Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Afflictions of the Righteous

Strength in Weakness  - C.V. Lacroix
When you go through painful afflictions, the enemy may try to make you feel forsaken by God or cursed. But the Scriptures teach us that the Lord sometimes afflicts us, His servants, for our own good. So I want to encourage you today, and remind you that there is value in affliction. If you respond correctly to it, the Lord can use it in your life for good.

The Benefits of Affliction
There are many benefits of affliction in our lives. The Psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your Word.”  (Psa 119:67). He was going astray from the Lord until he was afflicted. His afflictions led him to repent and once again keep God's Word.

Again he says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.” (Psa 119:71). This indicates that the afflictions were a good thing, because they enabled him to learn the Lord's statutes.

He recognized that it was the Lord who afflicted him, when he said, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”  (Psa 119:75). He understood that the Lord is righteous in His judgments upon us, and it is in faithfulness that He chooses to afflict us.

As he was worn down in the process, he cried out to the Lord, “I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your Word.” (Psa 119:107). So affliction can cause us to return to the Lord, press into Him once more, and even lead to revival in our lives.

God Surely Afflicts Us
Just in case you still have any doubt whether the Lord actually afflicts us, I want to assure you that He does. The psalmist prayed, "Your wrath has rested upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah." (Psa 88:7). He felt the Lord's wrath like waves of affliction in his life.

And the Moses prayed, "Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil." (Psa 90:15). He acknowledged that the Lord had afflicted His people for many years, and prayed that the Lord would make them glad for a corresponding period of time.

There are many other verses in the Bible about affliction.

Afflicting Yourself with Fasting
It is possible to afflict yourself with fasting. “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, And my prayer kept returning to my bosom.” (Psa 35:13). In this verse, the same Hebrew word is translated “humbled” which is translated “afflicted” elsewhere in the Psalms.

Affliction Weakens a Person
Whether the affliction is through your own doing, such as fasting, or the Lord's doing, it has a weakening effect on your natural man. The psalmist said, “He has weakened my strength in the way; He has shortened my days.” (Psa 102:23). In this verse, the same Hebrew word is translated “weakened my strength” which is translated “afflicted” elsewhere in the Psalms. Therefore, affliction and weakness are nearly synonymous. In fact, affliction may even shorten a person's life span.

Sickness and Disease are One Type of Affliction
One type of affliction that can shorten a person's life span is sickness and disease. Here are some verses that say so.

"For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]" (Joh 5:4)

Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. (Act 5:16)

And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. (Act 28:8)

I also want to encourage you that if you are sick, the Lord still heals today just as He did during His earthly ministry. Please see The Power of God to Heal, Healing is in the Atonement, and When We Are Not Healed.

Affliction Can Cause Death
The psalmist indicated that the affliction he experienced were so terrible that he was overcome by them. In fact, he said that at one point he was about to die from his afflictions. He prayed, "O LORD, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on; I suffer Your terrors; I am overcome. Your burning anger has passed over me; Your terrors have destroyed me. They have surrounded me like water all day long; They have encompassed me altogether. You have removed lover and friend far from me; My acquaintances are in darkness."  (Psa 88:14-18)

Now let's consider some of the righteous people in the Bible who were afflicted.

Joseph was Afflicted
Affliction causes physical pain like Joseph experienced in his feet from shackles of iron.
“He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons;” (Psa 105:17-18)

David was Afflicted
David said, "I believed when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.'" (Psa 116:10)

A Song of Ascents. Remember, O LORD, on David's behalf, All his affliction;  (Psa 132:1)

Naomi was Afflicted
Naomi was afflicted by God. She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"  (Rth 1:20-21)

Job was Afflicted
Of course, Job was afflicted by God.  “He said, ‘Because He has loosed His bowstring and afflicted me, They have cast off the bridle before me.’” (Job 30:11)

Paul was Afflicted
We cannot fail to mention the apostle Paul and all of his afflictions that he suffered. He said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;” (2Co 4:8)

“For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.” (2Co 7:5)

He gave a rather lengthy list of his afflictions in his second epistle to the Corinthians:

"...imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2Co 11:23-27)

Yet through all of this he could still say it was worthwhile and he didn't complain. He told the Corinthians, “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;” (2Co 1:6)

He also told the Corinthian church about his thorn in the flesh, which many have speculated about, as to what it was. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Co 12:7-10)

Some people believe the thorn was a disease in his eyes, while others believe it was an arrogant man in his life that caused him a lot of grief. But regardless of what it was, we do know a number of things for certain about that affliction. It was given to him by God to keep him from exalting himself. It caused pain in his flesh like that of a thorn. It was actually a messenger of satan to torment him. The word "torment" means to rap with the fist, so this was painful either physically or emotionally or both. It made Paul weak. When Paul prayed to the Lord to take it away, the Lord would not do so. Instead He assured Paul that His grace was sufficient and that His power is perfected in weakness. So Paul was content with weaknesses. This was one of Paul's afflictions.

