One of my favorite aspects of the Psalms is their authentic voice. While some are lovely and full of elaborate praise, others are full of pain, anger, and fear. Sometimes they’re both. It’s hard to imagine that people would sing these kinds of songs as part of a worship service, but they are just as much part of the canon as the more pleasant ones.
I came across such a Psalm yesterday that I wish were part of modern worship because it gave voice to struggles I mentioned having a few weeks back [see my last post]. Years of ministry tell me I am not alone in those struggles. Teaching this Psalm gives us a process when we feel inner turmoil and even offers resolution. We so need it!
Maybe you’re in a place with questions and doubts, too. I hope the process Asaph mentions in this Psalm is as encouraging and helpful to you as it is to me. Psalm 73 is too long to post in its entirety, but you can read it all here.
The first movement of this song says,
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. (Psalm 73:2-5)
Asaph was caught up looking at what other people have: money, health, happy lives, in spite of rejecting the Lord. It hardly seems fair. This is a very common observation for Christ followers, even if we don’t often say it out loud. It’s hard to follow Jesus and watch other people seem to prosper so much more without him. Which leads to Asaph’s very natural question,
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain. (Psalm 73:13-14)
He says, “I’m trying to follow you. I’m trying to do what you’ve asked me to do, but it hardly seems worth it. The people who aren’t following you are having much easier lives than I am.” I love that he asks this question outright. As I said, Christians can long for the easier lives they see in others, but don’t often verbalize those questions. Maybe they don’t have a safe place to struggle and ask. Maybe it makes you feel like a burden to have nagging doubts. Whatever the reason, we bury it and pretend like slapping a smile on our faces will make everything okay, no matter what is on the inside. P.S. It doesn’t work that way.
Burying and pretending isn’t what Asaph does, though. He takes his struggles to God and attempts to gain perspective:
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the morning. (Psalm 73:17-20)
He went to God with his confusion and envy. Because he voiced his doubts, he got an answer. When he went to the Lord, he could see things through the Lord’s eyes. What he saw was this life through the eyes of eternity. Sure, things may be easy right now for some people who reject following God, but there will come a reckoning. This life is a blip in light of eternity. The consequences of both following and rejecting God will last forever.
When we’re plagued with doubts and pain, there are real answers that we can’t see on our own. The times I most need to talk to Jesus or seek wisdom in the Bible or be around Christ-followers who can encourage my faith are the times I’m also most likely to hide. I hide because I’m afraid I’m too difficult, too much for Jesus (let alone others) to handle.
But the psalm assures me I’m not,
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny. (Psalm 73:22-24)
Even in our questions and rejection, we still belong to the Lord. He is holding our hand. He is still guiding us with his counsel towards a glorious destiny. When we stumble, he remains surefooted. When we are weak, he is strong. Doubts, struggles, and questions are not too much for him. In fact, when we work through them, we can get to the place where Asaph ended up:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 73:25-28)
May our doubts fade as we turn towards Jesus and see his eternal perspective. May we truly come to understand that there is nothing on Earth worth more than him. May he be our shelter in trouble and our guide in darkness. May we have the joy of telling others about who he is and what he’s done.