Psalm 73: Asaph’s rendezvous with God

Many of us lightheartedly talk of the list of questions we’ll present to God when we finally meet Him face to face. These are those things that we know we can never fully understand on this side of heaven, but the fact that we know these questions can’t be answered here on earth does not always stop us from doubting that God is in control or stop the weight of our questions from continually burdening us.

Asaph was a worship leader who authored about a dozen of the Psalms. It is said that he was an accomplished poet and singer and even known to some as a prophet (See 1 Chronicles for more about Asaph).

Asaph had his own big question for God and he needed it answered because he knew that there was something off about what he was experiencing here on earth and not only did he have a problem with what he was seeing, but the way it made him feel was literally destroying him.

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.
(Psalm 73:2-3)

The interesting thing is that Asaph envied the proud because he believed they had something that he did not:

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. (vs. 4-5)

He believed that the proud and wicked have it all together; that they have no problems and are “enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply” (vs. 12). His envy here is based on an assumption and most likely an incorrect one at that. He even starts verse four by saying “They seem to…”, which is really a way of saying, “The way I see it…” but oftentimes, we do not see the whole picture. There is little to no evidence in this passage that Asaph has tried to connect with the proud/wicked people in any significant way. Despite all of the incriminating evidence that he spouts off from verses 4-12, he likely knows very little about the individuals that he has lumped together as his envied target.

Asaph does himself a disservice by comparing himself to others. We are also guilty of this far too often and the envy, the pressure, and the loneliness that these unfair comparisons pour out into our soul can and often do tear us apart inside.

Writer Anne Lamott has said, “…try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” It’s a hard suggestion to abide by if we don’t make the effort to connect and listen to people. When we do, we tend to realize that we all have struggles, but people are struggling with different things and in different ways.

Despite Asaph’s errors here, he still tries to figure out, on his own, why the wicked prosper, but he could not get to the bottom of it by himself: “But what a difficult task it is” (vs. 16b).

Asaph’s transformation, the crux of the whole story and the true testimony behind this particular Psalm, begins in verse 17, “Then I went into your sanctuary, O God…” In the Message paraphrase, verse 17 continues, “then I saw the whole picture.” It was when Asaph took the focus off of other people and stopped trying to figure things out on his own and pursued and entered into the presence of God that God began an excellent change in our story’s main character.

Asaph got the answer to his question, which was that in the end, the wicked really do not prosper at all. Indeed, in verse 18, we learn that it was revealed to Asaph that, “you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff of destruction.” When I read that verse, I picture a very long slip and slide that has an end that cannot be seen.

It is important to note here that there are times when we can be dwelling in God’s presence on this side of heaven but still do not receive the answer(s) we are looking for. Only God knows why, but my best guess is that not having those answers is God saying that we need to keep trusting Him.

So Asaph gets his answer during this encounter; this…rendezvous with God. But he also gets so much more…

 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
    and I was all torn up inside. (verse 21)

Asaph’s envy had really done a number on him and even though he found the answer to his question, the weight had not been lifted by that answer alone. It was a hard realization.

I was so foolish and ignorant—
    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
(verse 22)

It can often be difficult to reflect on how we screw up and how it must make God feel.

Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    leading me to a glorious destiny.
 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth. (verses 23-25)

But through His faithfulness and grace, he takes us to a place of refinement, where he straightens out and corrects our thinking, and in Asaph’s story, the outpouring of that refinement says, “I don’t want what THEY have, I want YOU…” and an important note here is to realize he does NOT say, “I don’t want what THEY have, I want what YOU have for me or what YOU can give me…” In the second part of verse 25, Asaph says, “I desire YOU more than anything on earth,” not what God could do for him or give him, but he desires God Himself.

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.
(vs. 26)

Another byproduct of Asaph’s rendezvous comes in verse 26 as he is reassured that no matter what, “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.
(verses 27-28)

He reminds us that he gets his answer (“…you destroy those who abandon you.”), a dose of reality, from the question he entered into God’s presence to have answered. His response, “But as for me…” an honest and informed declaration, is that he wants to continue to pursue and dwell in God’s presence, that God’s presence is where he finds his rest, and that he wants to draw others into that presence by testifying to the wonderful things God does.

In 28 verses, we see Asaph, this seemingly respected worship leader who was almost destroyed by an envy of others based on mere assumption, transform his thinking from “Is all of this even worth it?” to “I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter.” and it is a redemptive story that we can not only appreciate, but share with him by pursuing and dwelling in the very presence of God.


To Be a Paramedic – Matthew 9 Continued

I wrote quite a bit recently about Matthew 9 and Jesus healing the paralytic man and promised to write more about it because there is so much great stuff in this passage that I could not fit it into one post.

