Biosphere 2 was an experiment carried out in an Arizonan desert in the United States between 1987 and 1991. The idea was to create an artificial ecological system as the perfect environment for growing plants and other living systems. The lessons learned, it was thought, could be applied to creating liveable conditions on other planets.
The experiment worked reasonably well, but there was one initially confusing problem. Trees consistently grew to a particular height but then fell over. Scientists were confused for a long time but eventually discovered the problem. The one element they did not introduce into the ecosystem was wind. The resistance provided by wind causes trees to grow deeper roots, which provides strength and enable taller growth. Without wind, the trees never grew the deep roots necessary for survival.
The same reality applies to the Christian life. Resistance produces strength. If we never face tension and difficulty, we will never learn how to grow deep roots, which ultimately give us strength and stability.
The writer of Psalm 129 understood this truth. He wrote of being greatly afflicted since his youth, but it is precisely because he experienced this affliction from youth that his opponents did not prevail against him. He knew that this affliction, while not pleasant in the moment, helped him to grow deep roots, which would enable him to withstand the storms of the future. He offered three pieces of counsel to others who wished to face affliction with the same confident outlook.
First, he encouraged his readers to be prepared for affliction. Affliction should never surprise the people of God. The ESV speaks of how “greatly” they had afflicted the writer. Other translations, perhaps more accurately, speak of the frequency of the afflictions. “They have often attacked” (CSB). “Many times they have persecuted” (NASB). “Many a time they have afflicted” (NKJV). The writer’s point is that afflictions were frequent—so frequent that they had become unsurprising.
Opposition should not surprise us. Jesus assured his disciples that they would face opposition, as he had (John 15:18–25; 16:33). Paul echoed this sentiment when he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10–13). If we follow Christ, we can be sure to face affliction.
Second, he encouraged his readers that they could actually benefit from affliction. Specifically, affliction benefits us by teaching us reliance on the Lord. His frequent affliction taught him that “the LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked” (v. 4). He learned that he could not rely on his own strength in his affliction but needed to rely on the Lord.
Among other things, affliction strips us of self-reliance. It teaches us that we must find our strength in the Lord. This is a valuable lesson, which greatly benefits the people of God.
Third, he encouraged his readers to pray in his affliction. In vv. 5–8, he offers a prayer to God to deliver him from his oppressors. Having learned that he could not rely on his own strength, he turned to the one who alone had power to deliver him.
It is insufficient to learn that we cannot rely on our own strength. Our affliction must at the same time teach us active reliance on the Lord, manifested in prayer. We must ask him for deliverance from those who afflict us.
The headwinds of affliction serve a vital purpose in our lives. While never pleasant, affliction helps us to grow deep roots, which enables us to grow tall and to face affliction with greater confidence, because our reliance is in the Lord. Let Psalm 129 teach you that lesson today.