People who dare to call themselves disciples of Christ believe that God loves them, and that God has (to cite one of the “spiritual laws”) a wonderful plan for their lives.
But, back here on planet reality, it does not always seem that way. Sometimes despite our faith in God’s love and his plan, our experiences seem to cry out to us that God is angry with us, and he plans to make us suffer.
I have been studying what the Bible has to say about the tough times that believers experience. My study has directed me to a section of the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119.
Psalm 119:65-72 (NET)
65 You are good to your servant, O LORD, just as you promised.
66 Teach me proper discernment and understanding! For I consider your commands to be reliable.
67 Before I was afflicted I used to stray off, but now I keep your instructions.
68 You are good and you do good. Teach me your statutes!
69 Arrogant people smear my reputation with lies, but I observe your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are calloused, but I find delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law you have revealed is more important to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver.
Psalm 119 is the disciple’s psalm. It is all about people who dare to conduct their lives not based on what happens to them, but based on what God’s word says. As we immerse ourselves in the word of God daily, we find ourselves praying for what God wants of us.
- We pray for blessing.1
- We pray for rescue.2
- We pray for comfort.3
- We pray for wisdom.4
- We pray for integrity.5
As we immerse ourselves in the word of God daily, we find ourselves testifying to others of the benefits of our relationship with him.
- We testify of victory over sin.6
- We testify of victory over condemnation.7
- We testify of the faithfulness of God.8
- We testify of perseverance.9
- We testify of love for God’s word.10
As we immerse ourselves in the word of God daily, we find ourselves more confident of that word as God’s provision for our lives.
- We are confident that God’s word is unforgettable.11
- We are confident that God’s word stands firm.12
- We are confident that God’s word gives light.13
- We are confident that God’s word gives protection.14
- We are confident that God’s word is true.15
But despite all these wonderful truths revealed in God’s word about discipleship, there are also clear references to the fact that believers will experience tough times [affliction (67) and suffering (71)] and that these are not exceptions to the rule, but are part and parcel to the discipling experience. What we learn from this “Tet”16 section of Psalm 199 about tough times is very helpful.
First, we learn that God is always good, and he always does good (65,68). This is true no matter what we experience as his disciples. Our negative experiences never change his essential nature. And he never does anything that is wrong.
Secondly, we learn that tough times are not a mistake that always has to be prayed against and fixed. In God’s providence, he both allows and intentionally sends affliction and suffering to us, to enhance our relationship with him. In this text, the psalmist admits that he used to stray off before he was afflicted, but now he keeps God’s instructions (67). In fact, he confesses “It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes” (71). The tough times in our lives are not evidence of a lacking or flawed relationship with God. In fact, they may be evidence that we are closer to God than ever!
Thirdly, tough times do sometimes come to us because we are not as close to God as we pretend to be. The psalmist admits that God was trying to get him to follow his instructions more closely, and it took a period of affliction and suffering to get through to him. For any relationship to be harmonious, you must live by the rules of the relationship. The disciple in Psalm 119 could have said “I have faith in God, and that should be enough.” But he did not. After a period of suffering affliction, he came to realize that his faith in God is reflected when he obeys God’s word. Our relationship with God is a covenant relationship. God’s side of the covenant stipulates that he protect us and provide for us. Our side of the covenant stipulates that we believe him and obey his commands. We are saved by faith alone, but that faith is never all alone. It produces obedience, but sometimes it needs a little help from affliction to do so.
God’s purpose is always the obedient relationship, never the suffering itself. He is not glorified by the suffering of his creatures – not now, and certainly not in eternity. There are some who believe that God will take all those who reject his salvation and put them in a place where they must suffer for eternity, and that this somehow enhances God’s glory. If he were to do that, it would not increase his glory. It would do the opposite: it would bring him eternal shame. It would be an everlasting reminder of rebellion that he could not put down, of sinners that he could not destroy. That is not how the story ends for sin. Those who refuse a relationship with God will experience “eternal destruction,”17 not simply eternal separation and suffering.
There is a place in God’s plan for suffering. Believers sometimes suffer in order for us to get closer to God, for our relationship with him to be refined as if by fire.18 Unbelievers will suffer when they are judged and punished for their sins, until they pay the ultimate price for their rebellion – the second death.19 But God does not intend any suffering to last forever. In the end, his holiness and goodness and joy will survive after all the pain and sorrow and suffering has passed away.
More Devotional Thoughts
- Psalm 119:17,58.
- Psalm 119:25,41,107,116,154,170.
- Psalm 119:28,76,172.
- Psalm 119:38,74,169.
- Psalm 119:133.
- Psalm 119:9,101,158.
- Psalm 119:42.
- Psalm 119:65.
- Psalm 119:81,82,123.
- Psalm 119:148,162.
- Psalm 119:16.
- Psalm 119:89,160.
- Psalm 119:105.
- Psalm 119:114.
- Psalm 119:140,160.
- Tet is the letter of the Hebrew alphabet that each line in this section of Psalm 119 begins with.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
- 1 Peter 1:7.
- Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8.