Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Mini-Recipe for a Godly Life

Do you want a mini-recipe for a godly life? Turn to Romans 12:12, which offers a triad of virtues: joy, patience, and prayer. Each of these activities is set within a context of “time when.” That is, there is a time for rejoicing, a time for patience, and a time for prayer.

Joyful in hope

Paul stresses rejoicing with respect to the future. By no means does he limit Christian joy to future considerations. Yet there is a special accent to the joy of anticipation that is ours. He says that we ought to rejoice in our hope.

When Paul speaks of hope, he is going far beyond our wishes for the future. Biblical hope is not a matter of fantasy. There is a difference between the Bible and Alice in Wonderland. Biblical hope refers to those things in the future that God has promised will take place. There is no doubt about the outcome. The promises of God cannot be broken. Hope, then, refers to what has not yet taken place but will surely come to pass. It is for this reason that elsewhere the New Testament refers to hope as “an anchor for the soul.”

What we normally fear is the uncertainty of the future. Shakespeare was right: “Conscience does make cowards of us all and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.” Yet it is precisely at this point that the apostle calls us to rejoice. We can rejoice in the certainty that eye hath not seen nor ear heard of the glorious things God has stored up for His people. There is a future for the people of God. In that we rejoice.

Patient in tribulation

The second dimension of Paul’s triad is patience. Here the focus is on the present. Tribulation is easy to handle once it’s over. But while we are in the midst of tribulation we groan. When we are in pain or distressed we long for the agony to pass. One of the most difficult human situations to bear is a protracted period of suffering. Kierkegaard once remarked that the worst human hardship is one in which we want to die but are not allowed. The request for death was echoed frequently in Scripture. Moses once cried to God, saying in effect, “If You love me at all, let me die.”

Patience is tied to endurance. Those who endure to the end are promised great blessing by God. Endurance in the midst of tribulation is what builds godly character; it puts steel in the soul. To endure requires patience. Without patience we surrender to despair. We are a people who are called to wait. The biblical motif here is, “Though it tarry, wait for it.”

Patience is an act of faith. Patience means trusting God for future deliverance. It is the flip side ingredient of rejoicing. No man can rejoice in hope while he is suffering tribulation, unless, at the same time he is patiently trusting God for the future.

Faithful in prayer

This verse has been abused at times. Some see it as a mandate to be in conscious earnest, prayer every waking moment of every day. To obey it would require a monastic existence. Or, we could get around the mandate by softening the meaning of prayer to interpret it as some sort of vague God-consciousness just beneath the surface of the mind.

I think what Paul is saying here is that real, earnest prayer must be a regular part of our lives. To be faithful in prayer is to be consistent about praying. Prayer is not to be willy-nilly, or an exercise to which we flee only in times of dire emergency. The New Testament records two things about Jesus’ habits in terms of custom. It was His custom to be at the synagogue on the Sabbath, and it was His custom to withdraw from His daily activities to pray. Jesus was consistent in His prayer life.

Joy, patience, prayer. These comprise a mini-recipe for a godly life.