- No one can serve two masters…And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. …If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. …So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Matthew 6:24; Luke 9:23; 14:26, 33 (ESV)
A life of following Jesus is a life of fighting sin, denying our own will (often our dreams and pursuits). Though this is a joyful walk, filled with unimaginable benefits in this life and the next, sometimes we lose sight of the eternal perspective and become discouraged. Sometimes we see unbelievers living it up, not denying themselves; not fighting sin but rather giving themselves fully to the pleasures of sin. In these seasons our vision can become cloudy and we can lose God’s perspective.
We can wonder, “Is it worth it? Is Jesus worth the self-sacrifice? Am I wasting my life with Jesus when I could be living it up like everyone else?
In our discouragement we can become tempted to give up.
People in the Bible felt this way too. They fought with the same doubts and temptations we face. One amazing psalm is entirely given to this theme. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73, records his words for our encouragement.
I. The Dilemma (v1-3). Truth: God is good to his people. The problem is not with God, but with my perspective. BUT – although it is true that God is good – Asaph says he almost fell, slipped, gave up. Why? Because he saw that unbelievers were prospering…and his life was hard. He was envious of their prosperity, and their ease of life.
II. Description of the Faithless (v4-12). This description seems exaggerated, but in the Psalmist’s discouraged frame of mind it seemed like unbelievers didn’t have a care in the world. No problems. They embrace and enjoy their sin, become puffed up with pride, and enjoy the common grace blessings of life while not caring about God. In fact, they think God doesn’t care how they live; that they will not have to answer to him. “God won’t judge me…” Asaph describes how they – without fear – use their tongue to speak against God and man.
III. The Difficulties of Faith (v13-15). In a moment of discouragement and self-pity the Psalmist thinks that all his concern for living a life of faith/righteousness before God is in vain. He thinks his sorrow over sin and his repentance has been for nothing. No benefits! He still suffers! Yet, in his pity-party he knows better than to say this out loud. He knows it’s not really true; it’s just how he feels. He will not open his mouth and blame God. To say these things out loud, before I’ve worked though them, would be destructive to the faith of others. We should keep our mouths closed during our pity-party.
IV. Divine Perspective (v16-17). All of this was too much for Asaph. It almost pushed him over the edge of his faith. Until God graciously gave him a new perspective – his perspective! An ‘Aha!’ moment. This change of heart came when Asaph went to the ‘sanctuary of God’ – that is, to public worship at the Tabernacle. When Asaph joined the assembled people of God in worship and hearing the words of God read and proclaimed, the Lord ministered to him. What was the difference? He discerned their end. God showed Asaph that no matter how things looked now, the path of faith and the path of unbelief lead to two very different destinations.
V. Destruction of the Wicked (v18-20). The wicked may appear to be blessed now, but they are actually under God’s righteous judgment and condemnation. And this will be seen in due time. (I think of Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 where the one who looked blessed was actually cursed, and the one who looked cursed by God was actually blessed…eternally).
VI. Discouragement Confessed (v21-22). Asaph repents for his misguided attitude towards God. I was ignorant…like a beast toward you. In times of discouragement we must repent from our pity-parties. We are responsible for our feelings, even though we cannot fully control them (Rom 12:11 – where we are commanded to not be slothful in zeal but, rather, fervent in spirit). Though we cannot will our discouragement or depression away, we can lay our wrong attitudes and emotions down before the Lord with a heart of repentance, asking for his grace.
VII. Description of the Benefits (v23-24). With his fresh perspective in the presence of the Lord Asaph can now see benefits of faith that were unseen before. Psalm 103:1-5 encourages us to ‘forget no all his benefits.’
- I am continually with you. God’s presence, even in times of suffering and difficulty!
- You hold my right hand. The Lord will not let his people go!
- You guide me with your counsel. God guides and teaches with his word – just as he has done in giving Asaph this change of heart.
For the Church: How do these benefits come to us? Asaph was a believing member of God’s old covenant people, the nation of Israel. Through Israel God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the King and Messiah he had promised. Jesus died on the cross, bearing the sins of God’s people, and rose from the grave. All who believe on Christ are part of the new covenant people of God, the church. All God’s promises and blessings and benefits only come through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
VIII. Delighting in God (v25-26). Now Asaph overflows with beautiful expressions of worship. Whether future or present, God is his delight! Through the eyes of faith Asaph can say that the point of heaven is the Lord himself! The prize of heaven is God – not family reunions and streets of gold.
And this is true for the present as well. There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. The Lord has become the all-surpassing Treasure of Asaph’s heart!
Asaph admits his frailty and weakness. There will still be times when he stumbles, despite this great illumination he has received in God’s house. He will still stumble and become discouraged (my flesh and my heart may fail). But even in those times, God – God himself – is the strength of his heart (the healer and sustainer of my heart). In addition, God is his portion forever. He is my portion – that is, he is enough! The dilemma is answered: God is enough! It is worth it to deny self and sin, fight temptation, even to suffer when necessary. The Lord is worth it!
IX. Final Destination (v27-28). Asaph summarizes the two paths and where they lead, using the words ‘far’ and ‘near.’ Unbelievers are far from God in this life, and will be far from him forever, receiving judgment from God. But God’s people who continue in faith will be near to God even in this life, and with him forever!
Asaph is now encouraged and refreshed. He has made God his refuge. He hides for protection and comfort in the Lord. And now he is ready to tell others this great truth he has discovered. He has been encouraged by the Lord, and now he can encourage God’s people:
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Apply the Word
Ø Which path are you on? Faith or Unbelief? Have you believed on the Lord and repented of sin?
Ø Are you discouraged? Ready to give up? Confess your wrong attitudes/emotions to God. Come into the presence of God with his gathered people, hear his word and pray for God’s perspective. By grace, see the benefits of the faith and praise God! And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
Ø Delight in God through Jesus Christ! By God’s grace we are given hearts that treasure him above all others. Take your eyes off the treasures of this world and temporary pleasures, and fix your eyes on the lasting, eternal Treasure – Jesus Christ!