I don’t necessarily do devotions as many of you might, going from passage to passage each day.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with jumping around each day, but for me, I tend to let God work through a certain passage with me for as long as He needs to.  I’ll read the same passage over and over and let God really penetrate me with it as I think, pray, and meditate on it.  Sometimes, He keeps me in one passage, even one verse, for weeks, maybe months at a time.  I have been chewing and feasting on Matthew 9 for a few weeks now, not only bringing back the theme to me that He is all I need, but really looking at all the people involved in this passage and how it applies to my walk with Jesus.  I said in my last Matthew 9 post that I could relate to the paralytic man because I am helpless, having the ability to do nothing on my own.  As a helpless human, Jesus knows the best thing to say to me is, “Cheer up, son!  Your sins are forgiven.”

When Jesus said this to the man who was paralyzed, though, it was only the beginning.  The teachers of the law whispered amongst themselves that Jesus was blaspheming.  The passage says that Jesus knew what they were thinking and He calls them out on their thoughts, “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[b] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” With that, Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and tells him to stand up, pick up his mat, and go home.  Verse 7 says the man JUMPED up and went home! There was a reverent fear through the whole crowd when they saw this, according to verse 8, and they praised God for sending a man with such great authority.  Notice we do not hear anything else from the teachers of the law here. Don’t worry, they’ll be back…

But let’s take a look at what happened here with these teachers. We know that they’re a little leery of this Jesus fellow. How awkward must it have been when Jesus calls them out for their thoughts? Then, He immediately follows that up by physically healing the paralyzed man and sending him home.  Luke says in his version of this passage that the man went home praising God.  We do not know anything else about this man; his name, whether he had a family, etc., but I can only imagine that as he went home (I would almost assume he was running), every person he passed on the way was told of this miracle.  And what if this man had a family waiting for him at home? He opens the door and walks through to the delight of his confused family.  This blessing could not be hidden from anyone who had known this man before he met up with Jesus.  I mean, with all that Jesus did there, it’s no wonder we hear nothing else from the teachers.  He may not have convinced them, but He did silence them, leaving them speechless, even if only for a short time.

As little as we know about the formerly paralyzed man, we know even less about the people who brought him to Jesus.  Some versions say that the people were all men, some versions simply describe them as people.  We do not know how many, whether they were family, friends, people who pitied the man…nothing really.  Through the passage, we don’t learn all that much either, but Luke’s version of this event adds a little more fun to the equation:

18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, 19 but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

In both gospels, it is said that Jesus saw the faith of these people who brought this man to him and that is when He utters those beautiful words that his sins are forgiven. We don’t get any insight into whether anyone said anything to Jesus once they reached Him, but these people must have really wanted this man, whether their friend, father, husband, uncle, or whoever he was to them, to be healed if they went through all that trouble just to get him noticed by Jesus in hopes of having him healed. I do not believe that one can be saved through the faith of others and I don’t think that this is what this passage implies, however, I do believe people can be healed of their pain and helplessness when there are people willing to deliver them to the feet of Jesus Christ.

A name that we often give Jesus is “The Great Physician”.  It’s a pretty fitting name and an interesting analogy, one that Jesus appears to use in describing Himself later on in this same chapter.  Of course, as with all analogies when we try to compare human things to divine things (which is all we know how to do, right?) because God is so much bigger than any analogy we can use to describe Him, it breaks down.  It breaks down because He is more than just a doctor, but the cure itself.  He is not administering the antidote, He himself is antidote that we need to be healed.

I have been pretty fortunate that I have only had to take one ambulance ride in my life.  I had hurt my back a few days prior (picking up a shirt off the floor, no less) and one morning as I walked into the bathroom and turned around, I almost passed out from the pain. I could not get my bearings back…I sat on the bathroom floor as my wife called for an ambulance. After a short time, the paramedics delivered me to the hospital so I could see the doctor.  By that time, I was a little more lucid.  The doctor ended up giving me a prescription to help ease the pain and lo and behold, within a few days, the pain had pretty much disappeared.

The people who brought the paralytic man to Jesus were paramedics. He was in need of healing and these people knew where they had to take him in order to get it. They delivered him to the cure.  Think about what paramedics do:

They respond when someone is in trouble. They check vital signs. When something is broken, they try to hold it together. Where there is no heartbeat, they try to revive it. When there is trouble breathing, they try to stabilize it.  When there is blood and bruising, they will try to clean it up the best they can.  They deliver the sick and the helpless to the doctor, who can make them well.

