In February 2012, I stood to lead prayer meeting at the church I had been pastoring for 12 years in Louisiana, and the longer I stood the sicker I became. I had to leave during prayer and have one of our associates take over. That was the first evidence that something was wrong with me physically, and it would just grow worse from there. We cut back my preaching to Sunday morning only, and I went to the doctor to try to discover what the problem was. But soon I could no longer preach on Sunday morning without hanging on to the pulpit, and barely being able to make it through the service. I was granted a medical leave until they could come up with a diagnosis. After some months of testing, it was discovered that I had a little-known but increasingly popular diagnosis called POTS: “Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.” With POTS, one’s heart rate rises whenever they stand, as if they were running in place. It causes severe fatigue, sleeplessness, nausea, migraine headaches, and more. There is no known “cure” for it; they merely treat symptoms with whatever medication works best on the individual. But after months of different medications and exercises, it became increasingly evident that I was not going to become well soon. With several vacant staff positions at our church, I felt like the church needed to call a healthy pastor, and that I should resign. I was losing my ministry, my career, my job. As a result we had to sell our home, my wife’s dream house, along with about 2/3 of our possessions. I was so sick I couldn’t even stand to pack our belongings, and after I had pastored for 27 years I would be out of the ministry. We moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where we had a small apartment, to convalesce without much human hope for a healthy future.
During that time, God’s word has been an anchor for my soul. I have heard it said that there is a Psalm in the Bible for every conceivable human emotion; one which will speak to you in whatever it is you are going through. I have always believed that, and I can certainly say that it is true for my own life, and for what our family has gone through over the past couple of years.
Some of the verses which have ministered to me the most over this time have been from the chapter you have been studying as a church, Psalm 119:65-72. As it turned out, after we moved to Norman, by God’s grace I got completely well … which is perhaps another story. But the lessons we learned, and what God did in our lives in and through this time, are invaluable. Let’s read these verses together and then talk about what they teach us about “The Goodness of God in the Midst of Affliction” …
This is the “Teth” section of Psalm 119, which means that in Hebrew, each of the 8 verses in this section begin with the letter “Teth” (basically their letter “T”) as Psalm 119 is an acrostic.
But more than that, almost every verse in this section begins, not only with the same letter in Hebrew, but with the same Hebrew word: “Tob”, which means “good.”
:65 begins with the word “GOOD (Tob) You have dealt with Your servant …”
:66 “GOOD discernment teach me …”
:68 “GOOD You (are) and do …”
:71 “GOOD for me that I was afflicted …”
:72 is literally, “GOOD to me the Law of Your mouth …”
So we have this incredible emphasis on the word “GOOD” in theses verses:
— First, when a word opens a sentence in Hebrew, that is the word that is being emphasized. FIVE out of the 8 times in this section, the emphasis is on the word “good.”
— But secondly, when Hebrews wanted to emphasize something, they use repetition.
If the Bible says something ONE time it is true. When the Hebrews wanted to especially emphasize something they would repeat it, and say it twice. If they want to express that something is ultimate, they would say it three times, like “Holy, holy, holy” of Isaiah 6, means that God is ultimately holy. How strong a statement is this, then, here in Psalm 119, where FIVE times it opens the verses with those words: GOOD, GOOD, GOOD, GOOD, GOOD!! This is a strikingly strong emphasis on GOODNESS in times of affliction: both the goodness of God, and the goodness that is coming out of the difficulties which happen to us.
I. First of all, the Bible teaches us that God is Good, even in our most trying hours. (“You Are Good”)
We see this specifically spelled out in :68, where it says: “You are good and do good.” Again, in Hebrew, that is literally, “GOOD You are and do.” Again, in Hebrew, when a word comes first in a verse, that word is being emphasized. So the emphasis is on that first word, “good.” It is saying, “GOOD” is God. It is emphasizing His goodness.
