Big idea: By understanding the big picture of God’s plan, we can trust God even in a broken world and rejoice in the blessed assurance of his very presence.
Introduction: “This stuff is real!”
I was 18 years old when I first read the Bible. And what I found in there really surprised me.
I expected the Bible, like typical religious handbooks, to contain moral instructions on do’s and don’ts, as well as stuff about the spirit world. Instead, what I found was mainly stories: stories about what happened to Jesus and the lives of common people, and only rare mentions about angels and demons or even the devil.
Since then, I’ve found more surprises in the Bible. For example, just about every one of the heroes of faith mentioned in the Bible had issues. Whether they are Old Testament heroes like Abraham or King David, or New Testament heroes like the apostles – they all failed God one way or another. And Israel’s hymnbook – the Psalms – they give the impression that God’s people seem to be in trouble most of the time!
As I read more and more of the Bible, one thing becomes clearer and clearer to me: THIS STUFF IS REAL! The Bible is painfully honest about what’s really going on in our world. Biblical faith as presented in these pages is never blind faith, never just wishful thinking, never just about being hopeful for the best. But the authentic Christian faith enables us to take an honest look at what’s going on in our world and still trust in God!
This is exactly what Psalm 73 is about –trusting God even in a broken world.
Faith being tested (Ps 73:2-12)
Psalm 73 is written by Asaph, one of Israel’s worship leaders. It begins like many of our praise songs: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (Ps 73:1)
But that’s where the similarity ends.
As a national worship leader, Asaph knows what he is supposed to believe. The problem is, the moment he steps out of “the church”, he sees the opposite in the “real world”: “… I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:3)
In verses 4-11, he lists down all the things he saw about people who did not fear God:
They enjoy carefree lives, able bodies, great health (Ps 73:4-5)
They are “proud”, “violent” (Ps 73:6)
Their hearts are “callous” [i.e. they couldn’t care less about others], their evil minds “know no limits” (Ps 73:7)
They are quick to put people down with their words, quick to bully and threaten others (Ps 73:8)
They are boastful and disrespectful, and they even ridicule God: “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” (Ps 73:11)
This is a list of evil behavior that clearly deserves God’s judgment! And yet, Asaph saw that they turned out to be the winners in this world. Verse 12 sums it up: “[they are] always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.”
Popularity! Health! Wealth! They’ve got it all!
“Surely God is good to the pure in heart”? It sure didn’t look that way to Asaph!
Faith in crisis (Ps 73:13-15)
This led Asaph into a huge crisis: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” (Ps 73:13) If the wicked are the ones who prosper, why bother?
He shares in verse 14 how he had to struggle with these thoughts all day long, and the burden just grew heavier with each new day. And to make things worse, he realizes that as a leader, he must keep all his pain to himself, because he cannot afford to stumble others who were looking up to him (cf. Ps 73:15) Friends, can you feel his pain? It’s the worst kind of pain, isn’t it? When you have to keep it all to yourself!
Now let us remember that Asaph was struggling not because of unbelief. Actually, it’s the other way round: he is struggling precisely because his faith is real, because he is NOT happy to tell himself: just keep going to church, keeping singing happy songs, keep leading Bible studies, just stay positive and don’t think too much!
No, friends! His is a faith that seeks understanding, a faith that is not afraid to ask WHY, a faith that is ALIVE! And friends, we too must do the same! Biblical faith is a living faith that engages real issues in life. Else, our faith wouldn’t be worth having at all!
Faith in focus (Ps 73:16-26)
So how did Asaph’s faith crisis get resolved? He can’t – not “till [he] entered the sanctuary of God” (Ps 73:17). His crisis was finally resolved when he brought his faith back in focus – towards God!
You see, friends, just like how the moon depends fully on the sun for light, we too live on borrowed light. What happens when the moon is blocked from the sun? It stops shining! Likewise, when our faces are away from God, we find ourselves in the dark.
But God’s Word “is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7)! As Asaph looks to God, he begins to understand the bigger picture, and starts to see things more clearly again.
This is not to suggest that Asaph now has all the answers to every hard question in life. Rather, he begins to see again why trusting God makes sense in at least two ways.
