The Psalmist writes, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Psalm 119:71). You may wonder, as I have - what kind of theology is this? Is it actually good for me to be afflicted?
The Hebrew word for affliction here means, "browbeaten, troubled, abased, chastened, defiled, hurt, humbled, weakened, depressed." When you put this meaning into the verse, suddenly it reads: "It is good for me to have been browbeaten, troubled, abased, chastened, defiled, hurt, humbled, weakened, depressed. And it all has been for one purpose - so that I could learn the Lords statutes!"
The word statutes in this verse means, "engraved law." The Psalmist is saying, "Its good that I went through all these troubles - because in the process God was engraving His laws and ways in my heart."
Now, its true the Lord allows trials to come our way to test us. But that is not His primary purpose in allowing them. Rather, our troubles and afflictions are to teach us to walk rightly before Him. The Bible tells us: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous..." (Psalm 34:19). And, according to the Psalmist, the point of all our afflictions is for us to learn from them.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by learning through afflictions.
Not long ago I spent a week preparing a sermon entitled, "The Pettiness of American Religion." The word petty means "small-minded, trivial." I was fired up about this sermon, ready to thunder it from the pulpit.
Yet while I was working on the message, I read a newsletter from one of our missionary couples, Roland and Heidi Baker. The Bakers had written about the situation in Mozambique, where they are preparing to move.
Mozambique has been listed by the United Nations as one of the poorest countries on earth. Its situation has been worsened by the long, bloody civil war there. The nations infrastructure has been destroyed. Roads, bridges, villages, schools and hospitals have been blown up. People have been savagely tortured and killed, and several million people have died in the conflict. Millions of others have fled as refugees.
More than a million land mines were planted during the war, resulting in the worlds highest percentage of maimed and disabled people. Children and adults trip the mines and are blown apart, many left with only a limb or two. Thousands of children are dying of malaria. And countless people are seen wandering through blackened, burned-out villages, naked and starving to death.
Roland recently drove to this desperate country in a pickup truck with a group of Christians from South Africa. They were delivering a load of supplies and were scheduled to attend a meeting that night across the border.
The team drove hurriedly, knowing the border gates would close at five oclock. But about five miles from the border, their truck started missing and slowing down. The driver floored the pedal, but the trucks speed kept dropping. To the groups dejection, they saw the car in front of them eventually pull away into the distance.
Finally, they arrived at the customs office near the border about two minutes before five - and instantly their engine died. The truck simply would not move. Everyone on the team wondered, "Lord, why have you allowed us to miss this meeting?"
Suddenly, the border guards started racing about, shouting excitedly. A few minutes later a helicopter landed, and a South African official deplaned. Roland approached him and asked what was happening.
"There was an explosion across the border, not far from here," the official told him. "Some bandits from one of the warring factions blew up a car that had just driven in."
Roland was told the wounded and dying people were being rescued by helicopter - and he realized they had been driving the car directly in front of them. If his own groups truck had been running properly, they also would have been bombed.
The next morning, the driver from Rolands group turned the key in the ignition - and the truck started right up. In fact, it ran fine all the way into and out of Mozambique.
After reading these incredible accounts - and the reports of all the suffering - I wondered, "How can we American Christians compare our afflictions to these peoples? How can our hurt feelings and financial problems stack up against their horrible trials? Our troubles seem so petty, so trivial."
Its true that we get bent out of shape whenever we have a "bad hair day" on the job. We cry, "Somebody slandered me!" "The boss chewed me out!" And we think life is over when our credit-card bills start piling up: "Im working harder than ever, yet Im still falling behind. I cant make it!"
Many believers talk about their awful bouts of depression - of being downcast, blue, unable to shake off terrible feelings. Yet, after reading the Bakers newsletter, I thought, "How can anybody compare depression to starvation, imprisonment, maimed bodies, burned-out homes, murdered family members?"
Of course, there is no comparison. Many of our so-called afflictions may rightly be called trivial or small-minded. And I was prepared to stand in the pulpit of our church and preach loudly against Christians who focus on their emotional problems and personal hurts. I wanted to lambaste those who claim to be afflicted with depression, while the rest of the world suffers in ways unknown in Americans.
But then something happened to me. I woke up one morning and faced something very alien to me - depression! A deep, dark, blue funk had struck me. I walked around the apartment wondering, "Whats gong on? Theres no reason for this." I had never felt such grief, sorrow, fear and self-pity.
