No one would choose to undergo a time of affliction, yet Paul bids us to be “patient in tribulation.” (Rom. 12:12) In the New Testament that word translated “tribulation” in Romans 12:12 is also translated persecution, trouble, and affliction (Acts 11:19; 2 Cor. 1:8; 6:4; 8:2). Who would knowingly welcome such a state of affairs!
Yet David shares with us a personal testimony in Psalm 119: A reading of his affirmations concerning affliction will shed light on Beecher’s insight: “Affliction comes to us all not to make us sad, but sober; not to make us worry, but wise; not to make us despondent, but by its darkness to refresh us, as the night refreshes the day; not to impoverish, but to enrich us, as the plough enriches the field; to multiply our joy, as the seed, by planting, is multiplied a thousand-fold.”
Or, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.”
David, sweet Psalmist of Israel, in his treatment of the subject of affliction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was driven by the multiple troubles that he lived with most of his life to a basic premise: “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” (Ps. 119:75)
Yet through the troubles was a hopeful prayer based upon God’s promises of goodness and mercy that would follow him all the days of his life: “I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according to Thy word.” (Ps. 119:103) His affirmation took the form of praise: “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Thy word…It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”(Ps. 119:67) Finally, David was able to say that he had experienced positive benefits that could have only come through tribulations: “This is my comfort in my affliction: for Thy word hath quickened me,” and “Unless Thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.” (Ps. 119:50,92)
The story is told of Sir Malcolm Sargent, a 19th century composer who as a young person was afflicted with tuberculosis. After he won his battle with TB, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Pamela, was stricken with polio. One night, as the renowned conductor was about to conduct Handel’s Messiah, he was given a note informing him that his daughter was dying. With tears Sir Malcolm directed the orchestra and choir through such soul-stirring passages as “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,” finding the grace needed from God’s Word to finish the concert, with strength spiritually and emotionally that seemed to flow through his conducting. (HGB, Our Daily Bread).
Susana Wesley, mother of 19, including a couple of well-known preachers, said “I believe there is scarce a man to be found upon the earth but, take the whole course of his life, hath more mercies than afflictions, and much more pleasure than pain. I am sure it has been so in my case. I have many years suffered much pain and great bodily infirmities; but I have likewise enjoyed great intervals of rest and peace.”
In conclusion, therefore, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation (trouble, affliction, persecution); continuing instant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).