Sunday, July 05, 2015

[Matt's Messages] “Lessons from the School of Affliction”

“Lessons from the School of Affliction”
July 5, 2015 :: Psalm 119:71

I was as surprised as you probably are that we aren’t opening our Bibles to Romans again this morning. However, it’s clear to me that we should take a brief break from Romans for the next three weeks and then come back to it at the end of the month.

Don’t worry! I still plan to finish Romans in less than a year. I promised not to be one of those pastors who go into Romans and never come out, and I’m still doing my best to lead you through.

But for now, we’ll take a break. This week, Psalm 119, verse 71. Next week, we’ll get the report from our Pittsburgh Ministry Team, and then 19th will be our Family Bible Week finale–and I’ve got a special message to go with our theme for this year.

Today, Psalm 119, verse 71.

Do you know much about the 119th Psalm? It’s the longest Psalm in your Bible. 176 verses! I’m not going to read them all to you today. Maybe some day, we will!

And Psalm 119 is elaborately and carefully written to celebrate the psalmist’s relationship with God through His word. If you have the NIV, you’ll see that there are  22 sections of the Psalm, one for every letter in the Hebrew Alphabet. And most of them have 8 verses each that all start with a different word that begins with the letter of that section. A-B-C and so for, so to speak. It’s truly a literary work of art–and we don’t see some of how ahmazing it is because we have to translate it into English.

But verse 71 is in a section of the psalm the “Teth” section, verses 65-72 that don’t all start with a different word with a Hebrew “Teth” on it, but instead, 5 of the verses begin with the same Hebrew Word “Tov” or our word for that is “Good.”

In fact, the Hebrew word for “good” appears 6 times in these 8 verses, and I don’t think that that is a coincidence.

There is something good going on in these 8 verses.

But what we find out is good might be a little surprising to us!

Especially in verse 71.

I quoted it, kind of badly, from memory last Sunday in the message, and it’s been on my mind all week. So, I thought we might study it more closely this morning together.

I want us to focus on the peculiar perspective of verse 71.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71).

That’s a peculiar statement if you understand what “afflicted” means.

To be “afflicted” is to be troubled, pained, distressed, ailed, bowed-down, humbled, pushed, oppressed.

Does anybody here like to be afflicted?

I don’t think so.

But the psalmist says, “It was good [tov] for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your [God’s] decrees.”

Now, we’re not sure who the psalmist was. It might have been David, many of the psalms are by David, but they have his name attached to them. This one has no attribution.

And we don’t know what this psalmist’s affliction was.

Verses 69 and 70 describe how some arrogant enemies had slandered his name–perhaps it’s likely that’s the affliction he is referring to.

But it doesn’t say that is so many words, perhaps so that we can apply this principle of affliction to lots of different areas in our lives, as well.

Troubles. Hardships. Adversities. When things are going against us and it hurts and it’s hard, so hard.

Here’s the testimony of this writer after times like that: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Today’s message is entitled, “Lessons from the School of Affliction.”

We could say, “Good things to learn from the school of hard knocks.”

“Lessons from the School of Affliction.”

And here’s the first point of two:


Now, that may not be what you wanted to hear this morning.

At first, that sentence is not very comforting.

Nobody wants affliction, and those few that act like it, masochists, are crazy.

Affliction is painful and difficult and harmful and grueling.

And it’s important to note that this verse does not say that the affliction was itself a good thing. It was a bad thing. It came to this poor guy because the world is fundamentally broken.

The Bible is a realistic book. It describes things the way that they are.

It doesn’t paint this painful experience in deceptive rosy terms.

The psalmist is not saying that it felt good to be afflicted.

“It didn’t even hurt a bit!”

The psalmist is saying that the end result of that painful affliction brought a benefit to him. It was worth it. In the end, it was good.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

Now, I’ll tell you why I was attracted to this verse for today.

This year has been a year of affliction for me, health-wise.

I’m a little sheepish to say anything about this because I know that many of you have suffered much more than I have. Some of you have had the same things as I, and many of you have had much more difficult health problems.

So, I’m hesitant to talk about it, but because I’d been relatively healthy for the first forty some years of my life, these new health battles, one after another, have really set me back on my heels.

And they have caused me to think.

As I said last week, I want to learn what I’m supposed to learn from these illnesses.

From my diverticulitis. It flared up again this week. I’m on two antibiotics this morning. Not one, but two. Back in May, I had a perforated colon to go with it. I was worried this week that it had happened again. I missed prayer meeting because I was sick.

And from my gallbladder attacks. If that’s what they were. I’ve had several tests now and some of them came back quite normal. My last one was a HIDA scan, a nuclear test where they lit up my gallbladder with stuff that has a half-life and took a video of it in operation. I hope to find out something from that soon and see what else is needed.

As we said last week, Heather likes to say, “I hate your guts!” And I do, too, right now!

But I want to learn what I need to learn from this experience of affliction.

The other day, after they injected the radioactive stuff, they also injected some chemicals that simulate eating a greasy meal.

And, oh, was that painful!  Ouch! And I hadn’t eaten for several hours beforehand or slept for some reason so I was just miserable when my test was over.

And I’m not yet feeling 100% yet.

But I don’t say that to complain. I say that to say that I want that affliction to be GOOD for me.

I want to learn the lessons God has for me in the school of affliction.

All of us who are Christians can give this testimony, too, can’t we?

I’ll bet that every one here has a story or two or two hundred about what God taught you through a painful experience. Am I right?

It seems to me that God often teaches more courses in the school of affliction than He does in the school of blessing!

C.S. Lewis in his little book The Problem of Pain says that God uses our pain to get our attention.

He writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We’ve all had those experiences.

