A common misconception of new believers is that God solves all our problems, filling our lives with only blessings and joy. If this were true, the apostle Paul would not have urged Christians to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12, ESV).
For most of us, patience is a virtue that does not come naturally. To be patient in tribulation requires a special grace from God. In the original Greek text, the verb for “be patient” means “to be persistent, refuse to stop, persevere.” Tribulation is an oppressive, distressing state of physical, mental, social, or economic adversity or affliction.
Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12). According to the author of Hebrews, patience in tribulation is an indispensable virtue: “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36, NLT). Patient endurance means staying put in the face of adversity and standing firm when you feel like running away (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27).
Perhaps no one was more qualified than Paul to teach about enduring affliction, distress, and adversity, especially for the sake of the gospel. Paul frequently faced opposition and persecution as an apostle of Christ: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8–11, NLT).
Paul told his protégé Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). As a missionary and evangelist, Paul traveled around, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, ESV). Paul warned the Thessalonians that “troubles would soon come—and they did” (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
Serving the Lord and preaching the good news of His kingdom means dealing with opposition from our adversary, the devil (1 Peter 5:8). We are sure to experience times of discouragement. It was for this reason that Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).
We can learn to be patient in tribulation because we know that, in the end, Jesus Christ will triumph over every enemy: “In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you. And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6–8, NLT; see also 1 Corinthians 15:25).
Being patient in tribulation means learning to rejoice “when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3–5, NLT). Paul admonished believers to persevere when life becomes difficult by depending on God for strength, delighting “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
James, another biblical authority on being patient in tribulation and suffering (James 5:7–12), viewed trials of faith as a privilege designed to strengthen and perfect us (James 1:2–4). The Bible affirms that God will set right all the wrongs in this world—but not until the return of Jesus Christ. Therefore, for now, we ought to expect hardships, yield to God, and endure them with hope, knowing He is using them to produce a harvest of spiritual fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23).