Sanctified Affliction Seldom Seems Sanctified

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.

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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

D. Eaton

Other Posts on God’s Work in Affliction

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The Problem with Temptation is Us

She stopped by again today and gave me one of those looks. The beauty of her face set against the backdrop of the tumultuous sky promised me peace. It was soft and gentle. It was like she was telling me, “I know you are hurting, and I can help.” There was a grace in the whole thing that spun my world with confusion.

The power she wielded over me was devastating. She continued to promise relief, but I have spent time with her on more than one occasion. She keeps telling me to trust her, that she can sooth the pain I am feeling. I reminded her that every time previously, her relief has only been temporary and that she always leaves me more troubled than before. Her response to this has always been the same, “Just one more time and you will be satisfied.”

Either I go with her and enter the vicious cycle once again, or I resist and find myself with an unquenched thirst that still leaves me feeling worse than before she showed up.  When I resist her, she plays upon my fears: as if somehow I am missing out, or failing to take care of myself. Many times she has told me “this is what life is about about, and you are not living it to the fullest.”

She appears in different forms to everyone. Usually, when I hear them talk about her, most people put all the blame on her. In exasperation, they conclude, “If she were not always around, I wouldn’t have this problem,” or “If society didn’t endorse her so much, I would be safe.” The reality is the problem with temptation is us, and even without her our hearts naturally try to find fulfillment apart from our Creator. This, of course, is why we often go out to look for her.

The only reason she has so much power over me is because deep down I desire what she offers whether she is present or not, and these are the desires that war against my soul. If this were not the case, I could easily send her on her way without a problem. John Owen once wrote, “Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before,” and he was working from a truth he had read in Scripture which says, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).

I am always amazed at how much influence she has over me, or should I say how much power I have given her. There is only one remedy, and that is to abide in Christ who offers the real fulfillment I am seeking. There must be a change in me for her to lose her power, and that change has already begun. I know this because never before have I been so aware of the deceit that lies behind her smile, but being aware and resisting are two different things. There is so much more to say about her, and even more to say about our great deliverer, but she is here now giving me that look.

D. Eaton