In the first half of Psalm 73 (verses 1-14), a man named Asaph journals for us how his faith is on the brink of falling apart. He looks around him and sees people who could care less about God living happy, carefree lives. “They’re always at ease,” he writes. Meanwhile people like himself, fighting hard to fight off sin, and to hold the line of faith and morality, find themselves struggling and suffering. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean,” he begins to say to himself.
But then Asaph makes a turn in his spirit. He veers away from that cliff he’s about to fall over. The last last half of Psalm 73 (verses 15-28), Asaph describes how he recovers his faith and returns fully to the love of God.
The first lesson Asaph teaches us is an important one:
When we are struggling or in doubt, stay close to the community of faith.
Look at verses 16-17 and see with your own eyes what it was that threw a safety rope around Asaph. “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I discerned their end.”
Did you catch that? “…until I went into the sanctuary of God”.
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times as a pastor. The temptation we face when God seems to have withdrawn from us, is to withdraw from him. Out of a pout, or out of anger, or out of discouragement, we stop spending time seeking him and being with his people. These are very human and real responses. Why would you keep exercising if you can’t lose the weight? Why would you stay in the marriage if you feel only pain from it? Why stay in school if you keep failing the test?
But in the end, quitting usually only makes things worse. Quit the exercise, the weight will win. Quit the marriage, a quantum leap in misery will likely occur. And quit God? My goodness, sin and Satan will be chomping at the bit for you to do that.
So though it took real effort and discipline, Asaph kept dragging his bloodied soul into church week after week, and making sure he surrounded himself with God’s people. Sure enough, the time came when the dark thoughts loosened and let go.
Being part of a healthy church gives us tremendous help when we’re hurting:
- Hearing a good sermon can give us perspective.
- Sharing our story with others, then receiving prayer and support from them can give us emotional relief.
- Listening to the music can be soothing as lotion on dry skin.
- Serving someone else in ministry can break the spell of self-centeredness that has us in its grip.
- The mere habit or ritual of seeking fellowship keeps other bad habits at bay.
In the end, quitting usually only makes things worse. Quit the exercise, the weight will win. Quit the marriage, a quantum leap in misery will likely occur. And quit God? My goodness, sin and Satan will be chomping at the bit for you to do that.
Then sooner or later, the breakthrough of grace comes. Like Asaph, we suddenly wake up one morning, and we see things just a little differently. There’s more light than darkness. More hope than grief. A solution presents itself we couldn’t see before. Doors we thought would remain forever shut magically open.
The key though is to keep ourselves in the palm of God’s hand, even when we can’t see or feel him near.