The goodness of affliction. Goodness? Affliction? Those two ideas always seem contrary to one another. How is it even conceivable that suffering or troubles, whether from circumstance or people, could, for even a moment, be considered good?
Affliction is addressed in many places throughout the Bible. In Psalm 119 alone, the psalmist refers to affliction repeatedly:
Verse 67 states: Before I was afflicted, I went astray …
And then verse 71 makes an amazing statement: It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
And finally in verse 75, the psalmist praises the Lord for His faithfulness:
I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
And it is these verses that have stirred in my heart and mind for the last couple of months – since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can humbly say that the Lord is making these verses real in my life.
Very soon after my diagnosis, the Lord began speaking to my heart saying that He wants ALL of me. I discussed this with my husband, and he asked me what the Lord wanted me to do. But I explained to him that though there may be something that the Lord wants me to do in the future, right now what He was saying was that He wants ALL of me … that He wants ALL OF MY HEART!
I had no idea of the path that the Lord had prepared for me, but I can, in all honesty, say that before I was afflicted I went astray, that it has been good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn His statutes, and that in His faithfulness He had afflicted me.
How did He bring this about?
Before I was diagnosed with cancer, the church had asked me to lead a ladies group on the study of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. After discussing the request with my husband and the pastor, we agreed that I would serve in that capacity, although the study was not scheduled to begin until the fall, which would be several months later. I felt so unqualified and began to pray regarding the study. Then along came the cancer, with appointments, procedures, biopsies, surgeries, and more.
I had “still” time, and quite a bit of it. I had told my husband that though I had this illness, I still needed to use my time well. Therefore, I “decided” to begin studying the Sermon on the Mount in preparation for the fall study. There are inadequate words to describe what the Lord has done in my heart. Yes, although I have been a Christian for over 30 years, I saw that before I was afflicted, I went astray, and indeed, the Lord wanted all of my heart.
It is impossible to explain, in one writing, the depths of the truths that the Lord has been showing me, but with His guidance I will attempt to summarize the path that I have been on. This path was not trodden in one day. I have been weeks and months in these truths. May the Lord Himself show forth His truth!
As I began to study this sermon, I saw that the Lord was teaching His disciples and that these truths are true for every child of His throughout all generations. It was as if He was speaking directly to me! Remember, He had shown me that He wanted ALL of my heart, and He lovingly laid it all out before me.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Poor in spirit. Humble. Emptied of self. Broken, knowing that in my self I have nothing to offer God. I can only fall before Him, pleading for mercy. That is how everyone who has entered the kingdom of heaven entered, but I must REMAIN humble in heart. How easily pride slips in, and how often the enemy causes one to lift himself up in pride. How many times do I look down on others with criticism and silently pat my own self on the back? Pride and arrogance have no place in the life of a child of God. How often the Scripture exhorts the child of God to humility! Indeed, I had gone astray. And yes, the Lord wanted ALL of my heart!
Blessed are those who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Mourning. What is this mourning? When one comes before the Lord poor in spirit, he will of necessity mourn over his sin as he sees how far short he falls. But do I continue to mourn when I sin? How often do I compromise without any remorse? How quickly I justify and excuse sin. How complacent am I when worldliness begins to creep into my heart? How readily do I accept my flesh responses to situations or people? It is all still sin! I must remain poor in spirit, grieving to the point that I confess to Him. There He is faithful and just to forgive, and there I am comforted. Yes, indeed, I had gone astray. I had allowed sin to settle in my heart. And the Lord wanted ALL of my heart for Himself.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness. How I have come to love this word! What is meekness? Meekness is not easy to describe. It seems that there isn’t a good word in the English language that defines meekness, nor is it something that is seen readily in our culture. Meekness comes following being poor in spirit and mourning. Meekness is a place of surrender to God, and a calm assurance rests in the heart of the child of God that she is His child and that He cares for her perfectly, only acting in goodness toward her. What this calm assurance produces is peace within the heart. The amazing effect of this meekness is that no matter the difficult circumstance and no matter the problem the difficult person may bring, God is in control of it all, and I can rest in Him. But besides the wonderful, confident rest and peace that meekness brings, it also prevents certain behaviors in my life. It will prevent one from retaliating, from lashing out, from storing up resentment and bitterness in the heart. It is not self-centered, nor self assertive. The effect of meekness is all because the child of God is trusting every situation and circumstance in the hands of her Heavenly Father. Yes Lord, without any exceptions, You want ALL of my heart!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
All of these qualities described in the Beatitudes are qualities of the heart, and so is this hunger and thirst. What are the desires of the heart? What do I truly hunger and thirst for? Is it God’s own righteousness? Is it all the things that God says is true and right? Do I have a deep desire to reflect Him as He truly is? Or do I settle comfortably into my own ways? As the world insidiously creeps in, do I find myself seeking worldly things and worrying about such? The heart moves away from hungering and thirsting for God, and settles for some worldly endeavor rather than seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Even busyness in doing “good” things can interfere and subtly change hunger and thirst for Him to desires for other activities. And, there again, I saw that surely I had gone astray. And, most importantly, that God wants ALL of my heart for Himself.
