An unfortunate veil of numbness has existed over my life for the past months beginning last semester and persisting until very recently. It began with the death of a dear friend whom I would call a mentor and continued blow after blow with the dreadful but common occurrences in everyday life. Unfortunately, I have been here but not in my full totality. What I mean by that is I have found myself feeling absolutely numb to the beauty of the grace in the world around me. I have been singing worship songs waiting for the truth of it to pierce my heart in vain. I have been reading Scripture almost daily waiting for the power of it to capture my inner faculties. I have been praying often trying to find solace amidst struggles inner and outer waiting for the numbness to pass. Only until recently has the curtain been lifted from me. What lifted me? The Lord via Psalm 73, a psalm that Christ has used time and time again to capture my heart and fill me with immense affections. I will recount my perception of God’s refilling grace that I’ve felt through this psalm by relating Asaph’s experience with my own. It’s definitely not identical. It may not even be in context. But, it has been used to remove me from my slumber of apathy and feelings of discouragement.
God Is My Strength and Portion Forever
73 A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
Asaph knows Yahweh is good to Israel. It’s an objective fact for him. He can look back to the calling of Abraham. He can look back to the Exodus. He can look back to the many times God has triumphed over Israel’s enemies and shown himself faithful to his people. But, there’s more to Asaph’s relationship with the Lord than this truncated statement of belief. He doesn’t believe it…or maybe more poignantly, he does not see it. Like Asaph, I have uttered statements of faith in God’s goodness but have left them behind to pursue thought processes of crippling captivity. I can relate.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Asaph almost slipped into pure despair. What caused it? Circumstances plus pure unadulterated cynicism concerning his life and the world around him. God is good…but what about this? What about the prosperity of the wicked Yahweh? Israel is your son. You have promised Israel your presence and the earth. I can relate to Asaph’s cynicism. The battlefield of my mind consists of armies battling over what is true. What about AIDS Jesus? What about death, even death of dearly loved ones? What about suicide? What about global poverty? What about alcoholism? What about abortion? What about world-wide sex trafficking destroying not only the innocence of your precious children but also their very lives? Asaph’s questions of justice mixed with skeptical pessimism led him into a feeding frenzy of dissatisfaction with the world and the promises of God. I can relate.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
Asaph disillusioned and dissatisfied gives into his evil thought processes. The wicked are where the righteous are supposed to be! There is no justice! Sinful men are praised and pursued by joy and lavishment and I am left alone. Numb. Discontented. He is plagued with thoughts of triviality concerning the life given to him. The world around him seems absolutely wrought with pain, unfairness, and stupidity. Asaph fails to look at the goodness of the Yahweh’s creation. He does not appreciate the beauty and grace of the earth…of God’s people…of God’s salvation. I can relate.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
The thoughts destroyed and rebuked Asaph. He carried around in his body the oppressiveness of his utter debase and cynical musings. If he were to teach what he was feeling and thinking to be true out loud to God’s people, they would have betrayed them. It’s not orthodox. Its pure vanity and emptiness. You’re one of Israel’s teachers Asaph. How can you think and feel such things? You’re spiritually mature! You’re a leader of your people! You lead God’s beloved in worship with shouts of praise and murmurings of adoration! I can relate.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Where does Asaph go to be comforted? Where does he go to deal with these opinions of oppression? Providence would bring the man into the sanctuary. It all seemed pointless until he went into the place of true understanding, the place where God and his presence are located. As though beckoned by a passionate lover, Asaph runs back into the arms and understanding of Yahweh in his temple. He realizes the final end of the wicked. Thank God, I can relate.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
Though the wicked seem to prosper, God has made their position precarious; without warning they are swept away. Without warning with thoughtful discernment and consideration of God’s ways and purposes, Asaph’s cynical thoughts are swept away. I can relate.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Asaph realizes his ramblings and the letting of his mind wander aimlessly into the ditch of pessimism made him a beast toward God. He was loutish and ignorant. His soul was embittered at his descent into such a false system of being. How could he be numb? How could he distrust the Lord? How could he have been blinded to the beauty of God’s purpose and plans? I can relate.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Ohh endless joy! The dark night of the soul has ended. He is continually with Asaph. He holds him with his right hand. He guides Asaph with his counsel. He will receive him into glory. Asaph trusts God in time and will enjoy him forever in eternity. What’s in eternity that Asaph desires? Not the material things the wicked are preoccupied with. God! God is the chief end of his desire. God is the chief end of his yearnings. God is the chief end of his renewed sense of worship and adoration. “My flesh and my heart are failing, I am discouraged, I am despondent, I am at my wit’s end.” But God! The cure for cynicism is in the seeing and savoring of God. Yahweh is the strength of his heart. He is his portion, his allotment. Take away all his material blessings…he will still have him. Strip the man of every dignity known to mankind…he will still have him. Destroy his life…he will still have him. God is to be trusted and treasured. I can relate. Thank God for renewed passions and deep reservoirs of love for Jesus!
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Distance from the Divine is certain death. Asaph realizes the final state of those who are far away from God. Their allotment is destruction. God is a treasure for the righteous and a terror for the unrighteous. The evil men will perish. But, God’s nearness is Asaph’s good. He makes the Lord his refuge and vows to continue to tell of all his works. He continues the work he was set apart to do. Thank God, I can relate.