You don’t just arrive at a destination. You have to navigate the course and journey there. Sometimes it requires physical exertion. At other times, it may require more thought. But journeys that redirect and transform the heart always require more prayer. And a good teacher.
Good teachers aren’t just found in a classroom. They can also be found in the Book of Psalms. Asaph, an author of 12 psalms, is a great teacher when it comes to the journey from dissatisfaction to contentment. It’s a journey he penned in Psalm 73.
Asaph opened the psalm with a testimony of God’s goodness to His people. But as the rest of the psalm develops, the reader realizes that statement is not quite as it seems at surface level. Reflecting upon it further, in light of the rest of the psalm, you realize he possibly noted that out of a struggle with how God was blessing others—which is not unusual. He was afflicted by the proclivity of every human heart to obsess over God’s blessings toward others. Asaph saw how God blessed His people, Israel . . . but not him.
“He was afflicted by the proclivity of every human heart to obsess over God’s blessings toward others.”
In hindsight, Asaph recognized he had stumbled, that his feet had almost slipped (v. 2). What caused him to lose such footing? Envy (v. 3). A diverted focus toward the prosperity of the wicked can certainly hijack the heart. Wreck faith. And seriously alter someone’s eyesight.
All Asaph could see was them.
In a short span, from verses 4 through 12, Asaph used “they” or “their” 13 times. He commiserated over how they had no struggles (v. 4); they were free from burden (v. 5); they were always at ease and increasing in wealth (v. 12). His distress is not uncommon, or prevalent only in his day, wouldn’t you agree? It’s easy to be consumed by such thoughts and attitudes. But does the problem really lie with them? Or is it something in the observer’s heart that needs to be reckoned with?
Asaph may have been looking at them, but his heart was snarled by ill-conceived presumptions about God. He was dissatisfied with God for blessing other believers and prospering unbelievers—getting stuck in a rut of resentment. He confessed that when his heart was grieved and his spirit was embittered, he acted like a brutish animal toward God (vs. 21-22). He was unreasoning, senseless.
“He was dissatisfied with God for blessing other believers and prospering unbelievers—getting stuck in a rut of resentment.”
It’s difficult for the mind to think straight—especially about God—when it is preoccupied with misconceptions. I’ve been guilty of grumbling to God about “them.” I too have felt that taking the more difficult route was in vain, while others took a harmful shortcut, yet seemingly got away with it (v. 13). Such thoughts reveal something deeper—an erroneous expectation from God and faulty presuppositions about how He should act.
Asaph was deeply troubled when he tried to understand this on his own (v16). Until . . . he turned to God (v. 17). In his discouragement, he went to the sanctuary, into the presence of God. Only then could his vision—and his heart—be redirected.
Asaph travelled from feeling stricken by God (v. 14) and envious (v. 3) to rightly discerning. Enlightened, he admitted his ignorance. Even though he was acting without reason, and behaving like a senseless beast toward God, yet God never let go of him (v. 23). God guided him. He changed the course of Asaph’s wayward thoughts, misguided heart, and flawed theology.
“In his discouragement, he went to the sanctuary, into the presence of God.”
Realizing truth about God set him free (v. 23ff). Afterward, Asaph looked forward to glory (v. 24). That practice of shifting focus always recalibrates the heart and renews the mind. Eternal truths have that power.
A change in perspective came, at last, when our teacher desired for nothing but God (v. 25). Drawing near to God, his eyes were opened to see that God was his strength and portion (v. 26). His lot in life, his portion, was none other than God. Asaph became content—for he was in the presence of God . . . and that was more than enough. Those in Christ can have that contentment of the soul. For the writer of Hebrews attests that the Lord will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). To abide in His presence is to possess contentment.
By correcting what he believed about God, Asaph also came to see the truth about the ungodly (v. 27) and left them in God’s sovereign hands. Asaph trusted God to be God (v. 28)—a spacious place all our hearts should land. He finally arrived at his refuge of the Lord God (v. 28). And then determined to tell the people of all God’s deeds (v. 28). And he did! Through the Spirit’s leading, he shared his journey back to God, so we too can be renewed by the Word of God.
“Asaph trusted God to be God—a spacious place all our hearts should land.”
Traversing this psalm with our teacher, we gain a valuable lesson. We learn that when our eyes are fixed elsewhere—to the point of envy—the only turn left is to God. And with the renewed mind and changed heart the Lord brings through the indwelling Spirit comes contentment that He is God.
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