Saturday, January 22, 2011

Purposeful Pain

Are you discouraged and weighed down?
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
Psalm 102:4a
Feeling a decrease or loss of appetite?
I forget to eat my bread.
Psalm 102:4b
Struggling to sleep at night?
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake;
Psalm 102:6-7a
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
Psalm 102:7b
Emotionally overwhelmed?
For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink
Psalm 102:9
If so, you're not alone. These things are not rare to the human experience. In fact, quite the opposite. These things are quite common for human beings living in a fallen world. I've experienced it. Thousands of saints throughout the ages have experienced it. The psalmist in Psalm 102--among many other places--experienced it. The inscription at the beginning of this psalm says "A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD."

Why do we have these experiences of pain and affliction as followers of Jesus? I don't claim to know all of God's good and wise reasons for leading His people into the valley of the shadow of death, but I see at least two in this psalm:

1) To drive us to prayer (or deeper in prayer). "[God] regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer" (Psalm 102:17). We simply will not pray unless we are desperate for God. The more desperate we are, the more we will seek God's presence in prayer.

2) To awaken the praise of a people yet to be created. "Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD." (Psalm 102:18-22). This is astonishing. And deeply sobering. In God's infinite wisdom, He uses the pains of His children to awaken the praise of their children. How often have you read of saints in previous generations who persevered through affliction and found your own heart soaring in praise to God? That's one of the reasons that Hebrews 11 is in your Bible! Mark this: God ordains that you experience pain and affliction so that through the testimony of your crying out to Jesus (desperate prayer!) and treasuring Him your children that have not yet been born and their children will come to treasure Jesus as well. He gives you a pain that is temporary in order to rescue your children and theirs from one that is eternal.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.
Psalm 102:28
Your pain couldn't be more purposeful. I plead with you: don't waste it.

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