The romantic idea that spiritual life is a “bed of roses” needs to be overcome. It is important to grow and mature. It may be hard to believe but God meant for our afflictions to draw us closer to Him and not lead us further away from Him. It is exactly in this matter that many neglect and waste the opportunity to experience the power of prayer. James taught that if anyone is sad, that he should pray. To stop praying because of tribulations is a mistake. Neglecting prayer opens the door to murmuring. Murmuring is a pact with defeat. This was the sin that condemned the whole generation of Israel to death in the desert.
Afflictions work like an alert for us to depend on God. Through afflictions we have a great opportunity to crucify our self-righteousness, self-piety and other subtleties of the ego. Therein emerges the true spirit of prayer. The cross is the chisel that sculptures the character. When we crucify our afflictions we exercise faith, strengthen our spirit and offer up with highly effective prayers.
It is biblical to affirm that together with so many tremendous promises that God has made to us, Jesus also includes the promise of affliction: Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world (John 16:33). When good cheer and peace coexist with afflictions God’s people give credit to the work of Jesus and increase a real possibility of a divine intervention. This exercise of faith and godliness transforms character, builds victory and produces a qualitative growth.
No one needs to continue in affliction and sadness. It is imperative to pray. So pray! Soon there will be an atmosphere of gratefulness and praise. And as James continued: is anyone joyful? Sing praises. Prayer ties affliction to contentment. This is the path to victory: affliction, prayer, contentment and praise.
Afflictions can come in varied forms and directions. Whenever we perceive a circumstance or situation as an affliction, it indicates that it is an area of our lives to which we have not yet died. For example a small boy may be devastated by a classmate that calls him a derogatory name like for instance “skinny” if he is slight of build. However a grown man who is extremely slender has learned to mature over the years will not be devastated when someone calls him “skinny” or “bean pole”. This situation is no longer perceived as an affliction because he how recognizes it as shallow and unimportant and sees no need to yield his perception of self-identity to it. In the same manner afflictions in the life of a Christian are perceived as afflictions because they point to an area of our lives that has not yet been yielded to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The more that we yield the areas of our lives to the lordship of Jesus the less we will perceive situations and circumstances of life as afflictions. Therefore, we must recognize that afflictions are opportunities for growth and spiritual maturity. For this reason James taught that we should rejoice when we come up against all kinds of afflictions, tribulations, trials and tests.
When we sense affliction we should pray immediately. Hopefully at this point you can perceive that we should not ask for the source of affliction to simply disappear from our lives which will only bring on the need to repeatedly go through similar situations or circumstances until we pass the test and advance to higher levels of maturity. It is important to recognize that God’s goal is not to cause us affliction but to help us see where we need to grow and to pray in the direction for our growth in the context of the affliction that we are going through so that we can move on and enjoy the deeper life and more fruit in our Christian walk.
Therefore in prayer, we must learn to embrace the affliction and the lessons that we must learn from it. Some things that we should ask for in prayer include understanding what area of our character is being tested. Another valid request in prayer in reaction to affliction is asking God what he expects us to do in the light of this affliction. After a time in prayer and fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit we begin to see the direction that we must pray in order for the affliction to be removed and as a result we will have grown and positioned ourselves to experience more of God and his power.
After we have successfully passed through the affliction and we have discerned God’s will in it, as a result we experience contentment. We feel content in the first place because the perception of the affliction has subsided, and peace and joy are restored but beyond that, there is a deep sense of contentment due to the perception that we are advancing in our walk with Christ and that the opposition of the enemy against us seems more and more insignificant.
Then finally this inner peace and contentment progresses to the point of praise. It is at this point that we shame the devil and experience what it means to be more than conquerors by praising the name of God in the midst of persecutions difficulties and afflictions. As we grow, we will begin to perceive that we approach the experience that the apostle Paul had when he said: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In all things we are conscious of God’s love and power and as a result we can utter sincere words of joy and praise unto God even in to the point of suffering afflictions like being imprisoned.
The Psalmist assures us: “Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). When affliction and sorrow do not come to an end and weeping persists, depressing life, it is a symptom that in some way we are failing in our relationship with God.