According to Websters dictionary, a funk is "an extreme dejection." It is a fear so powerful it makes you avoid doing anything, going anywhere, facing anyone or making any decision. Simply put - its plain, old depression.
I decided to try to walk it off. So I walked thirty-five blocks - but it only got worse. I said to myself, "Lord, whats happening here? Im supposed to preach about how petty and trivial depression is compared to the problems in Mozambique. And yet Im walking around completely focused on my depression!"
When I went back to the apartment, I started weeping and couldnt stop. I didnt know why I was crying - but I knew it wasnt trivial. It was life-or-death! I cried out to God at the top of my voice, "Oh, Lord, this hurts so badly. It isnt petty at all. Help me - deliver me!"
But God did not deliver me. And I tell you, it was good for me - because I learned from it!
First, I learned I couldnt stand in the pulpit and lambaste anyone about his or her depression - because I knew depression isnt a trivial thing. If fact, I cant imagine how painful clinical depression must be. I had only tasted for one day what many Christians have to endure for weeks, months, even years.
I also learned that our heavenly Father is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, regardless of what our infirmity may be. Whether its hunger, homelessness or depression, it all matters to Him. He is a compassionate Lord who is concerned about his children. And He is involved directly with us in our pain!
Let me share with you some of the other lessons Ive learned through afflictions:
You Cannot Deliver Yourself
Out of Any Afflictions -
Because That is Gods Work!
It doesnt matter what kind of trouble youre in. You simply cannot extricate yourself from it in your own power.
The secret to understanding how God delivers us from afflictions is to study how He delivered Israel from their bondage. The Bible says:
"Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Corinthians 10;11). "Now these things were our examples..." (verse 6).
Everything that happened to Israel - their bondage, their trials, their deliverance out of Egypt - are testimonies, patterns and examples to us today. Indeed, Israels physical deliverance represents the spiritual deliverance were to see.
Have you ever wondered why Israel didnt rise up in rebellion while in bondage under Pharaoh? After all, he was forcing them to make bricks without straw. He was commanding his taskmasters to beat them. Why didnt Israel take matters into their own hands?
They certainly had the manpower to do it - especially after the ten plagues, when Egypt was devastated, weak and in mourning. Even Pharaoh admitted, "...the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we" (Exodus 1:9).
Yet Israel never rose up in anger, crying, "Thats it - no more bondage! Were ridding ourselves of these dreadful chains." The reason Israel never rebelled is because they couldnt have done it. It was God who said, "I have come down to deliver you." It was His work to do for them!
The Lord told Moses, "...I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them..." (Exodus 3:7-8.
Gods Word says clearly here, "I know their sorrows..." Beloved, if that doesnt give you comfort in your affliction, nothing will! The Lord is saying, "I know what youre going through, what youre feeling. But this is not your battle. Your taskmaster, the devil, is too much for you. So I have come down to deliver you!"
"...I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments."
"And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in..." (Exodus 6:6-8).
You can try all you want to deliver yourself - to dream, scheme and manipulate. But in the end, God says, "This is My work!" "...the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
When David came against the giant, he said: "And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lords, and he will give you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:47).
Scripture then adds: "...but there was no sword in the hand of David" (verse 50). David didnt take matters into his own hands. He didnt say, "Im going to bite the bullet and do this in my own strength." No - he knew it was the Lords battle!
Were bound for failure in any struggle, unless we believe the battle is the Lords. That should take all the pressure off of us. Yet, does this mean we have no part in our deliverance? Absolutely not! Our part is to trust God to do what He promised. And here is the key for our trust in Him:
"...and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens..." (Exodus 6:7).
The Lord is saying to us: "You have read how I miraculously delivered Israel. I cut down Goliath and showed I was God to Israel and to David. But I want to be almighty God to you! I want you to experience My marvelous deliverance, so you can testify as they did. I am your God - in your time, for your affliction!"
God knows that none of your afflictions [are] trivial. I think of a recent headline in one of the New York newspapers: "Tough Love - A Dad Shoots His Firstborn to Save His Younger Son From Drug Abuse."
A thirty-nine-year-old father had a twenty-year-old son who was on drugs. Evidently, the older boy was taking his sixteen-year-old brother out to smoke pot. The father, desperate over the situation, took a gun and shot the older son in the chest and mouth.
The man immediately locked himself in a closet, speaking of suicide, a his son lay bleeding on the floor. The younger brother quickly broke into the closet and saved his dad from shooting himself.