This is basic theology; Theology 101. Psalm 100:5 says, “for the Lord is good.” This is a basic truth about God which we need to make sure that we don’t take for granted, and that we remember, especially in our times of trial. God is GOOD.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that we shouldn’t take this for granted, because in an alternate universe, there did not necessarily have to be a “good” God. He could have been a god who was all-powerful, omniscient, etc. — but who was not GOOD! The ancient Greeks have passed down to us their stories about the gods, as inconsistent, undependable, powerful deities who basically got pleasure out of tormenting mankind with various difficulties.
Sometimes when we come into times of affliction, it is easy for us to think of God that way — as if He were just “toying” with us from heaven. But the Bible says NO! God is not only all-powerful and all-knowing, and everywhere, part of His basic essential nature is also that He is GOOD!
But this is the heart of the warfare that is going on in our lives spiritually — especially in times of difficulty. Our pastor, Ronnie Rogers of Trinity Baptist Norman, is preaching a series on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6. And he has been teaching us that the heart of spiritual warfare is that Satan and his minions are trying to get us to believe something false about ourselves — and especially about God. They want us to doubt God’s goodness. They want us to think: “God is punishing me”, or “God is being mean to me”, or “God is not good at all”, etc. That is why we must take up the shield of faith, to believe what God has said, and the sword of the Spirit, which teaches us the truth, and fight the spiritual battle for truth, and in the midst of our affliction, say, “NO — I am not going to believe those lies; I KNOW from God’s word that He is good!” When we battle those false ideas about God, we are doing spiritual warfare.
That is why right here in the middle of this Teth section of Psalm 119 we find this basic truth, Theology 101 about God: “You are good and do good.” No matter what it seems like in our trial, we are to hold to our faith in the ultimate goodness of God.
This has been part of my test, and our family’s test for the past two years: to believe that despite what has happened to us, God is good and does good. I’ll be honest: there have been times over the past couple of years when we had family discussions, and we felt like God was being “mean” to us, when we felt almost like God was “toying” with us from heaven — raising our hopes, then seeing them dashed on the rocks. But that is the spiritual battle, to hold this truth that God is good, and does good. So Psalm 119:68 has basically become our “family memory verse”: “You are good and do good.” We have said that over and over, and just cling to that basic truth.
There are many of us who need to do that same thing. It is easy to say, when something good has happened to us: “God is good” — when we get the job they we were applying for, or win the game, or the house didn’t burn down, or the medical test came back negative. And saying “God is good!” is perfectly true and is a right thing to say. God IS good in those times.
But we also need to remember that God is still good we DON’T win the game. God is still good when we DON’t get the job. God is still good when our house DOES burn down, and the test comes back with a bad result — God is STILL good in those times! “God is good all the time.” He is good, and does good. This is part of the basic theology these verses are trying to teach us: the goodness of God in times of affliction — to stand in our most desperate hour and say, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him” — and stand on this truth: “God is good and does good!”
II. God’s Good Purpose For Our Trials (“You Do Good”)
One of the few verses in this section that does NOT begin with the Hebrew word “tob” or “good”, is :67, and although it does not directly contain the word “good”, it speaks of the good purpose of God even in our trials: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word.” He says, even in this affliction which I have had, God has been good, and has done good. He has worked some good purposes in my life. God used the affliction to correct some areas of his life. This highlights one of the scriptural purposes for which God allows trials to come into our lives: to cleanse us from sin.
Now, we need to tread carefully here: there is NOT always a direct “cause and effect” relationship between one’s sin and a difficulty. Jesus in John 9; this was the whole point of the Book of Job – Job’s friends had bought into that theology. Unfortunately, many Christians today have not gotten past it either. Be careful in assigning blame for one’s troubles because of their sin. It may point back to YOU some day!
But understanding that there is not always a direct cause and effect relationship between sin and earthly difficulties, the scriptural truth is that God often DOES allow hardships into our lives through His shield, for the purpose of purifying us from sin — just as this Psalm indicates in :67. Hebrews 12 also teaches us that God does discipline each of us who are His children when we do sin.
