A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 7)

We are in the midst of affliction. The introduction of the novel coronavirus, designated COVID-19[1], has at this point eliminated 79,381 image-bearers of God.[2] It has wreaked havoc to many nations, particularly Spain and Italy.[3] There are many who have endured great physical affliction, spending days and even weeks suffering through and recovering from COVID-19.[4] In addition to the physical loss and detriments to health, we have witnessed an economic shift unlike any other in history. According to the International Monetary Fund “In the last two weeks in March almost 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits.”[5] Furthermore, the psychological, educational, and social effects of the novel coronavirus will not be realized for years to come. We are, as I mentioned in the first sentence, in the midst of affliction.

How do we handle this? How does the Christian, the believer in the God of heaven, respond to such affliction? We have been studying this word affliction in Psalm 119. It is a soul-nourishing study, and today’s verse is no different.

Psalm 119:107 states, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” (ESV)

Like David, we are severely afflicted. We are overwhelmed, like the shore of the beach breaking under the crushing power of a massive wave. What is David’s response? What does affliction do in the Shepherd of Israel’s life?

Affliction, severe and life-altering affliction, points us to God.

The truth is that affliction points us to God. We are reminded of several truths in the midst of such affliction. First, we are reminded that we are not God. This unseen virus has practically shut the entire world down. COVID-19 is killing people, overwhelming hospitals, destroying economies, etc. We are powerless to stop this virus. We are not God. Secondly, we are reminded of how fragile life is. In my context, Americans enjoy a plethora of pleasures, enjoyments in life, and physical wellness. We have access to healthy food, clean water, and excellent facilities for care. In fact, my wife went to the doctor today to check on our unborn son. Yet, with all of this, we are fragile, Individuals who were otherwise healthy have succumbed to the virus. The lungs of survivors are weak. Large numbers of people are dying. We are fragile. Third, we are reminded of how quickly life can change. At the beginning of the year, I was planning out my preaching and teaching schedule. I had made plans for a conference in the fall, and yet this all came crashing to a sudden halt. Everything changed in a short period of time. What do all of these reminders provide for us? They point us to the One who is God, the One who is not fragile, and the One who is in complete control.

David, in the midst of his severe affliction, says, “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!”

Affliction drives us to the All-Sufficient One. We turn to God in these afflictions. When faced with physical death, we remember the One who gives eternal life. When faced with the fragility of life, we are reminded of the Rock of our salvation. When faced with economic downfall, we are reminded of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. When faced with overwhelming, severe affliction, we are reminded of the One who gives life!

There is one more phrase David mentions, following his practice in almost every verse of Psalm 119: the Word of God. David requests life “according to [God’s] Word.” It is God’s Word, David recognizes, that gives life.

We have the most wonderful gift in the sacred Scriptures. But how do they give us life? How, in the midst of severe affliction, do we get life?

  1. God’s Word provides the proper lens by which we view all of life, including severe affliction.
    David recognizes how God’s Word gives us the right (i.e., biblical) lens from which to view life. Difficulties, rather than unfair instances, are tools in the hands of a sovereign and good God. When in the midst of financial ruin, God’s Word reorients our focus from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency. The list could go on, but let it be said that God’s Word helps us view life with a God-focused lens.
  2. God’s Word provides the encouragement that Christians are becoming more like Jesus with everything, especially with severe affliction.
    We are reminded in Romans 8:28-29 that God is chipping away everything in our lives (as believers) that are not like Jesus Christ. Paul says, “All things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, ESV), and this includes severe affliction. What a comfort that brings, brothers and sisters, that even in the midst of severe affliction, God is fulfilling His promise to make you be more like His Son, Jesus Christ! (Phil. 1:6) God’s Word gives life!
  3. God’s Word provides the avenue of dealing with the hardships of life, particularly during severe affliction.
    Think about Job, the “man [who] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). This man endured severe affliction, losing all ten of his children, most of his wealth, and his physical health in a short period of time (Job 1:6-19; 2:1-8). In a back-and-forth debate between Job and his three friends, God appears on the scene and begins questioning Job (see chapters 38-41). Every question reminds Job that He is not God and that even in the midst of severe affliction Job can (and should) trust God. Without demeaning Job’s pain, or doubting the difficulties he is experiencing, God reorients Job’s focus from his problems to Himself.

    This is extremely practical. We have the means to deal with the difficulties of life in God’s Word. This is why I call it a priceless treasure!

We are in the midst of affliction. To what do you turn? Or, more biblically, to Whom do you turn? Brothers and sisters, let us not turn to individuals, governments, scientists, and doctors (though all of those certainly have a part to play!), let us turn to God, and pray that He will give us life through His Word, for His glory!

