Theme: A Second Prayer
From this psalm we learn how to approach God for mercy, knowing that he hears us and will answer our prayers to his glory.
Scripture: Psalm 38:1-22
Yesterday we saw that in the case of Job, his suffering was not because he had sinned, but, rather, it was a demonstration before Satan that a human being will love God for who he is and not just for what the person can receive from him.
Another purpose of suffering is explained in the case of the man who had been blind from birth, recorded in John 9. The disciples of Jesus wanted to make an easy link between sin and suffering, asking, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (v. 2)? But Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, … but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). In other words, God had chosen to glorify himself through the man’s suffering, in this case by having Jesus heal his blindness.
But neither of these is an explanation of David’s suffering. David was suffering for sin, and as long as we are sinners you and I have to recognize this as a possibility. I suggest we ask the following when we undergo some great calamity or sickness:
1. “Have I sinned or gotten off the track of obedience to what I know I should be doing, and is this setback God’s way of getting me back on track and into fellowship with him?” I do not think we need to be too introspective in the way we ask this question, certainly not morbid in digging up a catalogue of past failures which we can then exaggerate in our confessions. If God is using sickness to stop us short and bring us back to himself, he will make clear that this is what he is doing. Otherwise it would be a futile exercise. If God is doing this with you, you will know it, just as David did.
2. “Is God using this to trim off some rough edges of my personality and develop a more Christ-like character in me?” We may not like hard times, but they do produce character. If nothing else, God may be developing in us a sensitivity to others who are going through similar times of suffering, so we will be able to help them.
3. “Is God using my suffering as a stage upon which his name and wisdom may be glorified? Is it a place for me to show that I love him for who he is, entirely apart from whatever material and physical benefits he may have given me?” This is the hardest of God’s purposes for us to see and accept.
It is why Job is such an outstanding Old Testament example. Still, there should be an element of this in anything we suffer, simply because we are told to glorify God in everything we do, suffering included. This theme is also in Psalm 38. For although David confesses that he is being judged for his sin—God has made this clear to him—he is nevertheless glorifying God in the way he deals with it. Primarily, he is not faulting God, but is instead praising God as the source of mercy and salvation.
I wrote earlier that whenever David turns his eyes from his suffering to God, he seems to move a step forward spiritually and experience a calmer frame of mind. We see this in his second prayer (v. 9). In the earlier verses he has been describing his sickness. He has no health in his body (v. 3). His bones are affected (v. 3). Loathsome wounds cover his flesh (v. 5). His back is filled with searing pain (v. 7). Besides, he is overwhelmed with guilt (v.4), so that his very spirit is crushed and he groans in anguish (v. 8). Now he reminds himself that this is known to God already. All his longings, sighs and sufferings are plain to God’s eyes.
Sometimes we refer to the prayer that contains the words “before whom all hearts are open, all desires known.” It is a prayer of confession, and the words are a sobering reminder that all sins are known to God. But it is also true that our suffering is likewise known to God. Nothing that comes into our lives escapes his watchful eye, and he is concerned for us in everything that happens. So when David says, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you,” this is a truly comforting reassurance. Others may not know about us, or care. But God does both and does both perfectly. When we see this our natural anxieties begin to lessen and our trust grows.
What examples from Scripture teach us that not all suffering and sickness is a punishment for sin?
Review the three questions we should ask when we go through a difficult time.
Application: Are you going through a very hard situation now, and you are not sure what the Lord is trying to achieve in it? How can the three questions asked in the lesson help you?