Monday, November 23, 2009

The Christian and Depression #8

TEXT:    Psalm 73
TITLE:   “Lacking Perspective “
Date  preached :     22/11/2009   

This Psalm  deals with   a double problem  which has often perplexed God’s people :
  1. Why  do godly people  suffer   so frequently?
  2. Why do the ungodly  prosper so frequently?

I thank God for the  remarkable honesty  of the  Psalms. Thank God that the Bible   portrays life as it is , ‘warts and all‘.  The Bible is not about perfect people  who  never put a foot wrong . You will not find a person  in the Bible  who gives you the impression that  they are always on the top of the  mountain.  That is a distorted view of  Christianity –  a distorted  view of life in this world under Christ.  
Christians  do  struggle- and perhaps sometimes even more so , because their whole worldview  is opposed  to ungodliness , and therefore they are  even more at risk  concerning  the range of  possibilities that could cause  depression. The difference  is however   that the Christian  woman and man   is ultimately in the hand of God,  and when  they cry out to Him , they will once again  find  deliverance  and perspective. This is the  testimony   concerning Israel in the book of Judges. This is the story  of the man in  Psalm 73. 

This Psalm  reflects  the confession of a man   called  Asaph[1]  who tells us  of an occasion   when “ his  feet had almost  stumbled / slipped”  (v.2).  The indication here is that   this  situation arose  unexpectedly. He was clearly not prepared for this .  It nearly “threw” him.
 But  we are running ahead of the story. 
V.1   begins with a testimony  of  praise and thanksgiving: “Surely  God is good to  Israel, to those who are pure in heart “. He is  reflecting on a past event  in which he had nearly fallen into  a  dreadful trap – but praise be to God , he has escaped  from that. The  important point that he makes here  is that God  is  always good to the pure in heart. Let us consider   how he arrives at this conclusion.
What he is saying in a nutshell :   
He  reflects the experience of a believer  who at some point nearly went spiritually astray. He became almost embittered  and disillusioned  with  God,  on account of a situation  that  he had observed and misinterpreted .   With this experience now behind him  he  uses these  graphic terms  to describe what almost happened: “ My feet  had almost stumbled , my steps had nearly slipped .”    “Almost …”  , “ nearly…”  !  Thank God , he did not  slip!

Vv   3 – 14What it was  that had nearly caused him to slip .
He was observing life ( as we all do)  from his perspective  as a believer , and he began to note  that whilst he was seeking to live a godly life, seeking to  keep his heart clean, washing his hands in innocence  (v.13), he   became overwhelmed by the fact  that “ all the day long he had been stricken and rebuked every morning…(v.14),  whilst observing  that the wicked  were “ …always at ease, increasing in riches …” .
He   was having a hard time  reconciling  his suffering as a believer   with the seeming ease and prosperity  which  the arrogant  and the wicked  (v.3) enjoyed.     He saw how self assured  , self confident   and  successful  they appeared  to be.  The thought  of death does apparently  not scare them  (until death comes !) ; their bodies   are fat and sleek . They do not appear to have any troubles.   They are proud , violent  , fat  ( Note the vivid description - ‘ their eyes  swell out through fatness’ ); their  speech  is scoffing  and malicious ; they threaten oppression. In modern day terms they  would say : “ Don’t  touch me ,  I will sue you! “  But worst of all,   their mouths even spoke  boastfully against God  (see vv 9- 10) .  They say  : “ How  can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High ?”  You hear this sort of thing today  .  You hear modern scoffers say : ” You Christians talk about your God . But  all  you seem to  have is problems . You and your church  .Look at the hypocrites you live with ! And look at us . Nothing is wrong with us . We are happy , we are secure – but  you who are so godly , look at the things that happen to you .

By the time  we get to v.13 , we see that the Psalmist is quite despondent  : “ All in vain  have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” .
So , this is the position in which he finds himself. These are the thought patterns  which  cause this spiritual depression  in Him,  and it is obviously a very great temptation to his soul  - for humanly speaking it  nearly led to his  demise.
Before we  continue to consider  how the Psalmist was delivered from this problem , let us  make ...
A few observations  about the nature  of such  trials  and temptations  which are common to Christians . 

1.      In and of themselves such  perplexities and temptations  are not sinful . It is what we do with them that  determines  whether we will get through this storm. Note that the apostle Paul  who suffered very great  temptations  so very often ,  said in 2 Cor 4 :8   : “We are afflicted in every way , but not crushed ; perplexed , but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken ; struck down but not destroyed …”. Paul was perplexed. He did not understand  what was happening to him , but this fact did not drive him to despair .
2.       Perplexities  and lack of perspective  are dangerous  in that they can  easily lead us  into temptation . This  was  the situation with the Psalmist . We  must remember that  lack of perspective  produces a ‘ blinding effect '. It is like driving into the  sun as it sets on the horizon . You struggle  to see  the  road  ahead .  In the same way there  are  come these perplexing times when  we  are  caught "off balance"  and are not able to think clearly.
3.      All of us must  be very  careful   concerning this and not think that these things cannot happen to us  . We must take  counsel from   1 Cor 10 :12   : “ Therefore  let anyone  who thinks that he stands  take heed  lest he fall”. In this regard it is also important that we should  make  full use of the armour of God ( Eph 6:10-18)