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, accessed 7 April 2020.

[2] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/, accessed 7 April 2020.

[3] For Spain, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/spain/; for Italy, see: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/italy/ (both accessed 7 April 2020).

[4] Here are a few perspectives: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/01/covid-19-recoveries-it-was-the-most-terrifying-experience-of-my-life, accessed 7 April 2020.

[5] John Bluedorn, Gita Gopinath, and Damiano Sandri, “An Early View of the Economic Impact of the Pandemic in 5 Charts,” International Monetary Fund blog, 6 April 2020, https://blogs.imf.org/2020/04/06/an-early-view-of-the-economic-impact-of-the-pandemic-in-5-charts/, accessed 7 April 2020.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 6)

Psalm 119:92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (ESV)

With these words, the psalmist provides a wonderful example of how the sufficiency of God’s Word meets the needs of afflictions. In previous posts, we have laid the groundwork of affliction as it is understood in this psalm. Additionally, we have seen how God’s Word provides comfort, encouragement, and direction during those difficult times.

In this verse, the psalmist describes how believers can endure in trying circumstances: delight in God’s Word. The word “delight” is an interesting word. It conveys the idea of rapture, of utter and unmatchable delight (for a similar usage, see Psalm 119:24; Isaiah 5:7; and Jeremiah 31:20). Interestingly, the word is plural. It could (and probably should) be translated delights. In other words, it is a multifaceted delight. Like the delights brought about by a child, or a loved one, the Word of God provides boundless enjoyment and pleasure.

GOD’S WORD IS DELIGHTFUL

The Scriptures speak frequently of the delightfulness of God’s Word. Consider Psalm 119:24, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” (ESV) Or consider Psalm 119:72, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (ESV) The written and revealed truth of God’s Word is unimaginably delightful. Christians find comfort in the beauty of God’s Word. Passages like Psalm 23 and Romans 8:28 are pregnant with comforting truth that enables a believer to endure overwhelming situations.

GOD’S WORD HAS MANY DELIGHTS

Because the Scripture declares God’s Word is the psalmist’s delights, we see a hint of the multifaceted sweetness of the Bible. It gives encouragement when we are discouraged. It provides correction when we need discipline. It reorients our view of God to match the Scripture, and not our sin-marred view or experience-based picture of Who He is. Search the Scriptures, for they are a limitless treasure chest of many delights.

GOD’S WORD IS THE ANCHOR FOR ENDURANCE

Without the sacred Word of God, the Christian could not endure the afflictions this life has to offer. There are afflictions within, resulting from sinful choices to living in a fallen world. There are afflictions without, again, resulting from our own choices or from the will of others.

The believer, while not free from those afflictions, is nevertheless encouraged because God’s Word anchors his view of reality within the framework of a sovereign, loving God who works all things out for God’s glory and our good.  And lest we depart from the biblical definition of good, we must remember that in Romans 8:28 the good to which God works is the conformity of His children to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

CONCLUSION

What a glorious God we serve! His Word is indeed our delights! It is boundless, endless, and matchless. Oh, what a precious treasure He has given to His Church!

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 5)

Today something terrible happened to our family: my Maw Maw died.

We knew it was coming. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease almost four years ago. My Maw Maw was one of the most selfless, loving people I have ever met. We traveled down to my parents yesterday, and we enjoyed one brief visit with her before she went to heaven.

It is now 20:49, and as my brother, father, and I watch the Chargers and the Raiders play, I began researching for this post. I have been studying the verses with a form of afflicted. Today’s post focuses on Psalm 119:75.

David writes, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (NASB)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND DAILY LIFE

There are times when I think on God’s sovereignty in the major events of the world. A certain president gets elected, a world leader passes away, or a enormous financial change occurs, and it is all attributed to God’s sovereign lead. But there are times when seemingly insignificant things seem completely driven by the hand of the sovereign God.

Today was one of those days. When my wife asked if we should head down to my parents, it seemed like a small push. But considering the events of today, it was all from God’s hand.

David, in considering his difficulties, acknowledged God’s sovereignty. This does not mean that God was guilty of sin, but that God allowed certain events to occur in his life. The afflictions David faced, though instigated by Saul, or Ahithophel, or whoever, all originated from the hand of the Almighty.

How this transforms our views of affliction! When we consider that God in His glorious sovereignty works all things, all things, for our good, we find ourselves realizing, like David, that “in faithfulness [God has] afflicted me.”

