Sermon Follow Up - Week 29, 2021
Is Christianity Worth It? That’s a question that is worth asking for all of us who follow Christ. If you are a Christian, you know the right answer, so it doesn’t seem like a difficult question. Most of you would say, yea, I know the right answer is that it is worth it. But have you ever felt like life would be much easier if you weren’t a Christian? Psalm 73 is an honest glimpse into the life of Asaph who had good theology but was struggling with his desires. He believed the right things, but his emotions were all over the place. He wasn’t doubting God at an intellectual level, but much deeper, at an emotional level. This Psalm, like many Psalms, encourages us toward emotional transformation at the level of our deepest desires. Notice the two words in this Psalm that capture the nature of Asaph’s emotional transformation. In v3 we see that Asaph is envious of the prosperity of the wicked and then in v25 we see that Asaph’s desires have been transformed to desire God more than anything else in this world. If you are like me, we can often be content with thinking and believing the right things about God, but God wants to transform us in such a way that we desire him above all else.
Psalm 73:1–28 (ESV)
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
God cares about your desires, and he is working to transform your desires to find deep and satisfying fulfillment in him.
SUBPOINTS AND REFLECTION QUESTIONS
1. The Wicked Seem Enviable
Asaph begins with his head in verse 1. He affirms the theological truth that God is always good to his covenant people, in this case, the faithful among Israel. Yet, while he believes this truth, there is something in his heart that begins to bother him and it turns into an existential crisis for him. Asaph’s problem is in his heart – he desires and envies the relative ease and prosperity of the wicked. As he dwells on this more and more, he begins to spiral downward.
He observes that the wicked enjoy long and healthy lives – they are fat and sleek. They enjoy food, pleasures, and the comforts of this life. They get whatever they desire with their eyes and their hearts. They just don’t seem to suffer like everyone else. They think that God does not care about their pursuit of wickedness because they have not been hindered by God.
● Have you ever felt like it would be easier to not follow God but rather do your own thing? What are some specific examples that come to mind?
2. God's Revelation is Clarifying
Asaph experiences a decisive breakthrough when he enters the sanctuary of God, which is the temple in Jerusalem. Here he encounters the power and glory of the living God and he is changed. God helps him see that the wicked are set in slippery places, destined for ruin and judgment. It is utter foolishness to want the pleasures and comforts of this dream world and neglect Christ. Now, after God reveals to him the end of the wicked, God also reveals to Asaph his glorious future. This is the big Aha moment for Asaph. He is reassured that no matter his circumstances that God holds his hand – ensuring that he does not slip and fall, he leads and guides him – with wisdom and understanding, and finally ensures that he will be with him forever in glory!
● How has being in God’s presence brought clarity to your life during a difficult season?
3. Desiring to Be Near God Brings Eternal Satisfaction
God is not content with Asaph just believing that the way of the wicked will perish, and the righteous will live with God forever. God wants to transform Asaph's desires so that he can experience deep and satisfying communion with the living God. And when God changes Asaph’s desires, he cries out in v25,
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26
Not only does Asaph no longer envy the wicked, but he now desires God above everything else in this world. Even if his flesh and his heart fail – his physical well-being suffers, he still wants God more than that! He ends with a childlike faith that expresses itself in praise. He says in verse 28,
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:28
He says, “All I want is to be near God.” That is the only thing that matters because he has experienced the joy, the contentment, and the peace that comes from being near God.
● What do you think of Asaph’s words about wanting to be near God? Is this a desire in your heart?
Asaph ends the psalm with one of the greatest blessings of being part of the covenant people to God - “Truly it is good for me to be near God.” He has experienced the joy, the contentment, the peace and the eternal security that comes from being brought near to God. But how can sinful humans like Asaph and like us with immoral desires be brought near a holy God? The privilege of being near to God is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross.
But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13 ESV
We were alienated from God, dead in our trespasses, and rightfully under God’s wrath. But now, in Christ, we have brought near! We have been reconciled to God and can enjoy communion with God! This is the good news of all those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ. We have been made sons and daughters of God to enjoy his nearness, his presence, and his unending favor. Isn’t this marvelous?
1. God is just as concerned with your desires as he is with your beliefs
Yes, right doctrine is important. But if your right doctrine does not lead you to heartwarming worship and a desire to be near God, you have not experienced the beauty of our salvation. Don’t be content with right theology alone, that only gets you halfway. Come to God and stay there until he gives you a desire to be near him!
● How can you move from simply being content with right theology to desiring to be near God?
2. Guard your heart against envy
Maybe you don’t struggle with envying the wicked, but you envy the good gifts that God seems to withhold from you and give to other believers. The remedy for this envy is the same as the remedy for Asaph. You need your desires transformed by the God who satisfies the deepest longing of your heart. Don’t settle for anything less.
● How has this psalm helped you see what you already have in Christ is infinitely more more valuable than what you envy?
3. Worship is the means by which God transforms our desires
Worship is not just something we bring to God, it is the very means by which God transforms our desires.
“Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts.” ― James K.A. Smith
Satisfied Christians are simply frustrated Christians to whom God reveals himself in a new way. ― Ray Ortlund
● How can you prioritize worshipping God individually and corporately in your life this week?
RESOURCES FOR THIS WEEK