The Ancient Martyrs Were Afflicted
The apostle Paul wrote about the ancient, who were afflicted in many ways: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” (Heb 11:37)

Our Lord Jesus was Afflicted
Even our very Lord Himself was afflicted. The prophet Isaiah predicted His sufferings hundreds of years beforehand saying:

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” (Isa 53:4,7)

God is Afflicted
The people of Israel were afflicted for four hundred years in Egypt. And whenever His children are afflicted, He is afflicted. “For he said, ‘Surely they are my people, children that will not lie:’ so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isa 63:8-9)

As our great high priest, the Lord is touched by the feelings of our infirmities. In other words, He is able to empathize. As the Scripture says, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15, KJV).

Hope for the Afflicted
In the midst of our affliction, we need to have some hope of a brighter and better day. We find that hope all throughout the Scriptures. But here are a few verses:

“I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor.” (Psa 140:12).

“Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” (Pro 3:34)

“Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people And will have compassion on His afflicted.” (Isa 49:13)

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.”  (Isa 54:11, KJV).

"In that day," declares the LORD, "I will assemble the lame And gather the outcasts, Even those whom I have afflicted. "I will make the lame a remnant And the outcasts a strong nation, And the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on and forever.  (Mic 4:6-7)

“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2Th 1:6-8)

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1Pe 4:1-2)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1Pe 4:12-13)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4)

There is No Other Way to Enter the Kingdom of God
The apostle Paul taught that there is no other way to enter the kingdom of God than to go through hardships. “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,' they said." (Act 14:21-22, NIV)

The Pearl in the Oyster
Rare Treasure by C.V. Lacroix
The Lord has given us a wonderful illustration in nature, which we find in the way a pearl is formed inside an oyster. It all begins when an irritant gets stuck inside the oyster. Then the oyster tries to ease the discomfort by coating the speck with a substance known as calcium carbonate. That substance hardens around the speck, thus forming a pearl. The pearl is made of the same luminous substance that lines the inside of the oyster shell.

Likewise, the Lord allows afflictions in the life of the righteous, which are eventually formed into lovely pearls. These may not be seen until we enter glory, but the evidence of the pearl in our lives may be seen even now, as the Lord's own character is formed in us.

In light of this, it seems fitting that the twelve gates of the holy city, the New Jerusalem are twelve pearls; each one of the gates is a single pearl (Rev 21:21a).  When the righteous enter through those gates of splendor, rejoicing with exultation, perhaps it will remind them at that moment what a precious pearl the Lord has produced in their lives through the past afflictions they have endured on earth.

Putting it All Together
God surely afflicts us for our own good. It’s also possible to afflict yourself, such as with fasting from food and/or sleep. Affliction weakens a person and causes physical pain. Sickness and disease are one type of affliction. In fact, affliction can even cause death.

Affliction is common to all the righteous people on earth. Truly there is no other way to enter the kingdom of God. Joseph, David, Naomi, Job, Paul, and the Lord Himself were all afflicted. So were the ancient martyrs.

But perhaps the most amazing thing is that the Lord Himself is afflicted when His people are afflicted. He does not stand by coldly and watch us in our afflictions. Rather He too is afflicted to see us in that state. He hears our groans, He has compassion on us and cares deeply for us.

We can be encouraged to know that the Scriptures are full of hope for the afflicted. There is grace available to endure and a future reward for the afflicted. So if you are going through afflictions right now, I hope that this has helped you see the value of what you are going through, along with the purpose, the necessity, and the glory that awaits the righteous afflicted. Therefore, please take this opportunity to seek the Lord, to draw near to Him, to repent, to pursue righteousness, holiness, and the Kingdom of God, as well as to experience personal revival. If you do, it will all be worth it in the end.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted. Other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, where noted. The "Strength in Weakness" and "Rare Treasure" illustrations were done by my seventeen-year old daughter, C.V. Lacroix. You can find more of her lovely artwork at A Brush with Life.

Author's note If you know a believer going through afflictions, please share this article with them.  If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy The Fiery Sufferings of the Believer, The Refiner's Fire, Overcomers in This Life, Even if it doesn’t happen like we expect, God Chooses the Weak ThingsThe Power of God to Heal, Healing is in the Atonement, When We Are Not Healed, Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God, Pleasing the Lord, Holy Fire Baptism, The Burning Ones, The Three Elijahs, Only the Holy -- Three Shocking Testimonies, Holy Living in a Perverted World, Ask for the Ancient Paths, Holding Fast the Faithful Word, Having a Servant's Heart, The Difference Between a Disciple and a Believer, The Beauty of Brokenness, The End Time Saints, and Aim for Perfection. You can find more of my articles related to Seeking the Lord on the Home page of this blog. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." Now I'd like to ask a very important question.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org

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