Psalm 119:67, 71 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
Wow! This is strong stuff! It’s one thing for Paul to say repeatedly to give thanks for everything, (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18) but this writer is saying that suffering was happiness for him! I don’t think he was a masochist, though. His focus was so completely on God and being obedient to Him that he welcomed anything that enabled him to do that more fully. That’s certainly an admirable attitude. I don’t think anyone should be looking for trouble, but we should be looking for how our troubles might draw us closer to God. The majority of our troubles are the result of our own inattention to God and what He has said to us, so we need to approach every difficulty as a learning opportunity to make us more like Christ. If that is our attitude, then we will indeed be grateful for everything that advances that goal. Sometimes our suffering is the result of someone else’ rebellion against God, and sometimes we suffer simply because we live in a fallen world, but even there, our response to the suffering determines whether the experience is ultimately gain or loss. When we focus on the suffering itself, it seldom does us much good. If we lift our eyes to the Lord and ask Him what He wants us to gain through the suffering, we will rise to a level of intimacy with Him that we hadn’t imagined before, and that is happiness indeed.
I don’t really feel like I have suffered very much. I’ve had some times when I was pretty unhappy about what was happening, times that were emotionally painful, but the Lord has always been there for me, and I’ve come through them. I read of others’ reports of abuse of all sorts, as well as medical difficulties and outright persecution, and I feel that the Lord has given me a very easy road. As a pastor I find that those who wail and moan the loudest are seldom those with the greatest problems, objectively speaking. Maybe I’ve learned from that! I am never to put people down or belittle their suffering, but I am to be gently persistent in pointing them to Christ, reminding them of what He went through for them, to help them gain perspective. I am deeply grateful for the movie, The Passion of the Christ, because it makes it so graphically clear what Jesus endured because of my sin. With that awareness, how can I complain?
Father, thank You yet again for Your overwhelming grace toward me. Thank You for Jesus and His cross, and for His resurrection. Thank You for “stoop[ing] down to make me great.” (Psalm 18:35) Thank You for opening Your Word, Your heart to me, though I am so unworthy. That’s why it’s grace! Help me be increasingly responsive to all that You want me to say and do, so that others may be blessed and drawn to You as Your will is done through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!