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

The basis for David’s realization is anchored in the righteousness of God. God’s acts are righteous. Because God is righteous, His acts are righteous. Everything God does stems from and is built upon His righteousness. There is nothing that occurs outside of His righteousness.

Study Psalm 119 and you will quickly see how God’s righteous helps David in his daily life. And when we begin to renew our minds (see Romans 12:1-2), our view of the afflictions of life come from the hands of the righteous God.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND AFFLICTION

The death of my Maw Maw is a terrible affliction. Our hearts are breaking, for a wonderful woman has departed this life. But it comes from the hands of a righteous God, and in that we can rejoice.

What afflictions do you find yourself in? Do you realize that God is righteous?

Pray to be like David, and view all things, all afflictions, as coming from the hands of a righteous God.

“I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75, NASB)

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 4)

Affliction is good. 

You may read those words and, like me, say “What?” The concept of affliction is one that immediately brings forth feelings of discomfort and dread. We are creatures that love our comfort.

We love for the comforts of a fire on a cold and wet day. We long for the warmth of our beds. We leap with joy when we can shed our work clothes and don our sweats. But affliction? It is the troll under the bridge, baring our way on the road to comfort and ease. It is the dragon guarding the gold of comfort hidden in the cave. We dislike comfort in the most intense way imaginable.

So how in the world can affliction be good? 

David pens this conundrum,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71, NASB)

There are a few things that are important to note at the outset. These thoughts will then, I hope, help to provide an explanation of how affliction can be good.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS A PASSIVE EXPERIENCE

David states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted.” That is, he experienced affliction. He received it. He endured it. People and circumstances afflicted David. He was the receiver, not the instigator.

In our own lives, we do not willingly set out seeking affliction (those who do usually have other issues). It is thrust upon us, like the breaking waves crashing on the seashore. We receive the bad report from the doctor. Our employer gives us the pink slip. That one person continues to drive us crazy.

Our afflictions usually come to us, not the other way around. Why is this important? First, we must remember that God is sovereign. He is in control, and regardless of how deep the affliction may be, it comes from God’s hand. The unimaginable comfort brought by the truths of Romans 8:28-29 provide wells of encouragement. Secondly, it also helps us realize that there are times when we can do everything right and still experience affliction. It is a theological error to think right behavior will bring blessings (read through the book of Job to have this view corrected). However, when we experience trials, we can take comfort that it may not be from our own fault.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION INCREASED LEARNING

I remember hearing in chapel this same thought. One of my professors would say, “You’ll learn more about God through conflict than you will from a systematic theology book!” I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “This guy is insane. There is no way that would happen.” Enter life and ministry, and the lesson holds true.

David realized that affliction brought a deeper intuition to God’s truth. The affliction David experienced enhanced his learning of God’s Word. He learned God’s statutes. Learning requires repetition and interaction. David’s love for God’s Word provided a rich environment in which affliction could yield positive fruits. But it was only enhanced by affliction.

This can help us endure affliction. Rather than dreading it, we can learn from it. We can grow through it. But only as we seek God’s Word. That is the key difference of Christian suffering. God’s Word is a unique tool, inspired by God, to provide growth toward Christlikeness. Affliction is an enhancer of growth. It is a growth activator, if you will.

IN THIS VERSE, AFFLICTION IS TEMPERED BY GOD’S WORD

The last point that stands out in this verse is the fact that God’s Word tempers our affliction. It is only by God’s Word that we understand that all things, including affliction and suffering, are used for good in the Christian’s life (Romans 8:28-29). Affliction turns us away from ourselves, our own accomplishments and abilities, toward God and His truth.

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 3)

Psalm 119 has seven verses that mention the word affliction. These references help form a framework from which the believer, the child of God, can endure, learn from, and thrive in, affliction.

Of course this idea seems to be a complete contradiction. But as we mentioned before, God’s workings are quite beyond our ability to comprehend (see Isaiah 55:8-9). The fact that we can endure affliction and thrive and learn in it is astounding.

Our second verse is Psalm 119:67. David writes,

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. (KJV)

This single verse provides an interesting timeline of events. Like the Order of Service printed on a church bulletin, this verse shows the progression of David’s experiences in affliction and the result of facing them.

MISLEADING AND DECEPTION

David plainly states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” That is, before David experienced trouble, he went astray. The phrase went astray is an interesting one. It comes from one Hebrew word, and though there are several shades of meaning, the basic concept is one of deception.

Another was to describe this is misled. Misleading can come in a variety of ways. For example, David experiencing a form of misleading when he was transporting the Ark of the Covenant. In II Samuel 6, David decides to take a large number of people (30,000, according to 6:1), to retrieve the Ark. It must have been a thrilling experiencing! All of those people celebrating the return of the Ark, surrounded by music and joy (6:2-5)!