Firstly, Asaph begins to see “the final destiny” of the wicked (v17), what really matters AT THE END. When his faith is refocused on God, he sees again God’s justice, the reality of God’s judgment day. And, lo and behold, in that light, the prosperity of the wicked – they don’t look that great anymore! I suppose it’s a bit like our former Prime Minister before and after GE14! Who would have imagined! Asaph now realizes that people who thinks success in this world means everything are actually on slippery slope (Ps 73:18). When judgment day comes, they will be no more – like how a dream vanishes the moment we wake up (Ps 73:20). They won’t have the last word! God shall have the last word!
Secondly, in that same light, Asaph also begins to see how foolish he is to envy the prosperity of the wicked, when all the while he already had something much better! With faith back in focus, Asaph begins to see clearly who are the ones who are truly blessed in this world.
One of the things I always carry with me wherever I go is this: my wallet. As a husband and a father, I need to make sure that I always have enough on me to pay for our food and whatever we need to spend on. Not so with Ben, my son. Ben never bothers to bring his wallet. Why? Because as long as mum or dad is with him, he has nothing to worry about … isn’t that right? I once asked a group of kids in church, which is better? To have your own wallet, or to have mum and dad? Guess what they said?
When Asaph’s faith is re-focused on God, he begins to think like a child again. There is a far greater blessing that having money, popularity, even health: to know for sure that he always has God with him:
to have God holding him by his right hand (Ps 73:23)
to have God guiding him all of life and even beyond the grave into glory (Ps 73:24)
to have the confidence that God will look after him long after his body and health fails him (Ps 73:26)
Now friends, it is not so much that Asaph thinks that, “Wow, God is with me, I can finally buy whatever I want!” It’s sad, isn’t it, if the only reason your son looks for you is when he wants something? And yet, so often that is how we think of God: God is good only when he can keep me free from trouble, give me good health, good money, a good wife or husband!
But that is not how Asaph thinks. Look at what he says in verse 25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Ps 73:25) Sure, he knows he can trust God to provide him everything he needed. But his faith in God’s goodness will no longer depend on things that God gives.
He no longer sees God as being USEFUL, but BEAUTIFUL!
He has discovered the only treasure that truly matters at the end: God himself!
Faith in action (Ps 73:27-28)
The June 12th Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un created a stir all around the world. Five years ago, when Aung San Suu Kyi was still popular, apparently, when she visited Singapore, she also caused a bit of a stir. If her hosts were hoping that she would see Singapore as a role model for Myanmar, they were in for a surprise!
While admitting that Myanmar had a lot to learn from Singapore, Suu Kyi told them that Singapore has a lot to learn from Myanmar: about a “more relaxed way of life and warmer and closer family relations”. For her, there is more to life than having more money to spend. She wants “something more” for her people – like “the importance of duty and spiritual values”. (Source: “Wanting more”, The Economist, 23/9/2013)
As we come to the end of Psalm 73, at the end of Asaph’s struggle, with his faith now in focus, Asaph is able to put his faith into action again:
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (Ps 73:28)
The world around Asaph hasn’t changed! The wicked is still stress-free, healthy, and increasing in riches (cf. Ps 73:12). In other words, the data is still the same! But Asaph’s interpretation of the data is totally different now. He is starting to look for things that really matter at the end. And with his faith in focus, he can now put his faith into action, and say with confidence: “YES! It is good to be near God and tell of all his deeds!”
What about you, friends? Is your faith in focus?
If Asaph found reasons to keep trusting God in a broken world, we have even more! For what Old Testament believers like Asaph had was only a shadow of what we now have in Jesus. We have the privilege of seeing the real thing: the God who became flesh, who died and rose from the dead!
The apostle Paul reminds us that if the Christian faith is only about living well in this life, “we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor 15:19). But “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20)! And his resurrection is God’s proof to the world that “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice”, and with Jesus himself the judge (Acts 17:31). He shall have the last word!
Let us therefore fix our eyes on him, that we can see more clearly the bigger picture, and understand and live in the light of what truly matters at the end.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)