The psalmist who prayed Psalm 119:65-72 offered a prayer of thanks for affliction he had suffered. Most of us pray that we may avoid difficulty. Why would someone thank God for allowing them to suffer? Part of the answer emerges in the beginning of the prayer:
“Do good to your servant according to your word, LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 110:65-67).
Many respond to affliction with cynicism or despair, but the experience also increases perspective on what we value. When we evaluate what contributed to our difficulties, we may learn lessons that will improve our judgment when we encounter future problems. The psalmist’s experience increased his sensitivity to the benefits of a spiritually disciplined life. He confesses that he had strayed from God’s word before he was afflicted. He prays,
“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling but I delight in your law” (Psalm 110:68-70).
I do not yearn to feel pain. I have known physical pain and emotional distress. Sometimes my distress resulted from my own poor judgment. At other times, people misunderstood my words or actions, and reacted in ways intended to do me harm. On other times, I suffered because people around me were themselves not equipped professionally or emotionally to make healthy decisions when crises arose. They may not have intended to hurt me, but they did. As I staggered, shaken by the impact of changes around me, I hurt whether it was my foolishness or someone else’s decision that had caused my plight. The crises required a reaction from me, the same sort of processing and decision-making that the composer of this prayer in Psalm 119 confronted. Although those times were hard for me, when I reflect on them, I realize how much I learned that strengthened me as I moved forward. The psalmist may have been thinking similar thoughts when he concluded his prayer,
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 19:71-72).
When our lives seem shattered, we may shut God out. We may feel too angry to talk with him. I have been there. But even in those moments, we can grow and heal if in our anger we take time to read the Scriptures and reflect on how they may help us cope with our conundrums. The psalmist prayed for knowledge and good judgment. He realized that he already had gained great benefits from learning how God’s will should govern his life. His increased wisdom was much more valuable to him than financial wealth would have been. Praying for health or prosperity may seem a waste of time when someone experiences physical violence, or loses their job, or realizes that their marriage is ending in divorce. The psalmist instead prays for discernment and better understanding of how God’s will can assist him in overcoming setbacks. He thanks God that he suffered. Let’s pray that our afflictions, our suffering, and our pain will ignite awakening of insight into God’s word and understanding of what our pain has taught us.
• Bible quotes are from the New International Version 2011
We hurt. We wonder why. We wonder what part you may have played in our suffering. We lash out in anger. Sometimes we are the actual villains. Open our eyes that we may see clearly the sources of our pain and recognize the path that leads to our healing. May your revealed word awaken us to what we should value. Thank you for the lessons we already have learned. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.