Thursday, December 2, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times

Landscape ArchAfflictions come in all shapes and sizes. An affliction can be as small as an aggravating head cold or as large as a major illness, the loss of a job, public persecution, or rumors spread by your enemies. Or an affliction could be the sort of cosmic suffering Job experienced. Some affliction is self-induced, sometimes others bring affliction to us, sometimes affliction is just the result of living in this fallen world. One writer said that we don’t need to seek affliction because sooner or later, it will seek us. I’m sure that’s true. David writes in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Suffering, bad times, afflictions, and trials drive a true believer to his or her knees more than most other times. But when we face these tough times, how should we then pray? Psalm 119:65-72 reminds us that God is good even when times are bad.
The word “affliction” appears two times in this passage (v. 67, 71) but it’s not the theme of this section. The real focus is on the goodness of the Lord. The word “good” actually appears three times more than the word for “affliction,” a total of six times in eight verses. So both exegetically and experientially, both statistically and practically, affliction is over-powered by the Lord’s goodness.
This passage shows me at least 4 ways to pray to a good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
65  You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
It is always a great place to begin in prayer when we begin with the person and character of God. Notice this God-centered first line – the focus of this undeserving servant is clearly on the Lord: 4 references in 1 verse: 65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
Here he begins by acknowledging what we do not always see when in difficulty, how good God is and has been to us. God has treated us so well even though we are so undeserving. We can become so focused on how we think things should be different in our life that we lose the focus of God’s goodness and we lose the perspective of who God is and who we are, undeserving servants.
God has been good to us, not because we deserve it but because He acts “according to His word.” We need to quit looking down at the dirt around us and look up and see the glorious goodness of God.
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
66  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments.
67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
This part reminded me of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In that first chapter of his letter James wrote about facing various trials with joy. James says we can have joy in trials because through them God is working to bring us to maturity in Christ. So James says to pray for wisdom.
How do you pray when you are facing trials? Our typical prayer request is for God to remove the trial, but James says we should pray for wisdom to apply God’s Word in the trial. God is teaching us.
Affliction may not be our preferred method for God to teach us, but it is often the one we need. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said God whispers in our prosperity but shouts to us in out pain. Pain is often God’s megaphone to get our attention. He recognizes the fact that affliction taught him to keep God’s word. Before he was afflicted he went astray (v. 67).
How many of you have experienced that God uses affliction as an alarm clock to wake you up to your sinful condition when you stray?
In my next post I will give two more ways to pray in trials.

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