Sunday, December 18, 2016

PSALM 73 - THE DILEMMA OF THE DISCONTENTED MAN

(NOTE: this sermon forms part of a series  of 4 sermons on Contentment and Discontentment, preached at the Swakopmund Baptist Church  on the 11th and 18th December 2016) 

The great value of the Book of Psalms is that  here we have godly  people  sharing  their very  real experiences, both in terms of  their  joys and  their struggles. For this reason the Book of Psalms has helped many Christians.  They see themselves in it as in a mirror. They can say, “This is my experience also.”  

When the Psalmist says for instance,  "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD  will take me in” (Ps. 27:10).  Angela, a young Christian Ovahimba girl  in our church can relate to that. After she became a Christian,   her mother  told her to leave the house, but the Lord provided her with a new  Christian family  in the context of the Eastside Baptist Church.  
So too, a  time of spiritual  dryness   in one's own soul  may  relate to  the message of  Psalm 42:1ff :
“As the deer pants  for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you Oh God” , and its hope expressed - “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42: 5,6,11; 43:5)

One  remarkable  feature about the Psalms is the honesty with which the authors  tell the truth about themselves. We have an example of that here in  Psalm 73. The Psalmist Asaph  tells  us that  that he had  nearly slipped – not literally of course, but in a spiritual sense. He  confesses that  in that time  he  had become  embittered and  that he had behaved  like  a beast toward  God (73:21,22).  

So what had happened?

A situation had arisen in which he had become discontent with his  position as a believer before God. What honesty, and  again I remind you that this  where the  great value of the Psalms is found. There is nothing more discouraging than to meet  people who  give the impression that  they are always on top of things. That is certainly not true in the Bible and  of  the  Psalms. Here we meet people just like ourselves…. struggling with bitterness and discontentment. 

There was a time in the Christian church when  a doctrine of “Christian Perfectionism” was  a popular  expression  of faith, particular in the  so-called "Holiness movement".  People were saying that  they were not struggling with sin any longer, and  every testimony they bore  was a testimony of victory. The truth is that such people weren’t allowed to be honest.  Perfectionism  is simply not true to the experience of the people who teach this, for we know that they are fallible creatures like the rest of us. They put their teaching of perfection forward theoretically, but it is not true to their own experience. Thank God  that the Psalmists do not do that. They tell us the plain truth about themselves and  they  give glory to  God, and do not draw attention to themselves.   The motive  of the Psalmist  was not to  boast in himself. There is a confession of sin  which can draw  an unhealthy attention to ourselves.  This  is a very subtle danger.  Asaph  does not  want to  do that. He tells us the truth about himself because he wants to glorify God.

PSALM 73 IN A NUTSHELL :

Asaph starts with a summary  of his experience, being thankful that he has come through this trying and difficult time: "Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart".  That is the  theme, and the outcome  of this Psalm.   

Asaph had drifted from his spiritual moorings, but the important point is  that he came back, home to God  again. We all know something about that kind of experience in our own lives. We start in the right place and then we make a wrong decision  which takes us into a spiritual wasteland. 
Thank God for the turning point!
But  how did he get to this point of despair  and how did he come to the turning point? 

In vv. 2-15  he tells us about an  experience which left him  shaken, and that he very nearly fell. Now, he was clearly a man  who  sought to live a godly life.  He  was keeping his soul from sin. He was meditating upon the things of God.  He  was  in the habit of examining his life.  He  was devoting himself to a life  pleasing to  God. Yet, although he was doing  this, he was having a great deal of trouble, as vv. 13 & 14 reveals.

We  are not told the exact nature of his troubles.  It  may have been  sickness or  trouble in his family or something else. It is clear that he felt severely tested, and nothing seemed to be going right for him. But there was an even  greater issue which he struggled with.  He saw a striking contrast between  the lives of the arrogant, the wicked, the ungodly  man and himself.    The wicked seemed to prosper in the world.  Everything seemed to go smooth with them (v. 4ff). They are  not in trouble, they were not stricken,… they were proud and affluent.  They were self - assertive and confident, and they  were even confidently challenging God  and heaven (vv. 9-11). The same sort of thing happens today. You have people  who are not faithful believers. Things are going well with them, and they make  blasphemous statements about God. They say, "How does God know”, and “is there knowledge in the most High?"  They see themselves as prosperous and successful, and by contrast they see you, the true believer  struggling  in every way.  This can lead to real discontentment in one’s  soul.  So, let us try to understand this  phenomenon.   

