Hope, Patience and Prayer
How to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.
By Daniel Nicewonger
Have you ever pondered these powerful words by the Apostle Paul: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer”?
At first glance, it may feel like they express the sentiment found on many greeting cards—an idealistic hope not based upon reality. Yet there is something deeper, something more to Paul’s words from Romans 12:12.
When we learn to live these words, I believe they can transform our suffering into something not just painful and destructive, but something hopeful.
The reality of hardship and suffering
What’s interesting about these words is that they speak to a group familiar with hardship. Living in a broken world, many of us know the reality of suffering. While our struggles may look different, we will all go through a season or two of difficulty.
For me, one of my struggles has been cancer. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and I have been walking through this journey ever since, with all of the twists and turns.
I’m a pastor by trade, so I’ve spent a lot of time studying the Bible. These words by Paul capture my attention: be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.
How can I—how can we—live out the truth of these words? How can they transform our relationships and the way we experience difficult times?
The longer my cancer journey continues, the more I have learned to discern the varying levels of wisdom and insight shared with me.
Someone who has known little suffering or has lived a life far from the world of cancer tends to speak words far from the reality I am experiencing. While well-meaning, their words often have more to do with comforting themselves.
Yet, when you speak to someone who has experienced suffering—deep suffering—they may speak similar words, but somehow, they feel different. They are more than just words, but gritty wisdom.
These are the kind of words the Apostle Paul shares.
Paul was no stranger to suffering. As he sought to plant churches in the known world, he faced plenty of beatings, shipwrecks and sleepless nights.
Even more than that, he mentioned a “thorn in his flesh” in 2 Corinthians 11—a specific ongoing physical ailment. Paul pleaded with God for it to be removed. Instead of healing it, the Spirit helped Paul to see that his strength was found in weakness.
We have no idea what Paul’s “thorn” was. But, over the past six years, I have wondered if it might have been something like my cancer journey.
The context of his words
In Romans 12, Paul describes how we should move through this world—one filled with pain and suffering. Paul challenges us not to conform to the world’s ways but allow the Spirit to transform our reality. A few verses later, he challenges us to be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Each punchy phrase encourages us how to live in this fallen world.
Be joyful in hope
A cancer diagnosis or other season of suffering rarely evokes feelings of joy or hope.
Yet, I believe it is possible.
Experiencing joy requires a few perspective shifts. First, if we see the suffering as the end, then it’s hard to have joy in the midst of it. However, if we have the hope of spending eternity with God in heaven, then we see our suffering on earth as temporary and even something that God can use for our growth and good.
Another perspective shift is taking our eyes off ourselves.
In the wake of facing cancer, it is natural and normal for us to become a little self-focused. We need to understand that truth and extend ourselves grace, giving ourselves space to process and move forward.
However, remaining self-focused tends to lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger.
I have found that following Paul’s challenge to remain joyful in hope has much to do with my focus—focusing less on myself and more on God and those around me.
For more on this topic, see my full article Be Joyful in Hope.
Patient in affliction
Paul’s challenge for us to be “patient in affliction” runs counter to how I have experienced the past six years. This is not easy, and I struggle with his invitation.
I want to be healed today. I am tired of what feels like endless doctor appointments and continual treatment cycles. Yet Paul, one familiar with suffering, calls me to be patient in affliction. Why?
I believe it is because Paul shares, that time and again, he has experienced grace during his struggles. By grace, I mean God’s favor and help—an energy that sustained him when he had nothing left. Someone to lift his spirits when at his lowest. A peace that overcomes all the anxiety.
Only those who have remained “patient in affliction” can bear witness to how the Spirit met them, sustained them, and renewed them.
Those who remain “patient in affliction” experience a side of the Spirit much of the world misses as they flee the slightest obstacle or difficulty.
For more on this topic, see my full article Patient in Affliction.
Faithful in prayer
Faithfulness is not easy. We become easily distracted, and our attention shifts to new or different things.
Paul’s challenge to remain “faithful in prayer” becomes all the harder when it appears that God is not answering our prayers. Why remain faithful when we do not see the results we desire?
Paul prayed continually for the “thorn in his flesh” to be removed. Yet the thorn remained.
What changed was Paul—how he saw the world and the people surrounding him. The Spirit answered, just not in the way Paul desired.
The invitation to remain “faithful in prayer” is important because it opens us up to experiencing God’s best for us.
For more on this topic, see my full article Faithful in Prayer.
Bring all three together
Becoming someone who remains joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer is not easy. So how can we do it? Here’s a few thoughts:
- Extend yourself grace when you fall short. It takes a lifetime to grow into this way of living—one day at a time. On the rough days, one hour at a time.
- Start small. Look for ways to take small steps in one area each day or even each week. Spiritual formation is a process. It takes time.
- Celebrate growth. If you chose joy where you once may have responded otherwise, celebrate it. When you find yourself at peace in the midst of struggle, acknowledge it aloud – “I am at peace.” You get the idea.
- Ask a trusted friend to affirm positive change. We often struggle to see growth in ourselves. Share with a friend that you are seeking to live with joy, patience, and faithfulness. Invite them to point out when they see it in your life. Better yet, partner together to draw attention to the growth you see in each other.
- Invite God into the process. Begin each morning with a quiet moment inviting the Holy Spirit to help you live the invitation of Paul to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Paul’s words have weight. He was no stranger to suffering. So, when he calls me to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer, I need to wrestle with his words.
And so do you.
As we ponder these words, let’s ask God to give us grace to grow with being joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.
I believe we will all travel our journeys better if we do.
Daniel Nicewonger is a Hope Has Arrived contributor and author of The Journey Continues.
Note: We are not doctors and we cannot answer your medical questions. However, we welcome your questions about finding hope and knowing God.