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IT WAS GOOD FOR ME TO BE AFFLICTED

Psalm 119:65-119:80
Key Verse: 119:71

There is saying that goes like this. God’s gift is wrapped in a cloth of suffering. Do you agree? In Christian history, affliction never ends. There was no affliction free life. Suffering is inevitable to our lives. Psalmist in today’s passage was afflicted much in his life. Surprisingly, he confessed that affliction was good for him. It was because afflictions made him to turn his heart to the words of God. Suffering was hard, but the fruit of suffering was sweet because of the words of God. Through the suffering, he could have a right attitude toward the words of God. May we also discover the benefit of affliction and bear good fruits in our personal difficulties.

Part I. It was good for me to be afflicted.

Look at verse 65. “Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD.” In other version, this verse says “You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.” The psalmist underwent affliction. In such painful time, nothing looks good. But he saw a good thing. He deeply learned that God had shown his goodness to him. Suffering was hard, but he did not view afflictions negatively. Rather, he asked that God may show his goodness in his affliction continually.

In verse 66, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands” The psalmist asked God for teaching him knowledge and good judgment. When we suffer, it is not easy to bear it with our own strength and courage. Our knowledge and strength are limited and suffering is way harder than we expect. So it is easy to be overwhelmed by affliction. Remember the event of the disciples of Jesus when they were in storm in the lake. They were professional fisher men. But in the midst of storm attack, their skills became useless and finally they were so afraid of drowning to death. Likewise, affliction is not easy to handle with our own strength. Knowledge and good judgment can’t be obtained through high education and experiences. But we can obtain them by depending on the words of God. The psalmist learned that the words of God are reliable in his suffering.

How could Psalmist learn of this attitude toward the words of God? Look at verse 67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” In his past life, he went astray. We are not sure how and why he lived like that. According to verse 9 “How can a young man keep his way pure?” He might have lived his life by following young man’s flesh desire. He might also have tried to figure out his troubles with his own understanding and strength. In doing so, he lived in neglecting his soul and God. However, when affliction struck him, he took it as a lesson from God. Affliction taught him to be obedient to God’s words. Like his confession, our affliction can be used as turning points to pay attention to God. For example, in Israel’s history, she was severely afflicted during 70-year-Babylon exile. It was the consequence of their sins against God. They were rebellious to him and followed idols. But God had a plan to train them. Isaiah 48 described this very well. “[10] See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. [17] This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. [18] If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” Here we clearly learn the purpose of this affliction? It was to make his people to pay attention to God. When they became humble and pay attention to the words of God, they had peace and righteousness. Psalmist confessed that “now I obey your word.” He did not obey his inner sinful desire but offered himself to God as instruments of his words. We have many inner desires that lead us to go astray. But God uses affliction so that we may carefully pay attention to him and receive his blessings.

Look at verse 68 “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees” When he deeply realized God’s purpose for affliction, he could not but to say to God “You are good and what you do is good” Affliction is painful but it turns out to be good in the end by God’s goodness. Romans 8:28 also says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When the psalmist held on to God’s goodness, he was not swayed by painful suffering. Rather he positively sought God’s help and asked him to teach him his words. God may help us to see God’s goodness working for our good.

Verses 69-70 described his affliction. “Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. / Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.” This suffering was different from the previous ones. This affliction occurred while he was living an obedient life. His enemy accused him wrongly. When we lived a godly life, we can also receive similar affliction like this Psalmist and Stephen who was martyred. How did the Psalmist deal with this painful time? He said “I keep your precepts with all my heart. / I delight in your law” His struggling with the words of God was truly beautiful and exemplary. His delight in the painful time was from the words of God.

In these verses, we can see one thing that shows a great contrast between the heart of the arrogant and the heart of the Psalmist. The arrogant heart was callous and unfeeling, in other words, it is the heart covered with fat. In contrast, Psalmist’ heart was faithful and delightful to the words of God. His heart was not hardened due to affliction but was softened and responsive to the words of God. His heart became humble in the afflictions he went through. Remember a story about a prodigal son in Jesus’ parable. The son left his father’s house to seek pleasures of life. However, when he was severely afflicted, he could have a contrite heart. In this sense, affliction is like a spiritual surgery that treats our unhealthy hearts to make humble and healthy one before God. With such heart, we can receive the words of God joyfully and faithfully.

Look at verse 71 “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” He confessed that affliction was good for him because he could learn the words of God. It shows that affliction was the major course in his school of faith to learn the words of God. Through afflictions, we can see our spiritual conditions. Last week, I cleaned the small aquarium in my home. At a glance, the water condition looked OK, but when I stirred the layers of small pebbles on the bottom, dark water came up. The more I did, whole aquarium became dark and I could not see our fishes. That showed the real condition of the water and that could be a reason of the mysterious death of my fishes recently. Similarly, when affliction hit our lives, it tests our spiritual conditions and relationship with God. In addition, affliction brings us near to the words of God and it teaches us the words of God. So we can understand the meaning of the words of God. It is true that we can experience the words of God in our critical life situations.