Perplexity Is Not Surprising

The first  thing we want to note  is this. Don’t be surprised  when this happens. Remember  that  God  has a fundamental principle written in the Bible. It says,  "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isaiah 55:8).  Much of our  trouble  arises from the fact that we do not understand  this basic principle. We forget  that  we  are  dealing with the mind of God, and that God's mind is not like our mind. We see everything  as  cut and dried and simple. We think  that life is one big formula. Do this, do that,  and all will  work out alright. We  tend to think  and feel that there should never be any problems or difficulties. We tend to think that God should always be blessing His own children,  with health , wealth and prosperity. But it is not  that simple. 

The Bible  teaches us that the ways of God are unsearchable. The  Bible teaches us  that  His purposes are so great,  that our sinful minds cannot understand them. God  can never be reduced to a formula, and when He is dealing with us, it ought not surprise us if, at times, things take place which are perplexing to us.

Common perplexities are these :  Why is it that God allows political  tyrants to rule? Why does He allow war, and suffering and natural disasters?  Why does He not deal with the godless as soon as they sin? That is our way of thinking. But it is based on a fallacy. God's mind is eternal, and God's ways are so infinitely above us that we must always start by being prepared  by God’s unusual providences.   If we do not do that we shall soon find ourselves in the place where Asaph found himself.

Perplexity Is Not Sinful

Furthermore, it has to be said  that being perplexed is not sinful. Paul himself confessed in  2 Corinthians 4 that  he was "perplexed, but not in despair."  Please note! It  is not wrong to be perplexed, but it is wrong to be in a state of despair and hopelessness. Job was  perplexed, but he continued to hope in God (Job 13:5).   So, when you are perplexed about something that is happening  to you, this  does not mean that you are guilty of sin. You are in God's hand, and you say: I do not understand. There is nothing wrong with that. But here is the problem…

Perplexity Opens the Door to Temptation

This is what happened to Asaph.  His own suffering as a believer in God,   compared with the seemingly blissful state of the wicked  became a snare and a temptation to Asaph.    He is being tempted so badly that he is becoming discontent with God … and so his spiritual feet were slipping and  he was in danger of doubting God.  This temptation has a blinding effect.  He says,  “I was envious of the arrogant… the prosperity of the wicked…”  (v.3). This  is the blinding effect of temptation. It comes with such force that we are no longer able to think clearly. The effect  is so powerful,  that  we forget everything else. We forget the primary truths about God  and we begin to believe the lie of the devil  who  whispers into our heart, "Don't you think you have kept your heart clean in vain, and washed your hands in innocence?" (v.13)  You pray and you go to church.  There is something wrong with this outlook of yours. You believe the gospel; but look at what is happening to you! Why are you having this hard time? Why is a God of love dealing with you in this  way?  You are making a mistake; you are not fair to yourself." 
Oh, the terrible subtlety of it all. Paul talks of "the fiery darts of the evil one." (Eph. 6:16)

Again, understand that being  tempted in that way is not sin.  But how  do we deal with  that temptation?   How do we get back to  the beginning of v.1,  i.e. that 'God is always good to Israel'?  

The Turning point : vv.16, 17 

When did the perspective change  or return to Asaph? Before all this happened, and when he was trying to figure it all out in his mind,   it became to him a wearisome task. But it all changed when  he went into the sanctuary of God (v.17). Getting into the presence of God and under His Word brings  a perspective of which we are not capable  by ourselves. This is  a huge insight. This is true wisdom, Asaph is laying hold of God's wisdom. 
Our generation quickly runs to all sorts of counsellors  and get all sorts of man-centred opinions,  and very often the Word of God becomes  only the last resort.  See how everything changes for Asaph when he  takes himself into the presence of God.  

See how everything  now falls into place from vv.18-28 .
(i)                 He  clearly understands the outcome of the lives of the wicked (vv.18-20,27)
(ii)              He understands the nature of his own unbelief (vv. 21-21)- that he is embittered  and  like a brute  beast.
(iii)             He understands  what the future holds for  him (vv. 23-26;28)
(iv)              And this brings him back  to the conclusion in v.1

Conclusion 

May God grant us grace to  think biblically, and as  we do so, let us remember that we have the greatest illustration  and encouragement  in this regard  from the life of  our Lord Jesus  Himself.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, He spoke  these words, "Father, if it be possible take this cup from me."  There was perplexity. The thought of the sin of the world coming between Him and His Father perplexed Him. But He humbled Himself. The perplexity did not cause Him to fall, He just committed Himself to God saying in effect, "Your ways are always right. Your plan is always  good, and as for what you are  going to do to me will be  good because  you are  good. Not my will, but your will  be done."



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