Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Romans 12:12 (NIV)
For those of you who may not know, I am an Administrator at a church. One of my weekly tasks is to change the words on the church sign. It’s not as glorious or exciting as the Pinterest results may suggest. It’s actually one of my least favorite tasks, which is ironic considering I’m a writer. Shouldn’t I enjoy getting the opportunity to write a weekly message for the entire neighborhood to see?
No. Not one bit.
It’s a lot of pressure. I get all of 90 characters to convey a thought. That’s an entire 50 characters less than Twitter. And, unlike Twitter, I can’t use internet shorthand. Although, sometimes I can get away with negating some punctuation by reworking the verse. I don’t think God minds me taking the liberty, either. If I remember correctly, from my painful year studying Greek, there wasn’t any punctuation in the original text, anyway.
Even without the use of punctuation, I still need to have a complete thought. Or that’s what I attempt to do. Maybe this is the wrong approach to have– maybe I should want those passing by to have questions. That seems like some kind of weird marketing scam though, and I can’t bring myself to manipulate people into walking into church.
I keep the hell and brimstone verses off the sign, too. I’m not sure we should be using fear as an evangelistic tool, but maybe that’s just me.
Honestly, each week, I want to convey love, hope and peace to people. I figure they get enough bad news each day that maybe the Church should be a place they find something different. People are weary, broken down, tired and scared, but Jesus isn’t wearisome. It was Jesus after all who said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt.11:30)
Most weeks, I have no idea what to put on the sign. Sometimes I’ll text my best friend to see if there’s something she’s been meditating on. Sometimes I use a verse from the previous Sunday’s sermon. Other times, I use Google. How’s that for spiritual? If it makes it any better, before I hit “enter” I exhale a simple prayer, “Seriously, God. Can you help me out?”
This week, my search led me to Romans 12:12. A nice short verse that would fit on the sign without too much finagling. Score! As I prepared the large plastic letters, I read and reread the verse over and over again.
Paul is one sneaky dude.
Sandwhiched in between being “joyful in hope” and “faithful in prayer” he lays down a landmine.
PATIENT IN AFFLICTION.
Or as the New King James version so eloquently puts it “patient in tribulation,” neither wording taking away the sting that this guy is telling me to be patient when life hurts. I don’t want to be patient in the pain, I want to speed up and get the hell through it. Right? Or is that only me?
I can rejoice in hope, no problem. Hope is worth celebrating. And being faithful in prayer, that’s not too bad, either. I may not hold hour long prayer vigils in my bedroom, but I try and capture moments throughout my day to pray– like when I’m in the car driving, or laying in bed, or talking with a friend on the phone.
It’s a whole other story to ask me to be patient in affliction. It’s uncomfortable. Painful even. If anything, in those times, I am my least patient self. I’ll be crying out to God, “PLEASSSSSSE, get me out of this already!” with fists pounding my pillows in a tantrum-like state. God listens, but seemingly does nothing letting me carry on like a child.
As I prepared the sign, I thought of numerous friends who were in the middle of a season of affliction. How it seemed like all they were experiencing was pain and, as much as I prayed, things hadn’t seemed to change. So, I did the only thing I knew to do, and I prayed some more. This time, I asked that God would give my dear friends patience– that in the trials, in the desert– that they would be able to stand strong and be unmoved.
The most logical question, the one I’ve asked God repetitively, would be: “Why doesn’t God just take the affliction away?”
I don’t have some pretty bow, to put on top of the answer, for that question.
I heard a story once about a grandmother explaining to her granddaughter the effects of boiling water on two objects. First, she took an egg and put it in a pot of boiling water. After a few minutes, she took it out and it had become hardened. Again, she took boiling water and added it to a tea bag. Within moments, there was a lovely aromatic smell coming from the cup and the water had changed color. It was no longer water but tea.
Everyone is going to face their own form of boiling water– a friend dying unexpectedly, the loss of a job, difficult family members, illness, etc. I know you’ve got your own story, like I have mine. It is in those seasons of difficulty and pain that we can choose to become hardened by the hurts, or we can give off a sweet fragrance despite it all.
It’s not easy. I don’t think God ever intended for us to have an easy life, everything points to the contrary, but He did intend for us to trust Him. At the end of the day, that’s all that patience really is– the realization that no matter what is going on around us that we can trust Him to come through for us.
Give it a shot. Start praying for patience when life is hard. Ya, I know what “they” say…to never pray for patience. But “they” are wrong, take it from me. You may just be surprised what happens and how you’re changed through that one simple act of obedience.