It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. —Psalm 119:71
Being content is essential to meaningful living. But something nags at our hearts, saying we do not have enough. By nature, we are discontented. We play the “if-only” game without pause. “If only I was…” “If only I had…” “If only so and so did…” “If only it was like…instead of…” Though myriad companies, corporations, agencies, and institutions promise fulfillment, they will only do so for the short term and never for free. Tell my why you need the iPhone 5 again? It will make your life better? It’s a game-changer? Really?
We do well to hear the words of those who do find contentment (not the marketers).
Contentment is taking pleasure in God’s disposal. This is so when I am well pleased in what God does…[though] I may be sensible of affliction and may desire that God in his due time would remove it…Yet I am pleased with God’s hand. —Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
That’s an interesting combination of words: pleasure, pleased, contentment—all words of delight and enjoyment. All in the context of experiencing affliction. While we may even be discontent while things are carrying on well, how much more when we are afflicted.
Burroughs points us to the source of this contentment in affliction. We must see there is good in it, “there is honey in this rock” as he puts it. What this is, is an assurance of God’s mercy and favor, even in the midst of great difficulties. It’s assurance that God is doing something good through this, for us, and for others. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
But we must also come to this in the present tense, not just that “it was good to be afflicted”, but “it is good that I am afflicted.” This is difficult to come to. There is a hard work to be done in seeing God’s overarching goodness above our afflictions, while in the midst of them. But we know that they are there for our growth, others benefit, and God’s glory. God is treating us like sons and daughters.
Through a difficult season recently, this song has been a help. It’s an old Lutheran hymn, and like most of the older songs of the Church, is a rich marriage of truth and life, which we all need more of. Though our heart may be raw, may we sing with eyes of faith, seeing his sovereign hand working all things together for our good, full of the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Full lyrics below the video.
1. My God, my Father, while I stray Far from my home on life's rough way Oh, teach me from my heart to say, "Thy will be done." 2. Though dark my path and sad my lot, Let me be still and murmur not Or breathe the prayer divinely taught, "Thy will be done." 3. What though in lonely grief I sigh For friends beloved, no longer nigh, Submissive still would I reply-- "Thy will be done." 4. Though Thou hast called me to resign What most I prized, it ne'er was mine; I have but yielded what was Thine-- "Thy will be done." 5. Should grief or sickness waste away My life in premature decay, My Father, still I strive to say, "Thy will be done." 6. Let but my fainting heart be blest With Thy sweet Spirit for its Guest; My God, to Thee I leave the rest-- "Thy will be done." 7. Renew my will from day to day; Blend it with Thine and take away All that now makes it hard to say, "Thy will be done." 8. Then, when on earth I breathe no more, The prayer, oft mixed with tears before, I'll sing upon a happier shore, "Thy will be done."