This is why we should always ask ourselves, when we come into a trial, is there a sin I need to confess, or a habit I need to get out of my life? And the truth is, even if that was not the primary purpose for which God allowed you to come into that trial, it is ALWAYS beneficial to confess sin and purify your life — even if it wasn’t the main purpose. I don’t believe that I got POTS because of some sin in my life — I could be wrong, but I don’t think I did. But that still did not keep me from confessing every known sin in my life, and keeping myself pure from sin, because I didn’t want anything to keep me from the Lord during this difficult time. Even though it may not have been the primary purpose of my trial, it is still beneficial to confess sin, and to be as pure as you can be in your relationship with God. So I’d encourage you: whenever you come into a trial, be certain to confess sin, and make yourself right with God in every possible area. It may or may not be the main purpose of the trial — if it IS, and you confess your sin, then the trial may be short-lived — God may bring you right back out of it! But even if it’s not, you will always benefit by being more pure before the Lord.
While going through this episode, and wondering what God might be about, I identified at least 5 scriptural reasons why God allows trials to come through His “shield of protection” and touch our lives:
— to test the genuineness of our faith James 1
— to help us identify with others as we minister II Cor. 1
— to conform us to the image of Christ Rom. 8:28-29
— to help us to know Him better.
— and what Psalm 119 speaks of here: to cleanse us from sin.
So God uses our afflictions to purify us, and work all of those other purposes in our lives as well. As a result, we can know that even in our afflictions, God IS good, and DOES good. And the end result of our afflictions — IF we are paying attention spiritually — will be that you can say with the Psalmist in :71, “It was good for me that I was afflicted …” and if we had NOT gone through those trials, we would not have been blessed in a multitude of ways.
I had a friend share the following story with me a couple of years ago:
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.
The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
God shows us lessons in His creation which apply to us in our lives. No one wants affliction when it comes upon us. We want our life to be “smooth and easy” — but that is not God’s purpose for us. His purpose is to make us like Christ — to conform us to His word. And He knows the only way that will happen is through the pressure of trials and difficulties. He knows it will be much for us if He allows us to be afflicted, than it would have been had He not allowed those things to come into our lives. Our part is to believe that, by faith, even when it is very difficult; to hold onto those truths that He is good, and does good — even in OUR situation:
I can say that with the Psalmist here: it has been good for me that I was afflicted:
— it has been good for my understanding of God’s word that I was afflicted, just like :71 says. Psalm 119 is an acrostic, but it also has a special focus, as you know: all through it, each section expounds some truth about the word of God. In virtually verse there is some reference to God’s word, whether it calls it “precepts”, “testimony”, “Law”, “word”, etc. And it is so here in :65-72 …
This reminds us that one of the things God wants to do in our afflictions is to give us a greater appreciation for His word. And He has done that for me. It has been my rock, my anchor in this time. I have held on to Psalm 3:3, and Psalm 119:68, and :71, etc. There are whole sections of the Psalms that I never identified with before, which have come alive and become real to me; sections and lessons and truths and verses I will never forget because God has spoken to me through them during this time. So I can say with :71 that “It has been good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.”
— it has been good for me individually in my walk with the Lord. I always believed that my walk with God was more than just a “job”, but now I got the chance to prove it. I still believed these things even when I wasn’t getting a paycheck for it! It has been an affirming opportunity for my faith. If Satan had asked God about me like he did Job, “Does Shawn serve you for nothing?”, well I have had the opportunity to have my faith on trial, and I rejoice in that. I am certainly far from perfect, but my faith in God is real and now I have had the opportunity to demonstrate it.
— it has been good for others, as many have told me that they have seen how I have responded in this affliction and it has encouraged them in their walk with God.