That’s why James can say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds...”

Because we all know that it can be good for us to be afflicted...

...if we are willing to learn from it.

That doesn’t mean that the suffering is good in and of itself.

Suffering is bad. It’s a result of the Fall. It’s not good. And one day it will end.

This also doesn’t mean that the suffering stops when we learn our lesson.

Sometimes we joke that we want to learn the lesson of this school of pain so that we don’t have to repeat the course!

But that’s not how this school works.

Sometimes we learn plenty and yet the pain persists.

But it does mean that God can redeem the pain of any affliction.

Remember what we learned back in Romans 8:28–“And we know that in all things [including the afflictions] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

That’s actually comforting when you think about it. That God can use the most painful things in our lives for our good.

Whether they be illnesses, or attacks, or setbacks, or losses.

God doesn’t waste pain.

That’s comforting to me.

Now, I wouldn’t share that truth with someone else who is suffering. Not right away.

Don’t run to the hospital today and go up and down the halls saying, “What is God teaching you in your affliction?”

That’s heartless and insensitive.

Job’s counselors had it right when they just came and sat with him. And were silent. That’s when they acted like his friends. When they opened their mouths, they got in trouble.

We don’t lead with this when someone is suffering.

But we who are Christians still need to know it.

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

Here’s why? The second half of the verse.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”


We can learn God’s ways in the school of affliction.

That word “decrees” in verse 71 can also be translated, “statues” or “inscriptions.”

It means written down instructions.

The 119th Psalm is amazing in how it contains so many different synonyms for the Word of God. The psalmist must have worn out his thesaurus trying to come up with different words to mean basically the same thing–God’s holy Word inscribed in His Law.

And the emphasis isn’t on the promises of God here but on God’s commandments, God’s instructions, God’s decrees of how a believer should live.

We could say, “God’s ways.” God’s paths to walk in.

When you study at God’s school of affliction you can learn how God operates and how God wants His followers to live their lives.

And that, of course, includes believing His promises!

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

The New Living Translation says it this way: “The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles.”

Are you getting that out of your sufferings?

I’m trying.

I’m trying to learn God’s ways in the middle of mine.

Verse 67 says that the affliction got the psalmist back on the right track. V.67

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”

Sometimes God sends us affliction to discipline us and to get us back on the right track.

Sometimes it’s a 180 degrees, sometimes it’s just a 1 degree course correction, but the painful nudge is what it took.

I’m not saying that all suffering is discipline. But that that we can learn God’s ways from all suffering.

Here are some things I’m learning, or think I’m learning from my present affliction.

- It’s not all about me.

My life is not all about me.

Do remember when we studied the book of Genesis and we learned that God was the main character in the book? It wasn’t Abraham, or Jacob, or Joseph?

We said, “You’re not the main character in the story of your life.”

That’s what’s coming to me recently.

My life is not about me. It’s about God.

So in pain or out of pain, what matters is the Lord and living for Him.

Am I doing that?

And the same is true for ministry.

This Pittsburgh Ministry Team is not about Pastor Matt.

They will do just fine today and tomorrow without me.

And if I end up not going on tomorrow or Tuesday as I’m now planning to, they’ll do just fine without me, then, as well.

Because it’s not about me! It’s about the Lord.

Here’s another things I’m learning in the school of affliction.

- God meets you in your waiting.

I’ve been in a lot of waiting rooms recently. Every doctor’s office has a waiting room.  And some have more than one. And often even after you get to the last room, you still have to wait.

So, I’ve been trying to learn to wait.

I’ve never been much of a wait-er.

I’m always pushing, trying to get the next thing done.

I love to be productive.

But I’m trying to learn patience in this season of my life.

It’s not about productivity right now. It’s about patience.

I’ve made an idol of productivity, of getting things done.

I’m trying to learn to enjoy the right here right now.

Look at all of the gifts God has given me. Let me enjoy each one in the moment. Not after I lose weight, after I get that next test done, after I feel better.

Right now.

And let me give thanks right now to that God that meets me in the waiting.

I’ve been in too much of a hurry to get somewhere else when God was right here.

Now, I’m trying to learn those things, I’m not saying that I have it down.

But I think God is teaching me His ways in the school of affliction.

I could tell you other things I’m learning: about love for others, about how much I’m loved by God and by His people, about how trustworthy God is, about good God is.

Verse 68, “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.”

But the point I’m trying to make is that in the school of affliction, the curriculum is God’s precepts, God’s decrees, God’s statutes, God’s law, God’s command, God’s word, God’s way.

And it’s so GOOD! V.72

“The law from your mouth is more precious [more TOV, more Good!] to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

I’d rather be wise than rich.

That’s what he’s saying.

I’d rather have God’s wisdom, know God’s ways, than to have riches untold.

And one of the best ways to get that is to be enrolled in the school of affliction.

Not to enjoy the classes themselves but to wring out of them every bit of the knowledge of God that you can.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Are you suffering right now?

What might God be trying to teach you?

It might hurt too much right now to think about that.

Perhaps you just need to have your hand held and be told that God loves you.

You are beloved of God.

He is going through this with you right now.

You are not alone.

He hates evil and suffering. And one day He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, Christian.

Maybe that’s what you need to hear right now.

But when you have a chance and can think about it, think about whether or not there might be deeper lessons for you to learn from that painfulness.

Is He trying to wake you up? Have you been going astray, and this is a wake-up call?

Make verse 66 your prayer.

“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.”

Verse 68, “Teach me your decrees!”

I want to learn from this school of affliction!

I want to be able to say when my life is over and pain (which has been very little in the grand scheme of things, I must say again). But when my life is over, I want to be able to sing this verse with the psalmist in the new heavens and the new earth.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”