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 more nauseated I became. I had to leave during prayer and have my associate pastor take over. That was the first evidence that something was wrong with me physically, and it would just get worse from there. We cut back on my preaching to Sunday morning only, and I went to the doctor to try to find out what the problem was. But soon I could no longer preach on Sunday mornings, and the church put me on medical leave until the doctors could come up with a diagnosis and hopefully treatment. After some months of testing, they discovered that I had a little-known illness called dysautonomia or 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 just try to treat symptoms with whatever medication works best on the individual. But after months of trying different medications, it became increasingly evident that I was not going to get well soon. With several vacant staff positions at our church, I felt like they needed a healthy pastor, and that I should resign. I was losing my job, my career, and my ministry. 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, OK, where we had a small apartment, to convalesce without any human hope for a healthy future. As many of you know, after two years in Norman, God did raise me up, and called me last March here to serve as pastor at Pleasant Ridge. We are grateful to God for His blessing in restoring my health, and placing me back in ministry.
But God’s goodness is not merely in that He brought me back. At my lowest moments during my illness God was always good. 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 is true for what our family went through over the past couple of years.
I shared once before how Psalm 3:3 was an anchor for my soul during that time. Another set of verses that ministered to me was from Psalm 119:65-72. The lessons we learned we from these verses, and what God did in our lives in and through this time, are invaluable to us. And I pray that God will use them to minister to some of you who have been, or are now, in a time of difficulty. Let’s look at what these verses teach us about “The Goodness of God in the Midst of Affliction” …
Now, by way of introduction, you may know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of scripture in the Bible. And there is something about it that you need to know, in order to understand and interpret it correctly. Psalm 119 is an “acrostic” Psalm, which typically means that each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. But in Psalm 119, each set of EIGHT verses begins with the same Hebrew letter. So if you turn to the beginning of the Psalm, you may see the word “Aleph” before the first verse. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the first 8 verses of Psalm 119 all begin with that letter Aleph. Then the next 8 verses (:9-16) begin with the 2nd Hebrew letter, “Beth”, and so on throughout the whole Psalm. There are 22 sections of 8 verses, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The section we are looking at this morning is the “Teth” section, which means that in Hebrew, each of the 8 verses in this section begin with the letter “teth” (basically their letter “T”).
But of even more interest than that, is that almost every verse in this section begins, not only with the same letter in Hebrew, but most of these verses begin with the same Hebrew word: “Tob”, which means “good.”
:65 in English reads: “You have dealt well with Your servant” — but in Hebrew the verse begins with the word “Good” — (Tob) — “GOOD You have dealt with Your servant …”
:66 “GOOD discernment teach me …”
:68 in Hebrew is literally: “GOOD You (are) and do …”
:71 is literally “GOOD for me that I was afflicted …”
:72 reads: “GOOD to me the Law of Your mouth …”
So we have this incredible emphasis on the word “GOOD” in these verses:
— GOOD You have dealt with Your servant
— GOOD discernment teach me
— GOOD You are and do
— GOOD for me that I was afflicted
— GOOD to me the Law of Your mouth
That word “GOOD” is emphasized a couple of ways here:
— First, when a word opens a sentence in Hebrew, it means that word is being emphasized. So it’s significant that FIVE out of the 8 times in this section, the word “good” opens the sentence. It is really emphasizing “GOOD.”
— But secondly, when Hebrews wanted to emphasize something, they use repetition.
If the Bible says something ONE time it is true. When Hebrews want to especially emphasize something they will repeat it, and say it twice. If they want to say something is ultimate, they will 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. Let’s explore what these scriptures teach us about this for a few minutes:
I. First of all, the Bible teaches us that God IS Good, even in our most trying hours. (“You Are Good”)
The writer of this Psalm (there is some good evidence that it is David, but it does not specifically say so) was in a time of difficulty. We see that in these verses. In :67 he talks about “before I was afflicted I went astray …” so we know that he came into some affliction. In :69 he says “the arrogant have forged a lie against me” — so there were people who were slandering him. Then in :71 he says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted”, again referring to the time of affliction he had been through. So in this “Teth” section, the Psalmist was writing about a time of adversity. But in that time of adversity, he says that God is 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.” Now remember that in Hebrew, when a word comes first in a verse, that word is being emphasized. So when this verse begins “GOOD You are and do” it is emphasizing the goodness of God — even in times of affliction.
This is just basic Theology 101: God is good. We teach that to our little ones in Sunday School. 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 always remember, especially in our times of trial. God is GOOD.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that we shouldn’t take this goodness of God 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, omnipresent, 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 they’d put in their way.
And 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, all-knowing, and all-present, part of His basic essential nature is also that He is also ALL GOOD!
