The trio of attitudes in this verse – rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer – seem to be connected to situations of difficulty and we can easily imagine a wide set of such circumstances. When they come along, how should we respond? Paul mentions three outlooks that should be easily seen.
The first is ‘rejoice in hope’. As we know the idea behind hope in the New Testament is not a form of wishful thinking. Instead hope is usually connected to what Christians will receive when Jesus returns. There is nothing in the whole universe that can prevent Christians from obtaining what God has promised will be theirs when that time comes.
Paul reminds believers that they need to engage in forward-thinking, using the Bible as a telescope that sees in the distance what is ahead for them. And the effect of such an activity is joy. Thinking of the eternal world and its blessing should be done with rejoicing. ‘This is our inheritance,’ we should say to ourselves and to one another.
This does not mean that we should become escapists in times of trouble. Instead we have to have a proper response to each difficulty as it happens, and the response is that of perseverance. The obvious danger in times of trouble is that we will be tempted to give up the faith. Many have done so before us, and there will be lots of pressure on us today not to be so assertive regarding our faith. How do we cope with that temptation in times when we may face troubles? Paul says that during such times we persevere. How fast can we persevere? There is only one speed and it is moment by moment.
In order for us to have this combination of rejoicing in the future and persevering in the present, we need to be praying continually. Prayer is basic to the Christian life, but prayer should be intelligent. While there are many aspects to prayer and lots of petitions we can pray, I would say that we need at the present time the two details that Paul mentions here. We need to get our joy from the future and not from the present, and we need to have strength to walk one step at a time through the mire that surrounds us. Such joy and strength are supernatural and come to us through the discipline of prayer.