For the past decade I have been trying to use New Year to reflect back over the previous year. This year was no different and though it has now been a while, I am finally getting around to writing about a verse that God brought to mind for this coming year: specifically Romans 12:12.
Earlier this week I was talking with a friend from Formation School. It has been a very full few weeks for me and their conclusion was that I needed to get some time in the sauna. To put that in context, I built a sauna down the bottom of my garden in 2014 (importing a little bit of my experience overseas) and it has been an invaluable place for me to spend time with others (in non-COVID times) and with Jesus. So to go to the sauna is code for me getting some time to spend with Jesus processing, resting and praying.
So on Thursday I gladly obliged and spent some time reflecting on Romans 12:12. In context this verse says the following:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.Romans 12:9-13
Romans 12 begins with a therefore. Paul is looking back over the magnificent picture he has painted of the good news of the gospel of Jesus and he now begins a new section focused on the application of these truths. Because of all that Jesus achieved for us at the cross Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (v1), and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (v2). He says we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought (v3) and he encourages us to make use of the gifts we have been given (v4-8). Then we come to this section entitled in the NIV as Love in action. Encapsulated within v12 are three huge lessons for us. These are especially poignant as we continue to deal with lockdown.
1. Be Joyful in Hope
Over the years I’ve written a lot about hope and especially about the fact that Biblical hope is something that we can be sure and certain of. It is not the kind of wishful thinking that we often mean when we use the word. For example I might say that I am hoping to get to Norway this summer, but that is not something I can be at all sure of! Biblical hope however is the confident expectation of something that we can be sure of.
Paul however tells us to be joyful in hope. The NLT translates this as rejoice in our confident hope. I notice that this verse comes in between instructions on serving the Lord (v11) and suffering (v12b) and in that context hope really deserves its place. Hope motivates and fuels our service while bringing perspective when things are hard. When I have faced tough times I can definitely say that being joyful is not at all easy, nor does it come naturally. Some would say that joy doesn’t come naturally to me at all! James however says we should consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2-4
James explains that we should do this because we know what such times produce in our lives: specifically perseverance leading to maturity. We should be joyful because the certain hope we have in Jesus is truly incredible. The Bible tells us (e.g. Rom 8:18) that one day all of this will pale into insignificance compared with all that Jesus has for us in eternity. Does that make it easy? Certainly not but it does bring a new sense of perspective.
2. Be patient in affliction
Perhaps unsurprisingly, patience (like joy) is not a huge strong point of mine either! Whether we are talking about getting to the end of lockdown, starting some new initiative or sitting behind the wheel of a car, I find it very difficult to be patient. The bottom line is that I am not good at waiting. Perhaps contrary the typical British stereotype, I would rather not ever have to queue and I am highly skilled in the art of trying to keep waiting to a minimum!
Paul however doesn’t just say that we should be patient but that we should be patient in affliction. We face affliction in many areas of our lives. Perhaps it is our physical or mental health and the challenge is to be patient while a certain treatment or therapy runs its course. It can be so easy to want to run before we can walk as it were. Perhaps it is in the area of relationships and we feel afflicted by the way that we have been treated. We long for resolution or relief but it nearly always takes time. Perhaps it is our circumstances. This pandemic has left many looking for a new job. Others are forced into isolation because of a positive test or contact with someone who has.
Paul’s message to all these afflictions is to be patient. Why? Well we would have to come back to the great hope we have in Christ! This reminds me that when I was chatting to the friend I mentioned earlier, they told me about a problem had been pointed out to them about the well known poem, the footsteps in the sand. In the poem there is only one set of footprints because God was carrying them. Its a great message but the reality however is that God is always carrying us – there is only ever one set of footprints in the sand. Whatever we have to face we can be sure that God is always with us.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.Isaiah 43:2
3. Be faithful in prayer
The final command reminds me again of my own shortcomings. Oh how easy it is to look to our own strength when things are difficult, but Paul says here that we should be faithful in prayer. The NLT translation says keep on praying, the ESV says be constant in prayer and the NASB says we should be devoted to prayer. I am sure that all of us could do with being more faithful in prayer and it is as we enter the throne room of God that we are reminded of the hope that we have in Christ and we find the perspective to be persevere in the face of all that life brings our way. In this sense all three work together to help us walk with Jesus over a lifetime.
Its a very simple verse but it has wide ranging application for how we live our daily lives. Will you join me in determining to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” over the coming weeks, months and year. It is fantastic advise but not just for the pandemic. Armed with such a perspective, I think God will enable us to walk with Jesus over a lifetime regardless of what life throws our way. For me these things don’t come naturally but what a challenge Paul it is, and what difference it could make!