— it has been good for my marriage, as it has tested Cheryl & I and drawn us closer as we have walked through this together, and questioned and prayed and sought God together in His word. I am thankful for that, because I know that sometimes hardship can cause shipwreck for marriages, but I can honestly say that we are closer in our marriage than ever before: “It was good for our marriage that I was afflicted …”.
— it has been good for my family. It is not just me who has gone through this; we ALL have. Our son Michael has been right in the middle of it. At one point, I was laid out sick on the couch, unable to get up at all, and Cheryl had gone out to try to work, and had sprained her ankle, so neither of us could get up. Blessedly, Michael is homeschooled, so we could call him from the other room if we needed help. One day, after we’d called him in for about the third time, Cheryl said, “Poor Michael; he must feel like he’s got a new job in a nursing home!”
So it has been a trial for all us — but also “good” for all us, just as this scripture indicates. It has been good for our children to see their father’s faith tested. I trust that they have been able to see that this is not just a “job” to me, but that my faith in genuine. I think it has been affirming to them. I have told Cheryl, I wonder how much of this is to benefit our son Michael, who has previously expressed a call to minister (one time when he was very young he told someone: “I want to be a preacher like Dad, only better”!) What lessons might God be building into his life in this time? I believe this has been good for the rest of our family too. We’ve got kids in seminary whom we have not been able to help financially, and they have seen God provide for them instead. It has been good for their walk of faith with the Lord. It has been good for our family that I have been afflicted.
— it will be good for my ministry that I have been afflicted. A wise person told a pastor friend of mine who almost lost his wife to illness: “You will never minister to people the same again because of what you’ve been through.” I am sure that same thing is true of me too. Now I’VE been the one on the sick bed; now I’VE been the one who lost his job; now I’VE been the one who had to sell his home and most of his possessions; now I’VE been the one in the need of prayer — I will never minister the same again after this. It has already opened such doors; I’ve gotten phone calls and e-mails and contacts from people all over the country with POTS, with whom I’ve had some great opportunities for ministry. It has been good for my ministry that I was afflicted.
— it has been good for my priorities: my glory is not house, job, career, “ministry” — but the Lord Himself. It has been a reminder that all these things can be taken away, and only HE can be our unshakable glory.
I can surely say with the Psalmist: “It was good for me that I was afflicted”:
— There are lessons I would never have learned had I not suffered.
— There are studies I would never have made had I not suffered.
— There are scriptures that would have never come alive had I not suffered.
— There are prayers I would never have prayed had I not suffered.
— There is confession that would never have been made, had I not suffered.
— There are sermons I would never have preached had I not suffered.
— There are ministries I would never have had, had I not suffered
— There are people who would never have been blessed, had I not suffered.
— There is a maturity that would never have come had I not suffered.
— There is praise that would have never been given to God, had I not suffered.
Though would never have chosen for all this to happen, I can say with all conviction that “It has been good for me that I was afflicted.”
I was standing in the foyer of our little condo just the other day, thinking back on the events of the past two years. I thought of the time when I was at the lowest of the low: in between medications, with a huge migraine headache that left me unable to read or watch or even listen to anything without great pain. And so I lay in bed in the dark, with a towel over my face to keep out the light, and just looked up to heaven, and said, “God, I am just laying here like a vegetable; unable to do anything. Why are You allowing this?” And I thought over the path that God has brought me these past 2 years, and all He has done. And as I did, I suddenly found that the words of this Psalm came out of my mouth: “It was good for me that I was afflicted …”. And I really meant it. I could see much of what God had done, and how He was changing and is changing my life, and it has been good.
This is what Psalm 119:65-72 is saying. When all is said and done, and we see all of God’s purposes in eternity, each one of us will be able to say with :65, “You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.” No matter what we have been through, when we come to eternity, there is not a one of us who will be able to say, “God did not treat me fairly. He did not do well by me.” There is not one of us who will not have more than we deserve, and every single one of us will be able to say: “You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord”! Even in our most difficult hours of adversity, the words of this Psalm are true: “You are good, and do good.”