Believing this can be a real battle in our lives spiritually — especially when we are in times of difficulty. While we were living in Norman, our pastor there, Ronnie Rogers of Trinity Baptist, preached a great series on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6. And he taught us that the heart of spiritual warfare is that Satan and his demons want 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 Ephesians 6 says that spiritual warfare involves taking up the shield of faith, to believe what God has said, and taking up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, which teaches us the truth, against the lies the devil wants us to believe. In the midst of our affliction, we will say, “NO — I am not going to believe those lies about God; I KNOW from God’s word that He is good!” Spiritual warfare is not so much when you have a flat tire on the way to church, or when the sound system messes up, as much as it is the battle over whether you are going to believe false things about yourself and God.
That is why right here in the middle of this Teth section of Psalm 119 we find this basic truth about God: “You are good and do good.” Because no matter what it seems like in our trial, it is vital for us to hold on to our faith in the ultimate goodness of God.
This was part of my test, and our family’s test, during those couple of years while we were in that trial: to believe that despite everything that happened to us, God was good and does good. I’ll be honest: there were times in those 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 during that time Psalm 119:68 basically became our “family memory verse”: “You are good and do good.” I don’t know how many times we said that during our trial, just over and over, no matter what happened: “God is good and does good.” By His grace we just hung on by faith to that basic truth.
I believe there may be some of us here today who need to do that same thing. You need to do spiritual warfare and take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and say with the word of God that “God is good” — even in your difficulty. I know that’s not always easy to do.
People often use that expression, “God is good” — and that 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 when we win the game, or the house didn’t burn down, or the medical test came back negative, “God is good!” And listen: saying “God is good!” is perfectly true and is a right thing to say then. 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.
God is still good when 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, and the most important response we can have in our times of affliction: to cry out in our most desperate hour like Job did, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him” — and by His grace through faith to just stand on this truth: “God is Good!”
II. God DOES Good In Our Afflictions (“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 He has done some good things as a result. He has worked some good purposes in his life. God used it 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. Remember Jesus said John 9 it was neither this man’s sin nor his parents’ that caused him to be born blind. Their sin didn’t cause the affliction. This is one of the major points of the Book of Job: Job’s friends had bought into that theology that Job must have sinned and brought that all upon himself. Unfortunately, many Christians today still have that mindset — we see someone who has something bad happen to them, and we wonder what they did to cause it. Listen: you always need to be careful in assigning blame for someone’s troubles because of their sin. You may wish that others will not do that 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.
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, it is ALWAYS beneficial to confess sin and purify your life — even if it wasn’t God’s main purpose for allowing it.
For example, I don’t believe that I got sick over 3 years ago because of some great 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 trying to keep myself pure from sin, because I didn’t want anything to keep me from the Lord during that difficult time. Even though it may not have been the primary purpose of my trial, it is still always 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 whatever sin you have, 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 over quickly! But even if it’s not, you will always benefit by being more holy before the Lord.
While I was going through my affliction, and wondering what God might be about, I identified at least 6 scriptural reasons why God allows trials to come through His “shield of protection” and touch our lives. We could do a whole sermon series just on this, but let me give you these 6 just briefly this morning:
1) They test the genuineness of our faith. The basic truth of the gospel is that this good God made us to know Him and to have joy and pleasure in His presence forever. But we separated ourselves from God by our sin. That is why God sent Jesus, His Son, to die on the cross and pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sins and trust Him as our Savior, we could be saved. But when a person hears this message, and they publicly confess Jesus as their Savior, and are baptized, how do we know if their faith is genuine or not? One of the best tests of our faith happens during times of affliction. Jesus said in Matthew 13 that “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word” many “fall away.” So a time of difficulty that comes into our life may be to test the reality of our faith. If we hold onto our faith during our trials, it is one of the best tests that it is genuine. Now, that doesn’t mean that you save yourself by your faith. Our faith is in Jesus and what He has done. And there are times in our trials when we are weak, and faithless, and all we have is just something inside us that still looks to Jesus and asks Him to help us through. If you have that, that’s enough. But it’s in times of affliction when your faith gets tested, and that is one of God’s most important purposes for letting those afflictions come into your life.
2) Related to that, afflictions help us realize how weak we are, and how much we need the Lord. The Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 12:9 that he had this certain affliction that he called “a thorn in the flesh”, and he called out to God because of it, and he asked Him to take it away. But God said that He had a purpose for that affliction: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God used that affliction to keep him humble and dependent on God. And I believe God often does the same thing with us. He allows difficulties into our lives to remind us how much we need Him, and to keep us constantly praying and depending upon Him.
3) They help us identify with others as we minister. II Corinthians 1:4 says that we comfort others with the comfort which we ourselves have received from God. I have a good minister friend who almost lost his wife to illness a couple of years ago, and while they were going through this, a wise older minister told him: “You’ll never minister the same after this.” Our trials help us to empathize with, and minister effectively to others.
