I believe that Psalm 73 is a wonderfully helpful Psalm for our lives today. In some ways it is a contrast to the verses from Psalm 36, on which we reflected yesterday, but in its conclusions it speaks to us further about staying close to the Lord. I expect you have read it before, but let me commend a re-read to you. It starts off in verses 1 & 2 with such an honest evaluation of how life often is – God is really good to us, but somehow I so easily go off piste and slip off that firm foundation in the pressures, ups and downs, disappointments and battles of life.
Then in verses 3 to 14 there is a vivid description of how life can sometimes look to us as Christians in the 21st century – written the best part of 3000 years ago! Rich people are doing well and prospering, even when their morals and behaviour are suspect. The imaginations of their hearts run riot. An awful lot of arrogance and pride. No fear of death or sense of accountability. Casual and self opinionated talk that puts others down and speaks cruelly and judgementally of others. No respect or ‘fear of the Lord’ evident. And in all this they are very comfortable. Not surprisingly, having sought to walk right with the Lord in heart and life, and been willing to accept the Lord’s work and discipline in his life, which is not always comfortable, the Psalmist finds himself troubled and on a slippery slope. But he also realises that to give voice to his confusion, pain, bitterness (v21), and perhaps even cynicism and unbelief, could cause his believing friends to stumble too.
He is vexed, distressed and confused – Until. What a wonderful word in verse 17. “Until I came into the sanctuary of God” And what happens in the sanctuary of God? Thanksgiving, praise and worship. And what happens then? Well verses 23 -28 give us a good picture. He realises God is so near, He is even holding his right hand. I really like that, especially when I think of one of my grand-daughters holding my hand as we walk along the pavement by the busy, dangerous road. And holding hands isn’t just about being safe, it’s so warm, close, intimate and belonging. And He never lets go “I am continually with You”. And He is my guide and my strength not just on the good days, but when my flesh and my heart fails. He doesn’t say buck up, instead He is the strength of my heart, v26, where I really need it. And in case I haven’t got it yet the Psalmist reminds me that God being very near to me and my refuge is really good for me (v28).
In the very real lived experience of the Psalmist, an experience that I think nearly every believer can relate to at sometime in their life, there is, for me, a very important message. He did not find the initial solution to his pain, confusion, perplexity and bitterness in thinking it through and applying the rational processes that our society and education have emphasised over the last 300years. Verse 16 says “when I pondered to understand this it was troublesome in my sight”. Nor did he feel that a healthy route was just to talk it out (verse 15).
Thinking it through may help, especially when informed by God’s truth in His word, and opening up and talking with godly friends can be of great benefit, however I think that it was in worship, praise and thanksgiving in the sanctuary that light came and his eyes, head and emotions clarified. Then he could think, and talk, with a God and heaven perspective. I think the message here is what comes first: thanksgiving and worship bring me back to the Lord’s perspectives and truth, then things can come clearer as I use my thinking apparatus, feeding on God’s word and truth, and talking and fellowshipping with others, discovering that ‘we have the mind of Christ’ as they build me up.
This surely was also Job’s experience. He spent 35 chapters trying to think it through, talk with his friends and argue towards God, and no solution. Then four chapters, 38 – 41, of encounter with God and he is (metaphorically at least) flat on his face before God “Now my eye sees you” Job 42:5, and things are now the right way up and going forward with the Lord big time. By the way I don’t think he still “understood” everything rationally, logically. Job 42:3.
Thanksgiving and worship, in the sanctuary of our hearts with the Lord, encountering Him there time and again, when it’s put first can open the door to peace, hope, fresh faith and going forward with Him again in perplexing times. As the door reopens, thinking, feeding on God’s truth and word, and fellowship with others can all kick in with an increased effect, facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Surely this is why Paul indicates in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that giving thanks in everything is God’s will for us. When I don’t know what God’s will is and I am perplexed, first things first, start off with thanksgiving and then see where it leads.