Aren’t you glad that I didn’t ask you to read the entire 119th Psalm today? It’s got 176 verses, so most people don’t prefer to read it in one sitting. I understand their feelings, but it really is a great Psalm to read, even if you do it in portions. Due to the acrostic nature of the Psalm (read the footnotes if you’re not familiar with this), it’s obvious that the author put a lot of time and effort into it. The longest chapter in the Bible, it’s basically a love poem written to God’s word. It uses eight different words for it, and most of the time the author uses each of these terms within an eight-verse segment. You can see how these Hebrew words for his revelation are translated in several different ways: “Law,” “Commands,” “Decrees,” “Precepts,” etc. But no matter how you translate it, the meaning is still much the same. He’s eternally grateful for God’s written revelation to us.
But I'd like to point out three verses within the reading today, since they have a good reminder for us. The author loves God’s word and wants very strongly to obey his instructions. In fact, this overwhelming desire drips off nearly every verse. But he’s definitely not sinless. This fact shows up even in the last verse, but it’s really on display in the selected passage. Notice vss. 67, 71, and 75. See the pattern? In each verse the Psalmist observes that he'd been going astray, and the Lord used affliction to bring him back on course. Now he was obeying God’s word as never before. Now he was learning his decrees. In vs. 75 he even goes so far as to thank the Lord for afflicting him in “faithfulness.”
This goes against every natural instinct we have, doesn’t it? Our entire economy is based upon the desire to avoid inconvenience, much less real suffering. If we have to wait for 20 minutes for our food to be prepared, we impatiently complain. If we have to undergo any physical discomfort, we do everything in our power to alleviate it. Notice that I said “we,” not “you.” I certainly include myself in this description.
And is that wrong? Since we see the spiritual benefits of suffering, then should we go out of our way to deprive ourselves? Should we become ascetic monks, forgoing any physical pleasure? Are painkillers sinful or a sign of a lack of trust in God? When we go through this type of experience, should we shout “Hooray for affliction!”? I don’t think so. The desire to avoid pain is natural, and not everything that’s natural is sinful.
But I think the question is, “How do we view affliction/suffering?” Is it something that we avoid at all costs? Is it something that we should rail against God about? I think that we need, above all, to submit to the Father’s plan. If he decides that I need to be deprived of some things, then that’s up to him. If he allows me to get a better lifestyle, then there’s nothing wrong with that.
And when we do suffer, we need to first and foremost ask God if he’s trying to get our attention about something. Incorporate Psalm 139:23-24 in your prayer life on a regular basis, but especially if things are going really badly for you. If he doesn’t point out any particular sin, then ask him to use this time to draw you closer to him. If nothing else, use this time to learn to depend on him instead of your own resources.
I promise you, he’s not doing this because of any lack of love on his part. Everything that happens to you is filtered through his perfect loving plan. He loves you, and he'll bring you through this, one way or another. If you let him.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for carrying me every step of the way, even when I have to go through some really painful experiences. Thank you for giving me what I need, whatever that is.