God uses afflictions to teach his words to us. For instance, in John’s gospel, when Jesus heard that his beloved Lazarus was dying, he did not go to him right away to help him, rather waited until he died. When Jesus arrived at Lazarus house later, his sisters were in great sorrow for his death. And Jesus gave his words to them “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” The sisters did not know how such a promise could help their practical trouble. To help this, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In this way, Jesus taught them how resurrection faith worked in their troubles. Some moments ago, they were afflicted with sorrow, but later they could learn the deep meaning of Jesus’words with great joy.

Without affliction, our understanding of the words of God can be narrow and shallow. The bible says “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” However, without going through the affliction, how can we learn the depth of this word? Without affliction, we can’t comprehend the suffering of Jesus and the moment of denying himself and following the way of cross. When we are afflicted, we should know that it is the time of going deeper into the words of God and experience the power of God’s words. In this way, we can root our faith in the words of God and grow in him. So, tough time is not the time to quit, but the time to learn. During my graduate study, I felt my limitation and wanted to quit my study. But God gave me this word through Easter conference “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26) When I held on to it, I could experience God’s help and could overcome my limitations. But another affliction was waiting for me. After graduation, I couldn’t get job for almost two years. It was a painful time. But God operated my sin sick heart with his words during that time. I realized that I neglected the words of God many years in busy life, and I lived according to my sinful desire. So I decided to struggle with the words of God at any circumstances. Since then, he gradually restored my life and heart and now the words of God become my delight. I can confess like the psalmist “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” May God continue to help you and me to learn the words of God in our afflictions for our spiritual growth.

Look at verse 72. “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” This confession is sincere and genuine. Experiencing the living words of God, he esteemed the words of God more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. When people have even some pieces of gold, they may have a big smile and their mouth hung on the ears. But, suffering time reveals what is truly valuable. The words of God are most important treasure enriching our soul and life.

In this section, we learned that affliction is good for us, for we could have a humble heart to pay attention to the words of God that leads us to experience God. Suffering seems bitter but the fruit of suffering is sweet and make our life better.

Part II. May my heart be blameless toward your decrees.

Verses from 73 to 80 mostly contained Psalmist’s prayers. So we learn that in the time of affliction, we need the words of God and prayer to overcome it. Look at verse 73 “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” When we are afflicted, we might feel like abandoned and lost. But, the psalmist remembered who he was and how he could be existed. His existence was not random. It happened by God’s delicate hand with his clear plan. His life was not his but God’s. God was the reason to his existence. God has plan in our afflictions. To know him and his purpose upon our lives, we need to understand the words of God.

Look at verse 74 “May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.” The psalmist wanted to live a life of faith like those who fear God. For this, he put his hope in the words of God. It is encouraging when we remember that we are not alone in our suffering. Hebrews 12:3 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” When we are in difficulties, numerous men of faith cheer us to overcome our afflictions by holding onto the words of God.

Look at verse 75 “I know, O LORD, that your laws (judgment) are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” He was sure of one thing in his affliction: God’s law (or judgment) is right and in faithfulness God has afflicted him. In our suffering, sometimes we may protest to God “why am I afflicted in this way?” But we learn from this psalmist how to view our affliction. Even though he could not understand his suffering, he was sure that God dealt with him rightly and showed his faithful love to grow him according to his plan. The bible says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves and, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:7) Affliction shows God’s painful and tough love to his people.

Look at verse 76-77. “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”“Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.” He prayed that God’s unfailing love and compassion may be with him. In unbearable sufferings, God’s love and compassion give us strength. He entrusted his broken heart to God’s love and compassion. So, he could be found in God’s mercy.

Look at verse 78-79 “May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts.”“May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes.” He also entrusted his enemies to God’s hand and he overcame the painful situation by meditating the words of God. In verse 79, because of lie of the arrogant, he was misunderstood by people of God. He became lonely. But he also entrusted the problems into God’s hand. In his affliction, he depended on God solely and humbly.

Finally, he shows his inner desire in verse 80. “May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame” He truly wanted his heart to be blameless before the words of God. He wanted to follow the words of God wholeheartedly without compromise.

May God help us to keep our heart blameless before his words by meditating and obeying them. We will go through affliction in this hostile and ungodly world. We need the words of God to overcome. Through obeying God’s words wholeheartedly, we will not be put to shame when Jesus comes back, but we will share eternal life with him.

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