Later, as the older son recovered in the hospital, he apologized to his father, saying, "It took this to wake me up."
This desperate man had been under horrible depression because he had lost one son to drugs, and was afraid he was going to lose the other. He depression had brought him to the point that he said, "I cant take any more of this!"
That isnt trivial. That is life-or-death. Yet, please dont mistake me: My point isnt that it was right for the father to shoot his son. That would be ludicrous.
Rather, my point is just the opposite: There is true deliverance only in the Lord! you cannot bring yourself out of your depression. Only God can bring you out. And He desires to do it for you!
Here is lesson number two in learning from our afflictions:
2. Afflictions Come Upon
Us to Drive Us to the Lord!
Afflictions teach us to bend our knees - to cry out to the Lord in all our problems and troubles.
"In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord..." (Psalm 77:2). "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word" (Psalm 119:67). "And when he [Mannasseh] was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly..." (2 Chronicles 33:12). "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75).
In the last verse, David is saying, "Lord, I know why You afflicted me. You saw that when all was going well, I went astray, becoming careless. So you allowed trouble to come upon me. You knew it would drive me to my knees and bring me back to brokenness. My affliction was evidence of Your faithfulness to me!"
"...and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage" (Exodus 2:23). Israels cry moved Gods heart. Indeed, the Lord is moved whenever His children cry out to Him from affliction.
We must understand something about the heart of God - that God hurts when we hurt! He feels our affliction with us: "In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them: and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9).
Every time Israel was afflicted, God hurt with them. Even when Israel sinned against the Lord and misery fell upon them, "...his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel" (Judges 10:16).
I know many people who have had to battle awful bondages in their lives - drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. The temptation of their cruel habit rages every day. Yet I say to all such people: God cares! He knows the misery you go through. And He alone has the power to deliver you. In every battle, He is teaching you to run to the Cross - to cry out to Him!
The Lord does not constantly hover over you, saying, "Youre miserable because of what you did. Youve failed Me, and now youre paying the price. Im going to sit here and wait until youve hurt long enough. Then Ill come to your rescue."
No - you dont serve a God whos like that! You serve a loving Father who feels your grief the moment you first feel it. No matter how you got into your affliction, God hurts with you. He grieves to see you so broken. And He wants more than anything to deliver you.
You may think God is not helping you at all. But He has heard your cry - and in that very moment He went into action! Let me prove it to you:
"And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them" (Exodus 2:24-25). The word respect here means, "He began to act." God heard their cry and began taking action on their behalf.
As soon as Moses cried out to God on Mount Horeb, God brought fire down on the bush. What is my point here? Its simply that whenever you fall on your knees, God immediately takes action!
Israel didnt know it - they couldnt see it yet - but God had taken charge. while they were still in bondage - still crying, wondering when it all would end - God had already set into motion their deliverance. He was at work, raising up and preparing a deliverer for Israel.
God heard you also the first time you cried out to Him. And He started working on your deliverance immediately. In fact, His answer is being shipped to you even now: "The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles." (Psalm 34:17).
Here is lesson three:
3. Afflictions Get Much
Worse Just Before
God had given Moses and Israel ironclad promises of deliverance. So Moses went to the people with the good news, performing signs form them. And Scripture says they believed:
"And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: and Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped" (Exodus 4:29-31).
It was a time of hope, rejoicing, worship. Everyone cried, "Hallelujah - were finally free! God has heard our cry, and our bondage is over. Praises to Him!"
Yet, what happened next? Things only got worse! Israels bondage became absolutely unbearable. They were given no straw for brickmaking. They endured heavy beatings from their taskmasters. And Pharaoh raged at Israels leaders, "Get out of my sight. Back to work!"
Moses couldnt believe this terrible turn of events. He cried out, "God why are You treating your people this way? You havent delivered us at all. In fact, its worse than ever! You havent kept Your Word. Nothing You promised is happening!"
You have to understand - the devil knew Israels deliverance was right at the door. So, do you think he was going to sit by and not make one last attempt to do Gods people in? No! Satan said to himself, "Ive got just a little time left - so Im going to throw everything in hell at them! Ill enrage Pharaoh and give whips to the taskmasters. Im going to beat those Israelites into the ground!"
