Only when our focus is on God and His works does the world around us come into focus. When God is at the center of our lives, we have a proper perspective on ourselves, others, and this sin-marred world.
Finding Answers in the Sanctuary
In our last study here in Psalm 73, we found Asaph, one of the leading musicians in Israel, ready to throw in the towel. He composed a song to tell us about all the questions and frustrations he had wrestled with and how close his feet had come to slipping.
We detailed seven questions Asaph effectively asked the Lord here in this psalm. And every one of these questions has probably run through our minds more than once. These are questions like: Why do unbelievers seem to have less trouble in their lives? Why do unbelievers seem to have plenty of money? Why do the wicked often seem to have better health? And why do evil people not get exposed for who they are, instead of receiving the approval of everyone around them? While the believer struggles with opposition, the wicked get a standing ovation.
As Asaph labored with these inner frustrations and questions, he writes here in verse 16, that it was “a wearisome task.”He is basically saying, “The fact that those who hate God seem to get away with it and those who follow God do not seem to benefit from it—well, trying to figure that out literally wore me out. It was a wearisome task.”
Now Asaph mentioned at the beginning of this testimonial psalm that his feet had almost stumbled and his steps had nearly slipped. The good news is that instead of completely slipping and falling spiritually, Asaph slips instead into the sanctuary of God. And at this point in his song, everything begins to change. He writes in verse 17, “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”
In other words, he says, “I looked a little farther down the path. Yes, my life is hard, and the lives of unbelievers look easy—they seem carefree in life. But what is waiting at the end of the path is what matters.”
The issue is not about their carefree disposition; it’s about their final destination. It is here that Asaph begins to regain a biblical perspective on the unbeliever. He writes in verse 18, “Truly you [Lord] set them in slippery places.” It might look like they are carefree and secure, but their situation is only temporary.
Asaph goes on to describe their coming appointment with death. He says in verse 19, “How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” He describes death as a terrifying reality.
Charles Spurgeon commented on this text more than a hundred years ago when he wrote, “Without warning, without escape, without hope . . . Despite their golden chains, their [expensive] apparel . . . death hurries them away!” Their lives last but a moment before the terror of death sweeps them away.
Asaph says here in verse 20, “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them.” It seems like they are living the dream, but dreams last only a few minutes. Likewise, their lives, which seem to last a long time, in the light of eternity last but a few minutes.
You see, Asaph has regained a biblical perspective on the lost. And that replaces his envy with pity.
Asaph also regains a biblical perspective on himself. He writes, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant” (verses 21-22). Let me paraphrase his words this way: “Lord, when you convicted my heart over my resentment and envy, reminding me of the unbeliever’s tragic destiny, I realized how foolish I was in my thinking.”
Listen beloved, if you are envying or resenting unbelievers because of their success—their health, their house, their money, their stuff—just consider their tragic end. And, like Asaph here, that will change your perspective.
We do not envy the lost; we pity them. We pray for them. We want to win them for Christ. We realize that if they finally reject the gospel, their dream life will be replaced one day soon with eternal judgment and suffering.
Now with that new perspective, Asaph gives us something positive to sing about here in Psalm 73. He effectively says, “Let’s sing about the fact that God is continually guarding us.” He writes in verse 23, “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.” God never goes off duty; He never stops guarding His beloved.
He also says, “Let’s sing about God wisely guiding us.” In verse 24 Asaph composes these lyrics: “You guide me with your counsel.” God’s Word is a Wisdom Journal, which is why we are calling our study through God’s Word a Wisdom Journey.
Asaph now looks down the road to the end of his own life—and the lives of those who follow the Lord. He writes about our future, and it isn’t terrifying; it’s triumphant. Verse 24 says, “You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me to glory.”
The solution for Asaph’s frustration was a matter of concentration. He had focused on what the wicked enjoyed, not where they were heading. He had focused on what he was suffering and forgot where he was heading.
Now all that has changed. With a renewed perspective, Asaph writes this great text worthy of singing to this very day: “Whom have I in heaven but you [Lord]? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (verse 25). He is saying, “I might not have much money, and I might have plenty of challenges, but I do have You.” Then he writes in verse 26,“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
With that, Asaph comes to the final measure in this great musical composition, where he writes, “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” (verse 28).
When I was growing up, the church we attended near downtown Norfolk, Virginia, had wooden letters attached to the wall behind the pulpit. The letters spelled out, “To Know Him and to Make Him Known.”
That is Asaph here. We can hear him saying now, “I’ve been reminded of who I am, who God is, and what matters most in life. And the greatest thing I can do with my life is worship Him, get to know Him better, and then make Him known to everyone in my world.” This renewed perspective brought Asaph to a place of renewed joy.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic woman, wrote about a conversation she had with a woman who said to her, “Joni, you always look happy in your wheelchair. I wish that I had your joy! . . . How do you do it?” Joni wrote:
“I don’t do it,” I said. … “After my husband, Ken, leaves for work at 6:00 A.M., I’m alone until I hear the front door open at 7:00 A.M. That’s when a friend arrives to get me up. While I listen to her make coffee, I pray, ‘Oh, Lord, my friend will soon give me a bath, get me dressed, sit me up in my chair, brush my hair and teeth, and send me out the door. I don’t have the strength to face this routine one more time. … I don’t have a smile to take into this day. But you do. May I have yours?’”
This is the testimony of Asaph here in Psalm 73. His circumstances had not changed. He is still going to face health problems, financial shortfalls, and the pressures and troubles of a new day.
His circumstances have not changed, but his heart has. His focus has shifted toward the Lord. His perspective is once again taking the long view all the way to the end of life and the glory of heaven.
And as a result, God has effectively given His smile to Asaph, a smile to face another day. Beloved, may God give you His smile today.