What I was beginning to see is that God wants my heart to consistently remain with Him. He wants me to continually humble myself before Him. He wants me to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and guidance, confessing when I fail. He wants me to remain meek and trust every circumstance of my life to Him, without reacting in a fleshly manner. And He wants me to continually seek Him above all else.
All of those heart qualities are directly related to my relationship to Him, and I am eternally grateful that He gives His children His own Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and enable us. For apart from Him, we can do nothing!
I had been so convicted and humbled as I examined my heart and my relationship with God in the light of these truths. But my examination was not over. God now turned the focus to my relationship with others and my heart toward them.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall receive mercy.
The first quality of the heart toward others addressed by the Lord is mercy. Why is that such an important quality to find in the heart of the believer? I believe that when a person has truly experienced the mercy of God, the very mercy of God must be manifested through him as he turns toward others. Apart from being merciful to others, I can never reflect the Father as He truly is. I had to face some tough questions. How often did I look at others with a critical spirit toward them rather than one of mercy and compassion? How often did I truly lift those same people up to the Father in prayer, that they may come to know Him and experience His mercy? God says His mercies are new every morning. Did I consistently and faithfully reflect the mercy of God? Oh, how short I fall. How desperately I desire for the Lord to take ALL of my heart.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
I cannot even begin to speak regarding purity of heart. I cannot even imagine the blessing that it would be to truly be pure in heart. A pure heart. Pure thoughts. Pure motives. Serving the Lord purely, sincerely, and in singleness of heart at all times! The human heart is a desperately wicked heart, deceitful above all things, as the Scripture declares. Yet, our loving God says that He gives the believer a new heart, a heart that is like His own! How humbling, that God would be so gracious to any one of us. I understand the cry of the Psalmist: Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Lord, only You can do this in me!
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Peacemakers. My whole life is to be an ambassador for Christ. My life is to be about reaching out to others that they may be reconciled to God. And then, as I interact with others, am I a peacemaker? Or do I find myself guilty of stirring envy and strife? Do I gossip? Or do I speak with words to edify and minister grace? Am I a part of healing relationships? Do I forgive? Am I truly a peacemaker? Again, I will trust the Father to change this heart to make it all He desires it to be! Truly, He wants ALL of my heart!
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If someone is growing in all of those attitudes of the heart revealed in the Beatitudes, doesn’t it seem as though he would be respected? The Scripture indicates otherwise. It says he will be persecuted, insulted, and falsely accused. Yet, the believer is to rejoice – to rejoice in the Lord! It is an honor to be counted worthy to suffer for Him, and great is the reward in heaven!
I have only given a quick glimpse into these Beatitudes, but the truths are deeper and higher than we can fully comprehend. The Lord has just begun showing me what He means by wanting ALL of my heart. He wants it for Himself. He wants to dwell there. He wants me to be conformed to His image.
Yes, slowly over time I had gone astray. I was like the church of Ephesus described in Revelation who had left her first love. God always call me to repent – to turn back to Him. And there I find the same gracious, merciful, forgiving Father as when I first believed.
I am still studying the Sermon on the Mount, and will likely be here for some time. I still have another surgery ahead of me, and I know that the Lord has much more for me to learn on this cancer journey, but right now, He is teaching me that it is good that I have been afflicted because He is truly bringing my heart back to Him! Yes, My Lord wants all of me. He wants all of my heart. And if you are His child, He wants all of your heart, too!
It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.