This worsening of Israels condition wasnt Gods doing. Rather, it was Satan rushing about madly - hurrying his work before the hour of deliverance came. Likewise, whenever the devil sees you driven to your knees, he knows your deliverance is at hand. And he is not going to sit by in those final moments before victory comes!
Instead, he will intensify your temptations. He will enflame people against you. He will send lying spirits to falsely accuse you. He will lie to you that God has taken His Holy Spirit from you, that youre paying for past sins. He will flood you with all kinds of guilt and condemnation.
Yet, you must understand: An enraged devil whos gong berserk against you is the surest evidence your deliverance is right at the door! So, if youve been praying, but things are only getting worse, start rejoicing - because your deliverance is at hand.
Moses did not know that the very next day, the Lord would take matters into His own hands:
"Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord" (Exodus 6:1-2). God was saying, "Im not going to let you down, Moses. Remember who I am. Im the Lord."
But Israel was too crushed, too weary, to believe. "And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage" (verse 9). The people were dead inside. They gave up, saying, "Ive suffered too much to listen, Moses. I cant even hear a message of deliverance."
Does this describe you? Have you been so beaten down youre at the end of your rope? When youre at church, does the sermon go in one ear and out the other?
God understands your situation, beloved - and He is patient. He knew that Israel soon would see Him dealing with all their enemies. And He is urging you through His Word: "Hold on! Soon you will see Me at work. Youll be blessed and favored, while your enemies are plagued!"
There is a final lesson to be learned from our afflictions:
4. You Are Being Afflicted
Because God Is Working
On a Jewel!
Listen to this prophecy from Isaiah:
"O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee: (Isaiah 54:11-14).
What an amazing prophecy! The "pleasant stones" mentioned in verse 12 are jewels. And if you know much about jewels, you know that a diamond was once a piece of coal. It has been worked on for years by the elements.
Gods Word is telling us: "Your afflictions are meant to change you into something beautiful - something precious to Me!"
The "windows of agates" mentioned here are a type of quartz, made transparent by fire. The "windows" aspect has to do with eyes or vision. God is saying that trusting him through your afflictions will give you clear vision, discernment. It will allow you to see into the unseen - with crystal clarity!
Most scholars believe the phrase "gates of carbuncles" reads more accurately as "gates of pearl." Pearls form from a grain of sand in the belly of an oyster. The grain is injected with fluid, then grated and irritated until it becomes a pearl.
Now think of all the grating, irritating and friction in your life. Youre being rubbed the wrong way. Yet, what is God doing? Hes making a pearl! Every pearl is a memento of suffering, pain, friction.
I believe Isaiah is talking about the beauty of Jesus Christ is this passage. In other words: Affliction, when allowed to accomplish its work, brings about a people who shine forth the beauty of Christs character. It makes us more and more like Jesus.
In Revelation 21, John describes the holy city - that is, the remnant church - as having the glory of God:
"And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was of pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones."
"The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst."
"And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass" (Revelation 21:10, 19-21).
What are all theses precious stones? they are Gods afflicted ones - tossed with tempest, not comforted by men, but tried by fire, polished by friction, delivered by faith - a remnant of contrite, broken-in-spirit jewels!
Isaiah prophesied of Christ: "...Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation..." (Isaiah 28:16). The Greek meaning here is, "a stone proven under trial."
Scripture says Jesus is a stone that has been tried. And nothing can be built on this foundation-stone except other stones that have been tried by fire. This speaks of the character of Christ. All of the bright rays that shine out of us have to do with the bright holiness of Jesus. And the only people I know who show the character of Jesus are those who have suffered.
Gods purpose is to refine us - to make us into precious jewels that will adorn His holy city coming down from heaven. We are to be clear-eyed, transparent in our living, with no dark part - no confidence in the flesh - but only bright, holy rays.
So, lets read our theme verse again: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Psalm 119:71). Can you rejoice with me at theses words now? Hallelujah! ---
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This data file is the sole property of World Challenge. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice [i.e., "Copyright © 1999 by World Challenge"]. This data file may not be used without the permission World Challenge for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content with the exception of a few brief quotations. Please give the following source credit: Copyright © 1999 by World Challenge, Lindale, Texas, USA.
This material is solely for personal use and is not to be posted publicly on other web pages. The Lorain County Free-Net Chapel holds exclusive rights from World Challenge, Inc. to publicly post these messsages on its web page. You are free to download, copy, print and distribute this material, so long as you do not post it on a different Internet site. You may, however, link this site to reference these messages.
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