Then something terrible happened. Tragedy struck a man named Uzzah. As they (Uzzah and Ahio, brothers, 6:3) drove the cart, the Ark slipped and began to fall and “Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it…And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7).

Can you imagine how David, and the people, felt? It seemed as if they were doing everything right and then tragedy struck.

MISLEADING AND US

Does that not happen to us? Do we not proceed with life thinking we are doing well, but like Uzzah we face some affliction? The question is, “Why?”

Why did God strike Uzzah down? After all, he was trying to save the Ark. Why would God do that?

Affliction was a tool used in Uzzah’s, the people’s, and David’s life to remove that misleading. We are human beings, prone to deception and faulty thinking (see Ephesians 2:3; 4:17-18, for example). We believe we are doing right. We may think our motives are right, and therefore justify the means. We may think the end is right, and therefore justify the means.

This is what happened during the transportation of the Ark. David, leading the people, thought that by bringing the Ark back to the land they were doing good. This affliction, no doubt, drove David to consider God’s truth about the Ark. He would have been sent to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) in which he would have read Numbers 4:15, 16, and 20.

And this is what happens in our own lives. Far too often we justify unbiblical ways of doing deeds, thinking thoughts, or spreading speech by the motive, the ends, and even the means. And, perhaps unbeknownst to us, we sin.

MISLEADING AND CORRECTION

However, God in His infinite mercy and marvelous sovereignty, uses our failures and deceptions to conform us to the image of His dear Son and our Savior, Jesus (Romans 8:29; cf. Gen. 50:20). David, brokenhearted and confused, “was afraid of the LORD that day” (II Sam. 6:9). Before David experienced this affliction he went astray. He was deceived.

Like us, we often need affliction in order to be driven to the God we worship. Like bumper bars in a bowling lane, affliction keeps us, like it did David, from being misled into the gutters of sin.

MISLEADING AND GOD’S WORD

Affliction is a unique tool in the hand of our sovereign, good God. He uses it so that we, like David, can say, “now I have kept thy word.”

Brothers and sisters, let us keep the Word of God! Let affliction be our guides to read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word!

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 2)

A NERDY INTRODUCTION

In our last post we began to examine Psalm 119:50. We used the ESV translation, which states, ” “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

The ESV chose an interesting way to translate the word אמרתך. The word is translated promise. However, in the NASB and the NKJV, is is translated word.

According to Logos, the word  אמרתך (or its derivatives) is translated one of three ways: word(s), speech, and command.

Psalm 119_50_Word Graphic
The results from a word search on Logos 8, gathered from the NASB95. The graph represents the occurrences of each translation of the Hebrew word. The total amounts of translation are: word(s): 32; speech: 4; and command: 1.

Generally, then, the אמרתך is used to describe word, speech, or a command. In the case of Psalm 119, we can safely presume it refers to God’s Word. Almost every verse of Psalm 119 (176 in total) refer to God’s Word in one form or another. The next question is, How does God’s Word (or promise, as the ESV renders it), provide comfort in affliction?

A PROFOUND TRUTH

Books can be written to answer that question. To limit our discussion (and the length of this post), I want to focus on a few verses from this Psalm in particular.

To begin with, there is a specific happiness that accompanies biblical obedience. The psalmist begins the wonderful chapter with these words, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk int he law of the LORD.” (Psalm 119:1, NASB) During times of affliction, whether spiritual or physical, comfort is gained from the joy of obedience (compare this with Hebrews 12:2).

Or take another verse, Psalm 119:6, “Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments.” (NASB) When we look at God’s commands. Of course the word entails more than simply looking with one’s eyes. It involves observation, intent attentionprolonged and purposeful examination. Even during affliction, observance of God’s Word frees one from shame.

SO WHAT?

So what does this mean for you? Well, it depends upon the affliction facing you. What are you going through? What troubles are attacking your body or soul? What family members are experience tumultuous times?

Do you turn to the only place that can provide true help? As Dr. Berg bluntly states, “It is, rather, mutinous for created beings to turn to themselves for solutions when they were created to depend upon God Himself.” [Jim Berg, God Is More Than Enough: Foundations For a Quiet Soul (Greenville, SC: Journey Forth, 2010), 6.] We are so prone to turn to everything but God, and He has graciously provided His Word to help us during times of affliction. When dealing with anxiety, we can turn to the God Who holds everything together. When struggling with sexual temptation, we can find satisfaction in the wonders of Jesus Christ. The afflictions will vary in kind and intensity, but the answer is always the same: God’s Word.