It is often said that the church is a hospital. I think ultimately, though, the hospital is really the feet of Jesus Christ and we as the church are the paramedics, delivering the sick, those in pain, and those dying, to Him for healing.

The church can be the ambulance that takes the sick and dying to the feet of the Great Physician and its people can be the paramedics who care for them on the ride, but we need to be careful. The way we often treat those who are sick and in pain is similar to a paramedic showing up to your house because you broke your leg tripping over something and having the paramedic telling you to clean up the clutter in your house and driving away.

Sin is a disease; a cancer. People are in pain for so many different reasons, yet we too often treat people like lepers and outcast them when we should be opening up the ambulance door, guiding them in, whether we’re holding their hand or lifting a stretcher, and help deliver them to the feet of Jesus Christ, where the ultimate healing can really happen.

Hiding in Plain Sight

In her prayer journal, author Flannery O’Connor writes:

“I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do.  I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, “oh God please,” and “I must,” and “please, please.” I have not asked you, I feel, in the right way.  Let me henceforth ask you with resignation-that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind-realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust.  I do not wish to presume.  I want to love.  Oh God please make my mind clear.  Please make it clean…Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.”

Now, even though I did go ahead and bold two parts of this, I have to say that this whole passage is so beautifully honest and if I can be honest myself, completely sounds like me; at least the first part where she talks about not asking God for things the right way.  I do find myself feeling this same way, frenzied, while praying because of an eagerness for what I want (or think I need or deserve) and wanting it now, rather than in spiritual trust to the One I impatiently ask.

I assume that O’Connor is stating that she does not want to presume that she will simply be handed what she has asked for.  We often do just presume that God will answer our prayers with a “yes” and be done with it.  She is saying that she doesn’t want to do that anymore and just wants to love…love God?  love His people?  love everything?  I’m not sure, but just the fact that this little sentence is the overflow of her heart makes me also want to love and be the overflow of my heart, rather than just sitting around waiting for God to bless me with what I want (especially when what He ends up giving me is so much more than what we had asked for).

The second bolded statement jumped out at me because it reminds me of when my older son is looking for his shoes in the morning before school.  We have a basket in our dining room that we call “the shoe bin”.  It is simply a place where all of our shoes are kept so that they are all in one place.  Now sometimes, a shoe will sometimes make its way somewhere else on our first floor (my younger son has a huge thing for shoes and puts them on his feet ALL the time), but most of the time, the shoes are pretty much contained to the bin. My son will go over, usually even turn the light on to see, look at the top of the shoe pile and quickly exclaim, “Where are my shoes?”  This question is usually answered by either my wife or I going over and moving a shoe (if that) or two, exposing his “missing” shoe.  His response is usually something like, “Oh, there it is,” said with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.  We then respond by telling him that if he just would have looked a little harder, he could have found it on his own.

O’Connor hits the nail on the head here when she prays for help to get down under things and find where God is.  We are so often like my son, only looking to what is on the top; what can be easily seen.  When we don’t see God there, we get frustrated and don’t take the extra time to keep searching.  Sometimes, God can’t be seen right in front of us or at the top of the pile.  We have to keep going in order to find Him.

13-14 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.

“Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. (Jeremiah 29:13-14 MSG)

If you are having trouble finding God today, whether it’s because you are frustrated by your frenzied prayers based on an eagerness or presumption of receiving the blessing you want or you just aren’t looking deep enough for Him, just keep looking for Him because once you find Him, you’ll realize He was simply hiding in plain sight.

All I Need

Recently, I was reading through Matthew 9 and I was particularly struck by the story of Jesus and the paralytic man.

9 Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

3 But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?” 4 Jesus knew[a] what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[b] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

7 And the man jumped up and went home! 8 Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great authority

First, these people brought a helpless man who could not walk to Jesus for healing, even when he was too weak or unable to do it himself.  That hit me because of our need for fellowship.  Many times, it is through the help and efforts of other people that we are lead to Jesus. I was also especially struck by the first words that Jesus says to the paralyzed man…”be encouraged, my child!  Your sins are forgiven.”  In The Message, it says, “Cheer up, son.  I forgive your sins.” I love it!  From the very first words that Jesus says to him, He is telling the man, “I am all you need.”

I relate well to the paralyzed man. I am helpless.  Too often when I am helpless, though, I want to pick myself up and try to figure everything out on my own and keep going.  When we’re helpless, though, we can’t do that.  Sometimes we just have to let other people carry us to Jesus so He can utter those same words to us that He said to the paralytic man;  “Cheer up, son.  I forgive your sins.”  If I have nothing else, I at least have what I need.

More on this passage soon!  Be Blessed, friends…