I’ve been camping out in the Psalms a lot lately. I know that I’ve said this before, but the Psalms are filled with such raw emotion. There are words for people who are joyous and words for people who are in deep despair. And they are all God’s words to his people. Last week I listened to a couple of excellent messages on our emotions and I was reminded that God did not create us to be emotionless beings. He gave us our emotions, but sin has corrupted them and therefore we must wrestle daily through our feelings—feelings that can be up one day and down the next.
This is why I love the Psalms. In the Psalms we learn how wrestle. We learn how to fight the fight of faith. We also learn about our God and his great faithfulness to us. Psalm 73 was a great help to me the other day. The context of this Psalm is the prosperity of the wicked. The psalmist says that his feet almost slipped when he saw the wicked prospering. To him it seemed that the wicked go through this life carefree. Now we know that there are many suffering pagans in this world, but isn’t it true that we can look at the seemingly fruitful lives of the unbelieving around us and feel a twinge of jealousy? I know I have. I see women with multiple children and throw a pity party for myself and my empty womb. I see people who have nice homes and I envy all their fancy things while I sit in my little one-bedroom apartment. I feel with the psalmist when he says “all in vain I have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (verse 12). But, like this psalmist, I need a good dose of biblical reality. And I can’t find it by sitting on my couch wallowing in self-pity. Notice where the psalmist goes from here:
“But 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” (verses 16-17).
It was only when he went into the sanctuary, God’s house, that he was able to gain a right perspective on the wicked and their seeming prosperity. It was in the fellowship of God’s people that he heard God’s word proclaimed and was able to see the future-minded actions of God. He was also able to see that his envy and pride were turning him away from God (21-22). Isn’t that how it always works? When I am by myself I can make any thought sound like the right one, but when I’m in God’s house and am penetrated by his word through preaching and fellowship my evil thoughts are brought to light. How kind of God to do that for us.
But it doesn’t end there. He realizes that God is the one who keeps him. Even when he is faithless and faltering, God upholds him and preserves his life (23-24). And for those of us who are in Christ, he does the same thing. How often have you felt the pangs of conviction over something only to be met with the sweet fellowship with God upon your repentance? He is keeping you. He is holding you up. Even when you wrestle with the circumstances of your life, he is working all of those things to bring you to himself.
All of this wrestling leads the psalmist to say one of the more famous verses of this Psalm:
“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” (25-26).
He didn’t get there overnight. Nor do we. These beautiful words of joy in all that God is for us do not come by the mere flip of a psychological switch. It takes wrestling. It takes living life. Sometimes it takes tears and deep anguish. The beauty of it all is not that we pick ourselves up and proclaim these truths. Rather, the most glorious thing about these verses is that God is the one who gets us to this point. Left to ourselves we will continue envying the prosperity of those around us. But God in his great mercy has made a way for us to wrestle well so we can say with the psalmist:
“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.”
And those are mighty works, indeed.