Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12 ESV)
There are some hard truths in the Bible in that they are difficult to get away from. Impossible, in fact. They’re non-negotiables, ones in which we cannot expect to find favor with God over, or even favor in life, without engageing—without wholly adopting them on as our own.
Many of these divine realities happen to but heads with the American Dream quite severly, therefore making a First World man’s task at incorporating them more challenging then others. Namely, that they require us to resist the urge to emerge from the warmth of the womb and come kicking and screaming into the cold, dry air of reality.
To “rejoice in hope” means we must first have a hope superior to the vehicles we see as our “immediate hopes.” If there is a need, financially, let’s say, then our hope of meeting it must see beyond the next pay check, the next side job, the next bonus. If it’s an emotional need for the desire of a spouse, or the verbal encouragement of esteem, it must be fulfilled beyond that of the earthly persons we expect it to come from. Ultimately, all such hopes must rest in the person of Jesus.
The “rejoicing” we engage in then directly betrays the true measure of our hope, not in a system, but in him. Of course, if a people can’t rejoice, it’s systemic of having little to no hope in him. But can you blame them? Our hope has been conditioned to radiate from our comforts. The very freedom and high-living that we’ve been raised to expect has become our greatest adversary on a Sunday morning.
Some might argue that we should then trade such lofty offerings in for a lesser state of living in order to attain a higher spiritual awareness, as more spartan cultures have. To do so, however, means we also abdicate the power of our present position to bring freedom to others while somehow gaining better traction for our souls to rejoice by placing ourselves in a deprived context. This, then, is self-serving as it only has one party’s best interests in mind, chiefly our own. Abandoning a powerful position to a selfless one in the name of self-betterment is still self-focus. While I wholly respect the hard work and production of the Amish family down the street from me, I am equally put off that in their radical embrace of the anti-modern in the hopes of preserving their own families, they have openly abandon the door that would serve me and my family into a similar state of salvation. Invitation is always stronger than intrusion. And they have sent me none.
The only true escape is to be faithful to the position you’ve been placed in by rejoicing in the hope of Jesus within your context.
And so I must find hope outside of my immediate First World provisions. I battle against them to see clearly into a realm that is far superior. And in that gaze, I rejoice. Loudly. Boldly. Lavishly.
“Patient in tribulations.” And what tribulations do I have that I am not able to mitigate quickly? I have more resources at my disposal than I’m able to count. Even if the resources don’t bring immediate remedy, at least the knowledge that I’m pursuing something constructive does. I search online, call a doctor, consult an app, strategize with a satalite map, move funds, apply for a class, submit a resume, go to a mechanic, order a part online.
Tribulations? Even a prison sentence in the United States comes with a gym and cable television. I’m even wondering if I identify with Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he wrote to his family from within the Gestapo prison in Berlin, telling them not to worry about him. “Suffering? I don’t think any of us truly endure suffering.”
If I’m so quick to bypass even the onset of discomfort or inconvieniance with the resources at my immediate disposal, how can I truly be expected to be patient when real tribulation sets in?
The answer has everything to do with my first reaction, with training my eyes on where to look when the status quo is first ruffled. This type of conditioning builds in an automatic response system of sorts. Since I may never have decades of earth-shattering tribulations, I must treat even my smallest inconveniences as initiators—not to inflate the trivial to a level of the grandiose (and in so doing, insult the plights of those in the world who are actually suffering), but to train my first instinct how to behave. Or better, to whom it needs to look.
If my hope worth rejoicing about is Jesus, then he also becomes my patience supplier, whether the task is a tremor or turmoil. The answer to my “tribulating patiently” is once again not a how, or a what, but a who.
“Be constant in prayer.” Such a state, taken literally (as some of the monastic life have) would say as much passively to the heathen world as my Amish neighbors have to me: “I’m too busy saving my own neck to be concerned with giving a thought to the state of yours.”
This speaks so much more to a state of prayer, or the condition of the praying heart, than it does to the litany of words contained between the prefix “Dear Father” and the suffix “Amen.” By no intention do I mean to discredit the need and extreme importance of verbally praying before the Father on a regular basis; if Jesus himself needed to do so, I need to do so much more. And there are fewer deeper acknowledgements to the human soul that prove the existence of God than that of a man verbally addressing a being who isn’t there, at least according to his natural eyes.
However, this open-source, constant connection between our deepest spiritual nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit constitutes an intrinsic lifeline that’s reliant on more than just speech. Such integrity is derived from a pursuit of awareness, a God-consciousness, as John G. Lake put it, that invites the Maker of the Universe into the intimacy of every moment of the believer’s day. Whether by verbal invocation, mental assertion, or physical activity, our conduct as a whole is offered before the Father as a holy act of communion, of communicating in seen and unseen realms. So whereas a pious man might ascribe integrity to his spiritual life based on the eloquence or longevity of his prayers, a man who truly understands connection with the Father does so with the backing of his lifestyle of prayer holistically.
The substance of this single passage of Romans is therefore a clarion call to an immersive indulgence into the person of Jesus Christ. No orthodoxy can summon its energy, no modernism can clarify its importance so much as faith in the person will produce the blind leap needed to land safely in the embrace of Jesus.