4) They conform us to the image of Christ. Romans 8:28 says that “God causes all things to work together for good …” — and :29 clarifies that even more, saying that God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son. So God uses all things, including our difficulties, to make us more like Jesus.
5) They help us to know Him better. Our whole purpose of being created is to know God, and worship Him forever. Jesus said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee.” I know that during my affliction, I had a sweet fellowship with God, and many others have that same kind of testimony. God uses our trials to draw us closer to Him.
6) And they help cleanse us from sin, as we saw that Psalm 119:67 speaks specifically about here.
God uses our afflictions to purify us, and work all of those other purposes in our lives as well. So 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, and 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 …. 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 spiritual 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. If someone tells you that, they are a false teacher. God’s purpose is NOT that your life is pleasant and easy — 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 better 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 stand here today and testify with the Psalmist that it has been good for me that I was afflicted:
— it was good for my understanding of God’s word that I was afflicted. There are whole sections of the Psalms that I never identified with before, which came alive and became real to me; lessons and truths I will never forget because God spoke to me through them during that 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 was a good test of the genuineness of my faith that I got sick. I always believed that my walk with God wasn’t just a “job”, but when I got sick, I had the chance to prove it. I still believed what I said I believed, even when I wasn’t getting a paycheck for it! If Satan had asked God about me like he did Job, “Does Shawn serve you for nothing?”, well I had the opportunity for my faith to be on trial, and I rejoice that I could demonstrate that my faith was real in this trial.
— it has been good for others that I was afflicted, as I had many people me that that they were encouraged by how God worked in our lives, provided for us, and raised us back up through this trial, and it has encouraged them in their walk with the Lord.
— it has been good for my marriage that I was afflicted. Difficulties always test relationships, and my sickness tested Cheryl & I and drew us closer together as we 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 causes shipwreck for marriages, but I can honestly say that: “It was good for our marriage that I was afflicted …”.
— it has also been good for my family. It was not just me who has gone through this; our whole family did. Our son Michael was 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, hoping to keep our house, and she sprained her ankle, so neither of us could get up. Thankfully, Michael was 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 looked over at me and said, “Poor Michael; he must feel like he’s got a new job in a nursing home!”
So this was a trial for our whole family — but it was also “good” for all us, just as Psalm 119 indicates. It was good for our children to see their father’s faith tested. Who knows what lessons God has built into them — and especially into Michael, who was in “the eye of the storm” with us through this. And we’ve emerged as a family who loves each other and truly enjoys each other. I think I can say it has been good for our family that I was afflicted.
— And I believe it is good for my ministry that I was afflicted. I’m sure that what that wise pastor told my friend is true for me: I’ll never minister the same as a result of this:
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. I know what people are going through. It has been good for my ministry that I was afflicted.
— it has been good for my priorities: it helped remind me that my glory can’t be in my house, my job, my career, my “ministry” — but only in the Lord Himself. That illness showed me that all these things can be taken away, and only HE can be our glory, and the center of our life.
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 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 is compassion I would never have shown, 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 I would never have chosen to experience this illness and all that attended it, I can say with all conviction that “It has been good for me that I was afflicted.”
One day last year, I was standing in the foyer of our little condo in Norman, Oklahoma, looking out the front door, and just thinking back on the events of the past couple of years in my life. 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 I just looked up to heaven, and said, “God, I am just laying here like a vegetable; I can’t do anything. Why are You allowing this?” At the time I did not understand it.
But standing there at the condo that day, I thought about the journey that God had brought me through those past couple of years, and all He has done. And as I did, I suddenly found the words of this Psalm coming out of my mouth, almost subconsciously: “It was good for me that I was afflicted …”. And I really meant it. I could see so much of what God had done, and how He had changed, and was continuing to change my life, and it was good.
This is what Psalm 119 is saying. When all is said and done in this lifetime, and we see all of God’s purposes revealed in eternity, every 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, not ONE of us will ever say, “God did not treat me fairly.” There is not one of us who will not have more than we deserve, and every single one of us who knows Him will be able to say: “You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord”! The words of this Psalm are true, even in the midst of our worst adversity: “You are good, and do good.”
— you may be in a place right now like we were a couple of years ago, in the midst of affliction, and there is a spiritual battle raging about you, to get you to think that God is not good. Take up the shield of faith. Believe the word of God. Memorize this verse like we did, and say it over & over; “You are good and do good.”
— some of us need to spend time asking God to show you what He is trying to do through your affliction. Is He trying to turn you back away from a sin or sins in your life? Is He making you more sensitive to others? Which of the purposes we have talked about is working in you through this?
— maybe you do not really know Jesus as your Savior, and God is using what you are going through to draw you to Himself ….
— maybe you need to just come forward and pray for yourself, or someone on your heart, who is in a time of affliction … God is good; He does good; He will help you as you call on Him …