Affliction and Learning

"Before I was afflicted I went astray..." Psalm 119:67

"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes." Ps. 119:71

"But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." Phil. 1:12


Sometimes we have to go backwards in order to better go forward. Life’s reverses—its setbacks—are often our biggest helps in advancing. We have to retreat in order to go ahead. We have to put it in reverse to go ahead afterwards.

We have a great problem in distinguishing between friend and foe, for some of our setbacks prove to be our greatest friends. Jacob was a better man for the Lord when his thigh was thrown out of joint and he learned to lean more heavily on the Lord.

It is the tests of faith that the Lord uses to strengthen us and to prove that His grace is sufficient and that His strength is made perfect in weakness. Our "enemies" turn out to be "friends" in disguise.

Job said, "When I am tried (tested), I shall come forth as gold."

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

Sometimes the Lord gives us some "cross" to bear to prevent greater problems that might beset us. The apostle Paul declares that the Lord graciously permitted Paul’s thorn in the flesh as a pride preventive: "Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelation, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Cor. 12:7).

Even the enmity of Satan could only serve as an aid to Paul in overcoming pride over his being caught up to the third heaven.

The Lord Jesus Himself expressly warned Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:31-32).

Peter had no conception of the danger he was in, trusting in his own strength, but the Lord was praying for him, as He prays for each of His own.

In John 17, He said of the twelve, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word" (John 17:20). Praise God, "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

"Who saved us from eternal loss? Who but God’s Son upon the Cross? What did He do? He died for you! Where is He now? Believe it thou! In heaven, interceding!"

"It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34).

Peter would fail. His courage failed, for he was trusting in his faithfulness, but not in the Lord’s faithfulness. There was no doubt that the Lord would bring him through this trial where he learned two things: (1) His utter weakness and (2) the Lord’s strength. Three times Peter denied the Lord, but the Lord’s faithfulness to him brought him through. He said, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee..." (Isa. 43:2).

He abides faithful. He cannot deny Himself, and every believer is a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. We, by God’s grace, are "bound up in one bundle of life with the Lord our God."

The Lord did not say to Peter, "If thou art converted" (He was not speaking of his soul’s salvation, for Peter was already a believer), but "when thou art converted." There was no question that the Lord was going to bring Peter safely through this experience. It was only a question of when and how.

"When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He can hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold,
He will hold me fast;
For my love is often cold,
He must hold me fast.
He will hold me fast,
for my Saviour loves me so,
He will hold me fast."

Many of our greatest gains have come through our losses. Many have come to Christ as a direct result of the loss of health or wealth, or family members or friends. Many can say with the Psalmist, "It was good for me that I was afflicted; before I was afflicted, I went astray."

The greatest setback that our Lord knew on earth was the desertion by His own apostles and the hatred of men whom He had come to save. His sufferings won our hearts to Him and created a desire in us to live for Him.

"That Man of Calvary
Has won my heart from me,
And died to set me free;
Blest Man of Calvary!"

In 2 Cor. 11, Paul recounts all that he had gladly suffered for Christ. He glories in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest on him.

The history of the Christian church shows that the Lord used the very weakest to effect His greatest triumphs. It is all too easy to lean upon an arm of flesh, but I can only do all things through Christ. Who can possibly estimate what past, present and future blessing has come to God’s people through sickness, sorrow, and imprisonments? The lives of Paul, Martin Luther and John Bunyan attest to this.

"Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will."

Time would fail to tell of the blindness of a Fanny Crosby and the physical infirmities of others that God has turned to good account.

It is very highly probable that we will, in a future day, thank the Lord more for the hindrances of life than the "good" things. "Blest is the sorrow and kind the storm that drives us nearer Him (Home)." We need to remember, when we’re "on the shelf," that God, like ourselves, uses things He puts on the shelf for His honor and glory.

Some glad day, in clearer light, we’ll bless the hand that guided, and bless the heart that planned, as we make the happy discovery that He had indeed worked all things together for good in our lives. He had used the circumstances to get rid of the chaff and to retain the wheat. The worthwhile replaced the worthless. We can ever trust Him to do in us, for us, and through us, "exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think."

Our times are in His hand, and we should heed His Word: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:5-6). "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."


In a factory building there are wheels and gearings,
There are cranks and pulleys,
Beltings tight or slack;
Some are thrusting forward,
Some are pulling back.

Some are smooth and silent,
Some are rough and noisy,
Pounding, rattling, clanking,
Moving with a jerk;
In a wild confusion, in a seeming chaos,
Lifting, pushing, driving,
But they do their work.

From the mightiest lever to the tiniest pinion,
All things move together for the purpose planned;
And behind the working is a Mind controlling,
And a force directing, and a guiding hand.

So all things are working for the Lord’s beloved;
Some things might be hurtful if alone they stood;
Some might seem to hinder;
Some might draw us backward;
But they work together,
And they work for good.

All the thwarted longings, all the stern denials,
All the contradictions, hard to understand.
And the force that holds them,
Speeds them and retards them,
Stops and starts and guides them,
In our Father’s hand.

... Annie Johnson Flint