have troubles in this world, it was the apostle Paul. This actually makes his earnest instructions all the more compelling. So notice the way he put it to the Romans: “Be joyful in hope.” It is hope – the forward-looking confidence about what is coming – that allows us to have lasting and persistent joy. The promises our Master has made to us about what awaits us are never going to change, though our present circumstances are subject to change all the time. So then, will we root our joy in the ever-changing ups and downs of our daily experiences, or will we root it in the solidly unchanging reality of what we know is coming? Paul knew that the only steady and reliable joy is the one firmly rooted in the steady and reliable promises of our eternal future.
With our eyes fixed on the gloriously endless and fully satisfying future that awaits us, we are prepared to be “patient in affliction”. It’s very possible that you’re facing affliction today as you read this. I know there are some who have been in the midst of severe affliction (whether physical, spiritual, or relational) for a long time. The patience we need in the midst of these things must come from that hope – joyful hope – described above. How else can you remain patient for the long haul when you’re hurting so badly? How else can you withstand the waiting for God’s deliverance and rescue? Patience can’t be conjured up; it has to grow from something else. Hope is the only soil from which it can steadily and sturdily grow. That future focus will give you the perspective you need to face your present difficulties with confidence, dignity, and power.
Of course, we cannot ignore the third of this three-part command. “Be faithful in prayer” is a necessary part of the two preceding commands. We need our Father’s presence and power to fill us constantly if we are to do these things. We simply don’t have it in us on our own. This is a supernatural attainment that is available by God’s generous participation, and prayer is our access to that supernatural power. Oh Disciple, the temptation that will threaten your health and strength the most will be the temptation to neglect your times with God in focused and purposeful prayer. Be faithful and fervent in it, and your hope-building vision will grow along with your patience in the midst of affliction. As you spend time with Him, your Father will sing over you His promises and reaffirm His devoted love to you, even as you reaffirm yours to Him.
Living prayerfully in light of what’s to come,