The Turning Point : vv  15 ff 

The turning point  begins  in v.15  “ If I had said: I will speak thus  , I would have betrayed the generation  of your children.”   Please note, the problem isn’t solved  yet, but he makes  a very important  turn here .  He is saying , “I don’t understand  what is happening here, but I also know that  my thoughts  have been leading me into very dangerous, blasphemous   paths. I must watch my subjective feelings now,   for  if I carry my thoughts to a logical conclusion , I am going to do damage – I am going to betray  the generation of your children ;  I am going to be a negative  example  to   other believers.”    
Asaph is expressing a very weighty matter here . Since he seems to have been a spiritual leader who is now going through a spiritual crisis, it will be very  important to watch him how he  copes with this crisis.  If he fails, he may  cause much damage  in the process.
So, note that Asaph is beginning to think about the consequences of his thoughts .  
 The slipping  has stopped ! 
He is no longer  in danger  of uttering those blasphemous  thoughts  that were threatening to overflow from his mouth and thus affect those around him.  But still  the  perspective is not  quite  there  yet !  We see this , because in v.16  he confesses: “But when I  thought  how to understand this  , it seemed to me a wearisome task .”  
 Let’s face it – how do you figure  out something as perplexing  as this?  Will you ever  figure out   how  a good God  allows his children to suffer , whilst allowing the wicked to prosper ? 

V. 17 – The turning point  and  the importance of spiritual  thinking
“…until I went  into the sanctuary of God ; then I discerned  their end.“
When Asaph went  to the house of God his perspective changed in an instant. In an instant  he  began  to adopt a spiritual  approach to thinking about life  and its complexities  instead of  a humanistic, rational , “at face value” approach . Everything changed  in a  moment when he saw that.   Spiritual thinking  had now  put everything  into perspective  for Asaph.
If there is a lesson for us in this , then it is this: The Bible  has an answer  for  all the perplexities  of life.  We need  to bring ourselves under  the influence of the Word of God (both in our  private  reading of the Word and  in  hearing the Word read and expounded  in  public worship). We need  to have our thought processes   regulated by spiritual logic and wisdom , rather than by conventional human wisdom.
If only we would  allow ourselves to think spiritually  and biblically about everything,  we will  not easily be taken captive  by such oppressive thoughts. We will always be able to come to the conclusion of Asaph  : “ Truly God is good to Israel , to those who are pure in heart”.  There is always an answer for the seeker after  God’s truth. For Asaph that happened when  he went into the sanctuary of God. 

Dr Lloyd Jones   preached a series of sermons on this Psalm  and has has  helped me to see  some important  applications. I quote : [2] 
 “When something  happens which we do not understand, the first thing we have to say to ourselves is : “ Am I facing  this spiritually ? Am I recollecting that this is a question of my relationship with God ?  Am I sure my thinking  is spiritual at this point  ? Or have I reverted unconsciously to my natural way of thinking about these things ?
He then gives a very useful  example of how  easily we succumb to  rationalistic rather than to biblical thinking :
I have often  known Christian people revert completely from spiritual   to rational  thinking when talking about politics. On this subject  they do not seem to be talking as  spiritual people any longer. All the prejudices of the natural person enter in … and all the worldly arguments . Our lives must be consistent …. We  must be spiritual at all points…“

Lloyd Jones relates   how  Spurgeon  once told his students that they would find people who in prayer meetings prayed like real saints, and who in general behaved like true saints, and yet in a church meeting  suddenly become devils .
Lloyd Jones comments further: “You see , in praying to God they think spiritually. Then they come into the business of the church and they become devils. Why? Because  they start off in an unspiritual manner, on the assumption that there is an essential difference between a church meeting and a prayer meeting. They have a party spirit within them. And out it comes. It is simply because they forget that they need to think spiritually in everything .”

Lastly …
What did Asaph see in the sanctuary  that provided him with this spiritual perspective ?   Verses 18-  28 tell the story:
  1. Vv 18 – 20 &  27   he tells us how he  had been provided  with a revelation  of the future of the wicked . he saw at once that there is no way  that the wicked shall escape  the  just  wrath  and  the omnipotent  eye of God . Therefore,  the child of God must therefore  not envy them , and  not worry  about the short lived prosperity of the wicked. Life is short and eternity is long. Asaph has the pleasure of knowing  that he will be received into glory (v.24).  But those that are far from God  will perish ! (v.27)
  2.  Vv 21-22 are a confession. Asaph confesses his  own sinfulness in this matter . He confesses that this wrong thinking has made him  embittered … brutish … ignorant . He  admits :  “ I behaved like a beast  toward God”
  3. Vv 23-26 & 28  is  a reaffirmation  of the  love of God and the sovereign protection of God  for  him.

Truly God is  good to you,  dear child of God. He is  good  to those who are pure in heart – those who have set their eyes continually upon their  God .  He will not cause their foot to slip. Thank God for the  doctrine  of the perseverance of the saints . Amen !

[1]Asaph  was a descendant of Gershom , son of Levi  ( 1 Chron  6:39) . He was nominated by the chief Levites as a leading singer  when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem  ( 1 Chron  15:17-19 ). David made him the head of  choral worship ( 1 Chron.  16:4,5). In 2 Chron.  29:30  and Neh. 12:46   David  and Asaph are named together . In  2 Chron  29:30  Asaph  is  called “ a seer” . He is the author  of a number of Psalms
[2] D.Martyn Lloyd Jones  : Faith on Trial , p 105/106

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