Reality Check

Psalm 73

We all know appearances can be deceiving. If you doubt it, check out one of those funky mirrors at the next carnival. Those sorts of images are distorted enough we know immediately the original doesn’t look like that. When Rick Hagerstrom does one of his performances or Daisy talks back to Dana Perkins, we may not know quite how it works but we are convinced it’s an illusion.

But what about when it isn’t quite so obvious; when what we’re looking at has every appearance of reality? How do we make sure we have a right understanding of what is real, what is important? Even most committed Christian can be deceived or distracted, Bible is full of examples. David, man after God’s heart — and his neighbor’s wife. Peter, favored disciple with James and John, fearful liar with a servant girl. Asaph,… who?

The OT story of people of God written in such a way that kind of need to read between lines to learn about some important but not central figures. Asaph fits in that category – of great importance to his fellow Israelites and to us because of his legacy, but not real prominent in the Biblical record. We read in 1 Chron. 15:16-19; 16:4-6 how King David appointed Asaph as worship leader, charged to use his voice and cymbals to direct music outside the tabernacle. Was a position of great responsibility, one that required spiritual understanding as well as musical talent.

Here in our text, have the testimony of one who loved the Lord yet nearly lost his faith. It is apparent from the historical information as well as his name being at head of 12 of the psalms: number 50, this one and following 10, that he was no spiritual lightweight. He still suffered from challenges to his faith, though. Asaph describes in some detail what prompted his crisis and how he recovered from it with his faith not just intact, but strengthened. Keep in mind, circumstances leading up to crisis may differ but his solution is valid in every case.

A. confused by envy v.1-14

Asaph started in right place – truly God is good to his people. (1)

no matter what the issue, setting, circumstances: always right and best to begin with God and his character

obvious from his assessment he had spiritual understanding – objects of God’s favor: those who “are pure in heart”; refers to issues of the heart 6x: v.1,7,13,21 & 26

problem comes when he takes a cultural leap; starts with what he knows about God, decides based on that how the culture ought to look

compares what he thinks it ought to be with how it appears to be – brain pain! something at variance with itself

true confessions here: he almost “lost his faith”, lost his confidence in God and his goodness (2)

good reminder for those with younger children (or grand or great-grand): even the faith of seasoned believers can be challenged; must prepare children well, help them know God, not just Bible trivia

the psalmist’s perspective on the wicked

their benefits

they enjoy good health (4)

free of pain all their life, strong in body – robust and vigorous – able to enjoy life to the fullest; don’t engage in labor that takes toll on body, wears out body parts

compare: prayer list, number of committed Christians with significant health issues, just ones we know

they don’t suffer hardship (5)

“It’s not so much that money buys you happiness but that lack of money buys you misery,” said Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus of psychology at Princeton and one of the authors of the study. “The lack of money no longer hurts you after $75,000.”

can afford to buy the good things: good tools, nice vehicles, nice homes, list goes on, not doing without until it goes on sale or can find it second-hand

they have plenty to eat and drink (7, 10, 12)

supplied with rich food, their cup is always full; providing for material needs is easy

frugal by choice (if at all), not by necessity; no worries where tomorrow’s provision will come from

their behavior

proud, unwilling to submit to authority (6)

prosperity encourages: pride of self-sufficiency, elevated self-esteem – don’t need to depend on anyone else, don’t need to really listen to anyone else, self is of highest importance

regard themselves as the ultimate authority (8-9, 11)

listen to how the wicked speak: have all the answers to politics, medical care, climate change

give no credit to God as creator and sustainer of the universe – “Earth is the only source of life and we must save it at any cost.”

make day to day decisions without consideration for God and any consequences for disobeying him

what’s going on here??? (12a)

look at them, living like they please and doing well with no apparent consequences (12)

more than a simple call for God, or any other witnesses present, to take notice of prosperity of ungodly

it is call to look at them, look at me, tell me what’s wrong with this picture; if God is God and true to his word, how come do things appear this way?

I’m no better off for having lived righteously (13)

have all had experience: commit to doing task the right way, end up on the wrong side of overzealous nit-picking official who seems impossible to please; think, should have just done it and forget about the rules, they’re stupid anyway

now broaden that experience out to include most of life, no obvious benefits for following the rules

in fact, life’s tough, tougher than it should be (14)

again, not simply lack of advantage or benefit; there seems to be serious disadvantage to living righteously

can almost hear the discouragement: I try and try and it’s hard and the other way looks so much easier and better results, too

so what happened? got sucked in by apparent well-being (shalom) of the wicked

envy is just one temptation we can fall into when we lose right focus, grasp on true reality, start making comparisons between us and them

not that he approved of their methods, just wasn’t seeing the benefit of being good

important to notice he doesn’t deny or disprove the reality of their well-being, there’s another point to be made

B. changed by worship v.15-17

I can’t do this to my friends (15)

in a position of spiritual leadership, respected by the worshiping community; to openly confess doubts about faith would have far-reaching effect – imagine if Billy Graham or Pastor Waugh let it slip that they had doubts about God!!

this is just too hard to think about (16)

thinking through the consequences of the what if’s: if reality is really as I perceive, what does that mean about God – trying to reconcile that perspective with what I know to be true about God, can’t do it

can’t go there, can’t ignore it, can’t reconcile it, HELP! It’s making my head hurt! …and my heart.

the Aha! moment (17)

didn’t happen while looking at the culture – I went….then I understood

great practical benefit of regular presence in worship: opportunity for reality check

more you see and hear from the world, more influence it has – little by little, inch by inch, perception of reality drifts

come to see more of life from world’s perspective rather than God’s perspective

sitting under faithful preaching/teaching of God’s Word serves as corrective, enabling the Christian to see beyond surface appearances to true reality

C. clarified outlook v.18-28

I get it now (18-20)

notice how assessment of the wicked is radically changed: God really is sovereign over all things

their security and stability and wonderful future was only an appearance, did not accurately portray God’s plan for them

their complacency and comfort no more real than a dream and will disappear just as quickly

all of their prosperity will evaporate, pride and arrogance will be replaced by terror

boy, was I stupid (21-24)

of course we’ve never said that! when we come to understanding of situation, have benefit of hindsight

should have stuck with understanding of absolute truth about God and his character – eyes and ears can deceive

and don’t even try to figure out the how – how is God going to work it out, demonstrate his “wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” =>just praise him when you recognize it <=

You are my only hope (25-26)

appearances don’t stack up to the real thing – their hope is in what is only temporary, for this life

real hope goes beyond this life – my portion forever; we know this, need to be reminded regularly

nothing the world has to offer can satisfy our desires more than temporarily

now I see the real contrast (27-28)

what you see depends on where you’re standing – true about a lot of things, especially spiritual truths

if we are close to the world, perspective will more closely match that of the world; if we are close to God, will be closer to God’s view of things

So what’s the answer to keeping right outlook on our circumstances, God and his character? Use absolutely every means at our disposal to draw near to God. God has graciously given us several means for just that purpose: reading his Word, hearing his Word taught and applied, participation in corporate worship, private and public prayer, spending time with his people.

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