All around us the world is changing, and most of these changes are not for the better. Our culture is becoming more ungodly, and our society is on a downward spiral. Many Christians feel helpless and hopeless at the condition of our world. They have become resigned to the state of society’s moral decay. They are overwhelmed by the sinfulness surrounding them. Yet the Bible teaches us that Christians should be the most hopeful people on earth.
Paul encourages us, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). As a Hebrew, Paul would have been grammatically inclined to place the most important idea at the end of the sentence. Paul is essentially saying that when we persist in prayer, we will not only be steadfast during the tough times, but we will rejoice in hope.
Paul is not talking about temporary optimism or positive thinking. He is saying that persistent prayer leads to a truly optimistic, hope-filled outlook on life. Prayer puts things in an eternal perspective. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit can show us how God views our circumstances, rather than our faulty, pessimistic attitudes. Only through an ongoing fellowship with God can we find the joy of biblical hope.
Biblical hope comes from knowing who we are in Christ and that we belong to Him. Biblical hope comes from the absolute confidence and trust that God has our best interests in His heart. When we are filled with biblical hope, we wake up each morning with enthusiasm waiting to see how God is going to meet our needs, how He is going to walk with us that day, and how He is going to use us mightily for Him.
Paul was no stranger to suffering. He endured beatings, imprisonments, persecution, and hardships. Just like our culture, Paul’s culture was filled with senseless hearts, wickedness, reprobate minds, maliciousness, and insolence. Yet he could rejoice in a hope that was based upon an absolute trust and faith that comes from persistent prayer. Paul’s hope was rooted in the God of power and might. He placed his hope in the One who keeps His promises.
Paul grieved over the condition of Roman society, but he did not despair because of it. Paul grieved over the cruelty and selfishness of the culture of his day, but he would not allow them to cloud his vision. Paul experienced attacks from bitter people, but he never allowed his persecution to embitter his spirit.
There are times when we will grieve over issues and people, but even in the midst of our frustrations and turmoil we can maintain a consistent state of mind that is filled with optimism. When we know who we are in Christ and where we are spending eternity, we will stay in fellowship with God. Our relationship with Him will give us the strength to persevere in tough times and to rejoice in hope. We may still feel pessimistic over certain events, but we do not have to be overcome by our emotions.
We can find optimism in this life when Christ lives within us. We can find joyful hope when we put our relationship with Christ first and spend regular time fellowshipping with Him in prayer. A close relationship with God will give us joy in the midst of trouble, victory in times of temptations, fruitfulness and blessings in times of uncertainty. A solid prayer life will give us confidence when everything else is crumbling around us.
How persistent is your prayer life? Is prayer the first activity to be cut when your life becomes overscheduled? Do you skip prayer time on the days when you feel tired or ill or apathetic? Are your prayers half-hearted attempts to fulfill a ritual or appease your guilt?
If your prayer life has been lacking, confess to God today how you have neglected this important aspect of your relationship with Him. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to guide you in your prayers, to motivate you to spend time with Him, to give you the self-discipline to stay focused in prayer, and to prepare your heart for the presence of God.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Excerpted from My Journal, a monthly devotional magazine from Leading The Way with Dr. Michael Youssef.
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