One of the great prayers from the Valley of Vision, a collection of old puritan prayers, says this, “No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If thou, oh Lord, should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sin, or to have them burnt away with trials, give me sanctified affliction.”
We see this idea of sanctified affliction throughout Scripture. We hear cries in the Bible that say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word,” and “It was good that I was afflicted so that I might learn Your statutes.” Many of us have gone through difficult times in our life, and it may not have been the direct result of sin, but when we come out of it, we see that the Lord has changed us for the better. He has removed some pride or some other sins with which we struggled, and He has drawn us closer to Him because of it.
It is important for us to understand this idea of sanctified affliction, because if we do not know that God is doing something good in our life with affliction, we will be without hope. The sovereignty of God in our trials is a glorious truth we must comprehend, but when you are in the midst of sanctified affliction, it may not seem sanctified. In fact, it may feel like utter darkness.
If you find yourself there, this is where I want to encourage you. The Lord, for some reason, has seen fit to allow you to go through a dark and difficult time, but what you are seeing during this is more and more of your sinfulness. The deeper the trial seems to go, the deeper and more profound your sense of sin. Because of this you think, this cannot be sanctified affliction because sanctified affliction is supposed to be moving me forward in holiness, but I seem to be more and more awakened to my sinfulness in this trial.
I want to encourage you since that is precisely what we should expect because what the Lord is doing, is He is drawing the dross to the surface and bringing it to your attention. Before, when you were comfortable and at peace, all these areas of sin did not really bother you much, but now you cannot help but see them. When I have gone through times like this, God allowed me to see how sinful I was when I was comfortable, which was part of the trial. In reality, it was probably the darkest part of the affliction, but God was bringing the dross to the surface of my life to wipe it away.
If you are there, this is where you need to take heart. Our God is a good God. If you have confessed Him in faith and trusted in His sacrifice on the cross, He says, “You are mine. I will never leave you. I will never lose you.” Jesus is the perfect shepherd, and He makes no mistakes.
If you find yourself there, keep moving forward in obedience. You may not feel peace for quite some time, but take the advice of John Owen when he said, “See in the meantime that your faith brings forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.” At that point, you will find that your peace will be deeper than you ever imagined.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. – Psalm 11:67
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