As we continue to journey through these verses in Psalm 119, I hope that you realize that God’s Word is such a treasure-trove of comfort and delight.

 

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

A Study in Affliction: The Sufficiency of God’s Word in Psalm 119 for the Believer’s Affliction (Part 1)

In a previous post, we begin a brief overview of affliction as it appears in Psalm 119. The subject of affliction appears seven times in the mammoth psalm. We begin with the first appearance of affliction in Psalm 119:50.

David pens these words,

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (ESV)

A BRIEF DEFINITION

Affliction is translated from the Hebrew word עני, which, according to one lexicon, means “affliction, poverty.” Another possible definition is “misery.” No matter which one you choose, the picture is not pleasant.

The connection with affliction and the trials we face are obvious. We are all afflicted with a variety of problems. They vary in significance and intensity, but they afflict us all. This broad understanding helps us in every situation, and is another evidence of the complete sufficiency of God’s Word for all our problems.

CAN THERE BE COMFORT IN AFFLICTION?

If you are like me, you may find yourself asking the question, “Can there be comfort in affliction?” It would appear to be an oxymoron to many of us. Imagine finding comfort while mourning the loss of a spouse. Try to find comfort when the doctor informs you that you have six months to live. Look for comfort when your bills are more than your income.

These are all severe cases, but what about the “little things”? Can you find comfort when you are late to work? Is there comfort for your car breaking down once again? Does a severed relationship with a friend at school make room for comfort?

Can comfort be present in affliction, severe or little?

David’s answer is a resounding yes. Contrary to the marred thinking of sinful human beings (see Ephesians 4:17-18), Christians can find comfort during times of affliction.

A LIFE CHANGING TRUTH

Is this not wonderful news? Regardless of the scenario of affliction, the believer can receive comfort. Though the trials will vary in intensity and timing, we can find comfort, true and life-infusing comfort.

The idea is consolation. We all need to be comforted, to feel that everything will be alright. God’s Word comforts us. Like feasting on chicken noodle soup after a bout with sickness, God’s Word provides healing down to the very depths of our souls.

LIFE GIVING PROMISE

How does David find comfort during times of affliction? David says, “your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50, ESV). The promise found in the sacred Scriptures provide life-infusing comfort during those times of adversity.

The question remains, what promise?

For that, you will have to wait until the next post.

A Study in Affliction: An Introduction to Psalm 119 and the Believer’s Trials

Recently I have experienced some incredible times of God’s presence. I have been reminded of His powerful sovereignty. I am revived by the sufficiency of God’s Word for all of our problems.

What is the cause of these sweet times with my Father? I can answer that question with one word: affliction. I will not go into details, but the last few months have been incredibly difficult for our family. Now, I do not mean that every day has been a struggle. Quite the opposite, we have enjoyed many joyful times in our private and ministerial life. However, we have experienced an increase in affliction.

Shortly before these afflictions began, I started reading Psalm 119. The psalm is packed with references to God’s Word, and I desired to see how intricate His Word is for the life of the believer. This personal study has produced an incredible yield of fruit in my own life, and consequently, in the life of others. My hope and prayer is that this brief series would encourage you with the sufficiency of God’s Word, the sweetness of God’s sovereignty, and the all-sufficient supremacy of God above everything.

In my personal study, I focused on Psalm 119:92. David writes, “If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.” (NASB) One afternoon I had some additional personal study time in which I jotted down just a few thoughts.

  • God’s Word must be meditated on because
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of God
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of ourselves
    • Because it gives us a right perspective of our successes and failures
  • God’s Word must be meditated on constantly
    • Because we often forget about God and ourselves
    • Because we are constantly beset with sin
    • Because our problems are new every day

After reading these thoughts to my wife, she asked if I was preparing a sermon. Though I usually am, it was meant simply for personal edification. However, it turned out that I was given an opportunity to preach, and so I set to work developing these points further.

After the sermon, I realized that there was much more contained in this psalm, and so I spent more time studying.  One goal I had was to develop the idea of affliction as it is used in Psalm 119.

I found seven uses of the English word affliction in the NASB. These are Psalm 119:50, 67, 71, 75, 92, 107, and 153. In my research I found that the word translated as affliction comes from two Hebrew words.

In the following posts, I hope to provide an overview of affliction as presented in Psalm 119. I am amazed at how God’s Word is always the answer to our afflictions. I hope that these tools will find their way in your tool box, for past, present, and future afflictions. I pray that you and I will, like David, cry out “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.”