Romans 12:9-21 lists a long string of concise commands depicting the kind of life that characterizes one whose mind is being transformed through the Gospel (Rom. 12:1-2). Though all of those commands do not necessarily have an obvious connectedness and flow, one verse in particular (verse 12) jumps out at me because of how the 3 commands in that verse do seem to fit together.
Verse 12 reads: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
When I have no hope, I am not patient in tribulation, but instead, I all too easily succumb to sin and self-pity and despair. And when I have no hope, prayer goes out the window with a cynical shrug of my shoulders…”Why bother–nothing ever changes anyway.” So hope is vital to patience and to prayer.
When I have no tribulation, I do not find much joy in the great hope that I have in Christ, because life is comfortable. And when I have no tribulation, I may pray half-heartedly for that which I’m “supposed to” pray for, but I’m certainly not constant in prayer. So tribulation is vital to hope and to prayer.
When I am not constant in prayer, I find myself pursuing false hopes and human solutions for happiness. And when I am not constant in prayer, rather than patiently enduring tribulation as God’s means of refinement, I am looking for the easy way out. So prayer is vital to hope and to patience.
So these three commands are deeply intertwined:
Hope + Tribulation = Constant Prayer
Tribulation + Prayer = Joyful Hope
Prayer + Hope = Patience in Tribulation
I like hope, and I don’t mind prayer, so I’m glad those are vital components of a life that is being transformed. But I don’t really care for tribulation (or patience either, for that matter), so I’m a little less enthusiastic about that also being a vital component. But it is. God in His mercy and wisdom ordains that suffering and hardship are part of our experience as His children, in order to teach us to pray, and in order to increase our hope. And so let us pray–constantly–and let us hope–joyfully–in the midst of the suffering that God allows and brings into our life, so that, as James says, the testing of our faith would produce steadfastness in us, and when that steadfastness has its full effect, we “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)