I need to redefine my idea of hope. Maybe joyful, patient, affliction, faithful and prayer as well. Last night while I was reviewing memorized scriptures on my Bible memory app in a rather rote manner, I felt God’s unexpected, yet familiar poke seeking to get my attention. I paused and repeated His words that I knew in my mind more than my heart.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12
Be joyful in hope. Well now ….. I met that instruction with skepticism. If you are like me, in the times when I most desperately need hope, joyful would not describe any of my feelings. I tend to feel most joyful when circumstances and situations in my life are going well and I don’t recognize any need for hope. It is when my heart aches, and the growing darkness threatens to overtake me that I begin to cling to hope. Joy does not naturally mingle alongside the shadows in my soul.
I looked up the definition of hope. Oxford Languages describes hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Wikipedia defines it as an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.
My interpretation of “be joyful in hope:” when life sucks be happy and cheerful while I wait for the better thing that I want to come but might not. That sounds commendable and admirable, but honestly, when pain, devastation and despair overwhelm me, it is unrealistic and emotionally unhealthy.
I confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is an emotion. My happiness is dependent on and influenced by fleeting external factors. Joy is an internal condition of satisfaction and contentment. My joy is a result of my faith in God. Joy and happiness are not two different words for the same thing.
I also discovered that the Biblical and worldly definitions of hope are not the same. Biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future based on what God has promised, whereas worldly hope contains an element of uncertainty.
My new understanding of “be joyful in hope:” because of my faith in God, I can be assured that He will work all things out for my good. My hope is in God and what He can do, not in myself. A peaceful soul equals a joyful soul.
But this “patient in affliction”?! Well, here we go again ….. I think I understand what that means and I’m not sure I like what that implies. It sounds like my troubles are planning to hang around for a longer time than I want. And that I should just welcome and embrace a time of endless or frequent suffering.
I searched for the definition of patient. And yes, it unnaturally and uncomfortably means bearing pains or trial calmly or without complaint; able to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. I guess if afflictions are going to occur, this is the best way to handle them. Correction. Since God is teaching me in the Bible how to manage hardship, then it is without doubt in my best interest to follow His words.
"Faithful in prayer." It’s important for me not to get distracted and let my drifting attention cause the last words of this scripture to fade away. This instruction seems like it should be the simplest of the three. But if it was easy and instinctive, it wouldn’t be included in this list. It’s more than a nudge reminding me to communicate with God. It’s a call.
I like Wikipedia’s definition of faithful: unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances. When you put this together with prayer my takeaway becomes: being devoted, steadfast, committed to deliberately and intentionally communicating with God regularly no matter my feelings or current situation.
There are so many reasons that praying can be tough to do at all, let alone faithfully. But we must. I must. It is not only the third guideline of this verse directing Christians on how to behave, it also seems to offer a practical solution on how to be joyful in hope and patient in affliction.
Thank you God for providing me with direction through the Bible and making your Words come alive to me so that I can learn how to live a redeemed life that pleases You and spreads Your love to those around me. Please teach me how to be joyful in Your hope, and patient in the affliction that will draw me closer to You and fulfilling Your purpose for my life. And please continue to poke and nudge me throughout my day so I can grow in my devotion and response to Your faithful Presence in all circumstances. Amen.