“Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.” Psalm 119:67
The MAIN CONCEPT from this verse is that the Lord gives affliction as a gift, because oftentimes the Lord’s best training takes place in the furnace of affliction (consider also Hebrews 12:5-11).
In Psalm 119:67, we will see that there are at least two messages in this one verse. There is a primary teaching and there is a secondary teaching. We will first consider the primary teaching of this verse, but we will spend the most time on the secondary teaching. So first, the primary teaching.
The first thing that this verse clearly teaches us is that sin results in affliction. The author of this psalm went astray and that resulted in affliction. Now although painful, this sin-produced affliction is actually a gift of God’s grace, because when an unsaved person is in the midst of affliction as a result of their sin, they are often open to hearing of the Lord and of His healing. In fact, in our study verse, it is certainly implied that by keeping God’s word, the Lord’s affliction is removed.
Sin results in affliction, but when a sinner turns to the Lord and calls on His name (Romans 10:13) and keeps His word, “the affliction” of the person’s lostness and the affliction of their separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) is taken away. “But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil [“affliction”] are taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). So this is the primary teaching of the verse. Consider this as similar to Romans 2:4, where affliction leads you to repentance.
There is here, however, also a powerful secondary teaching that I see in this verse. For the same Lord who is sovereign over the salvation of the ungodly is also sovereign over the affliction He allows into the lives of those whom He has already saved. In other words, affliction is allowed into the life of the believer for the purpose of greater sanctification. The sovereign Lord gives affliction as a gift to those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), for it is in the furnace of affliction that much spiritual dross is burned away. Here I am not speaking necessarily about remaining, indwelling sin in the life of the believer, although, of course, this would certainly be included, but I am speaking instead about besetting habits of mind or patterns of behavior or negative ways of thinking which rob a man or a woman of joy and which render them of decreased usefulness to the Lord and to His people.
As an example, I have been wrestling with discouragement bordering on depression for several years. I frequently wake up a little depressed and then my mind goes to places that further discourage me, dredging up fear and anxiety. On those days I will spend most of my morning time with the Lord in prayer about myself, asking the Lord to drag me up from the pit of destruction (Psalm 40:2),” rather than praying for others or praying big Kingdom prayers. Those mornings are very difficult and this affliction brings me almost to the point of despair.
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray . . .”
This discouragement and fear feels like affliction, but I realize that I have landed in that emotional place because I have gone astray. How have I gone astray? I have dwelt in the land of discouragement. I have not obeyed the Scriptures in taking every thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). I have gone astray in believing the devil’s lies and in comparing myself with others, in not being content and in not rejoicing always. By going astray in my unsanctified and faithless thoughts, I have wandered into the affliction of ongoing depression and anxiety, and now the pain and misery of that affliction have acted as a goad to seek the Lord for relief.
So the Lord brings or allows the affliction so that the affliction will make me desperate for peace. In my case, the affliction of persistent discouragement drove me to discover how to discipline my mind and exercise self-control over my thoughts. I learned where to focus my attention: namely, on whatever is true and honorable and right and pure and lovely (Phil. 4:8). My affliction trained me not merely to memorize and meditate on Scripture, but also to fix my mind on the truth until I firmly believed what it says and to hold the truth of Scripture in my mind so that its power allowed me to stand firm.
My point, then, is that when the Lord brings affliction into the life of His child, He does so as a gracious gift, knowing that the deep places of sanctification are only reached through the flames of affliction. When affliction comes into your life, embrace the testing, knowing that it is from your loving Lord, and seek the Lord diligently to discover His purpose in it.
SDG rmb 2/16/2017