There were no glimmers of light to indicate that the trial before me was nearing an end. But these words of Paul stopped me in my tracks, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
I wondered, “What did Paul mean when he instructed the Romans to be patient in affliction? And what does it mean for me today?”
I love the book of Romans. Paul labored to lay a solid foundation of the gospel so that by the time we read the latter parts of his letter, his instructions don’t seem out of place or harsh. They are set within the context of what he has already taught.
When we read “be patient in affliction,” we shouldn’t gloss over that he first says, “Rejoice in hope,” because Paul wrote to the Romans earlier in the book about hope. He told them that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
As Christians, our hope is Christ.
But it’s not just because of the work He accomplished on the cross, it’s also based on the promise of His second coming that we’re given. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).
To add to this promising reality, we were given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the inheritance (Christ) we will receive on that day when Jesus returns (Ephesians 1:13-14).
I love how Daniel Berger speaks of the hope we have in Christ:
“Christians understand that to live in this world is to set Christ as the highest treasure, and to die is far more valuable (Phil. 1:21) as they will be given full access to know God without restrictions or impairments. The ‘much, much better’ life of a person who has placed his/her faith in Christ is to come when they are in God’s presence rather than on this side of eternity. This reality is the Christian hope that fully delivers, and it is the joy set before us that comforts us and enables endurance despite the crushing nature of this life.”1Daniel Berger, Rethinking Depression, 223.
The hope that you and I can rejoice in is that not only have we been saved from our sin, but one day, we will have unrestricted access to and unlimited enjoyment of Jesus. That fuels me to want to persevere through trials rather than get weak-kneed!
Paul goes on to clearly articulate what the fruit of our patient endurance of trials will be in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
It’s easy in the midst of a trial—whether it is a relational break, the long season with little ones, singleness, church fractures, etc.—to get restless. We can easily manipulate the situation or satisfy our desires, taking it into our own hands. I know because I often get to that point while waiting. And the Lord knows it, too, and is so patient with us in our impatience.
So how do we endure trials by rejoicing in hope and being patient in affliction? Well, I think the answer is Paul’s next instruction, “be constant in prayer.”
I love David’s example of constant prayer throughout the Psalms. It seems like he is always talking to the Lord! Whether he’s sad, angry, or being chased by an army (“just another day at work…”), we see David in what seems like constant communion with the Lord. Listen to his waiting heart in Psalm 25: “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you” (Psalm 25:20-21).
These verses, and two more in Lamentations, I believe, provide the keys that we need to both rejoice in hope and practice patience in affliction: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25-26).
Here are the keys:
- Turn to the Lord
- Wait quietly on the Lord. (This means to lie still.)
Years ago, I wrote in the margin of my Bible the Greek definition for quiet found in 1 Peter 3:4. Here, Peter speaks of having a gentle and quiet spirit. It means, “tranquility arising from within, causing no disturbance to others. Meek, undisturbed.” This kind of quiet is similar to the “lie still” definition from Lamentations 3:26.
We can wait quietly as we turn to the Lord again and again because of the glorious future hope that we have in Christ.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, lots of conversation with Him, or even questions (remember, Paul encourages us to be constant in prayer!). But it does mean that we won’t wrestle with God, fighting against the trial He’s brought into our life.
We live surrendered.
But we aren’t going to be perfectly patient. We will mess it up even as we give our best effort. We will likely have moments that aren’t quiet when we do wrestle with the Lord. But as we continue to return to the Lord, He will keep us. He will guard us with the integrity and uprightness that David speaks of, which will involve repentance. We will return to that place of quiet. This is faithful patience.
When we have a theology of affliction, we can rejoice in hope and wait quietly in our affliction. We can be patient in it because we know that it’s momentary. This too shall pass, and it has the potential to yield eternal fruit. This theology informs our thinking, our feelings, and our actions.
Come, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1c-2).