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The Long Game

How to Faithfully Pray in Both Your Hopes and Your Afflictions

by Natalie Abbott

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." — Romans 12:12

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really benefited this month from closely examining and meditating on Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” At the outset I said, “Yes!!! I want my life to look like this!” But as a stand-alone list of commands, I had to admit the overwhelming impossibility of it. I can’t be joyful in all of my unknowns or patient in my pain or constant in prayer…not on my own. Yet, each week as we’ve turned this verse over and over in our minds and dug into the context, we’ve discovered that God himself motivates and empowers us to live this out! In the first week, we sorted through our vulnerable hopes and discovered that when our ultimate hope is in Jesus, we can be joyful in a hope that will never fail us. Last week, we discovered the secret to being patient (and even rejoicing) in affliction. How? God himself makes it possible, because we know he will ultimately end our suffering, and even now he uses it to grow us in godliness and hope!  And this week, we come to our final command: 

“Be…faithful in prayer.” 

Again, it seems like too much. How can we possibly do this? How do we come to God again and again—faithfully trusting him with all of our longings and all of the things we long to be done with? Can both our hopes and our suffering find a satisfying vent in our prayers? This is the final command in our verse, and it’s one that, if we’re honest, we know we could never live out in our own strength. But as we’ve already discovered, if God commands the impossible, then God himself will work the impossible in us. 

God makes faithful prayer possible. 

I’ve mentioned before that our little verse with three rapid-fire commands is a reference back to what Paul has already taught about being joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer throughout his letter to the church in Rome. This week, we’re going to look at a portion of Romans 8 and follow Paul’s logic as he talks us through hope, affliction, and prayer.

Let’s see what he has to teach us.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us….We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:18, 22–28)

We are a waiting people—
waiting in hope and waiting through suffering. We wait in hope for all of creation to be restored. We wait in hope for God to redeem and renew our bodies. We wait in hope for Jesus—our ultimate hope—who saved us and will return for us. This is the hope we wait for as we wait through suffering. Right now we wait through sin and death in the world and in ourselves—groaning with creation for restoration, longing for face-to-face union with God. In our waiting for and waiting through, we do not wait alone. 

God waits with us. 

God has given us his own Spirit to be with us in the waiting. He lives in us, seeing all that we see, present to help in our every hardship, and joining with us in our longing for all things to be made right! And when we are broken, when we come to the end of ourselves, not knowing what to say or how to pray, he is there with us, praying for us. He is faithfully praying for us when we don’t have the words. Though we are uncertain, his every prayer is in line with God’s will. Though we don’t even know what to ask, his every request is exactly what we need. We are weak and even faithless, but we can be faithful in prayer when we rely on the Holy Spirit who is always faithful in prayer on our behalf. Who is like our God—meeting our every impossibility in himself? Knowing this should fuel our desire to faithfully show up in prayer, even when we don’t know what to pray. 

We can trust God with our prayers.  

One final word about prayer: God is God, and God is good. Because God is God, he is all-powerful, capable of doing whatever he likes—which would be horrific if he were not also good. But, God is good, so we can trust him to work his infinite power for good. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This God, whom we have seen again and again work impossibilities in us through his power, will one day reveal his glory fully, reworking every hardship, every sin, every evil for good. Can you even imagine?! A world where we no longer wait through suffering. A world where our hopes are obsolete because all of them have been met in God himself. It feels impossible, and yet we have seen that our God does the marvelous and impossible—enabling us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). More than that, he saves and adopts rebels (even me), giving us a place in his family and his coming glory. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:31-32)? This is our generous, glorious, powerful, good God. How can we not put all of our hopes in him, trusting him with our suffering, and faithfully going to him in prayer?

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the co-founder and chief content officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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