Psalm 73                                    April 2017

GETTING GOD’S PERSPECTIVE

Ill. When I went to my first church, it was a very small struggling church of about 35 adults. For the first 3 years we saw very little growth and I used to get quite discouraged. Just up the road from us was a thriving Brethren assembly with a large congregation and lots of young people. I must confess that I was envious of the pastor because everything seemed to be going so well for him and here was I struggling away in this little church that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

One day the apparently successful Brethren pastor dropped in to see me and I said to him, “Russell, I have to confess something to you. I have been jealous of you because your church is doing so well and ours is not, please forgive me?”  Then he said to me, “Geoff, I’ve come to tell you that the elders have asked me to resign. So I’m leaving.” I felt so stink. Obviously there were things going on that I knew nothing about.

How often have we judged people by what we see outwardly and yet have no idea what the real situation is.

I have known couples who seemed to be happily married, only to discover that there was physical abuse or adultery going on behind the scenes.

In this Psalm we find a similar situation. The Psalmist looks at the unbelievers around him and it seems that everything is going well for them but he’s not doing so well and so he feels jealous of them and sorry for himself.

So let’s look at the passage under 4 headings: the Unbeliever’s predicament, the Psalmists protest, God’s perspective and the Psalmist’s penitence.

THE UNBELIEVER’S PREDICAMENT V1-12

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does God allow godless, wicked people to have power, wealth and enjoyment yet get away with so much evil, corruption and injustice?

I look at someone like Robert Mugabe who has inflicted so much suffering and pain on his countrymen and dragged the nation down morally, socially and economically and yet at the age of 93 still rules the country and lives in the lap of luxury while so many of his people struggle to survive. The same can be said of Kim Jong Un, the dictator of North Korea. He lives an indulgent, affluent life while most of his people are poor, starving and enslaved in prison camps.

And then there are those who make heaps of money by illegal means such as selling drugs, human trafficking, evading taxes, underpaying their employees, ripping people off and continue to get away with it. And they appear to be healthy, wealthy and happy.

While lots of good living Christian people suffer and go through really hard times. It doesn’t seem right or fair.

This was the problem that the Psalmist was struggling with. Why do proud, godless, sinful people prosper? Why do they have an easy time of it, enjoy good health, accumulate wealth and appear so happy. It doesn’t seem fair.

This is a fact of life. For some reason God allows wicked people to prosper, even though they continually do things that offend Him and others, even though they refuse to acknowledge Him or thank Him.

Remember Jesus said In Matthew 5:43ff “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”  

The truth is that at this point in history we all live under the grace of God. God’s undeserved goodness and kindness is shown to everyone regardless of who they are. At present God provides everything we need to live upon this planet. Air, food, water. There is enough for every person living on this planet no matter who they are.

Some of you might say, “Then why does God allow people to starve and not have their needs met?”

That is not God’s fault. He has provided everything we need, it’s just that ambitious, greedy, power hungry people are stopping others from receiving what God has provided.

People are starving in our world today, not because God hasn’t provided enough, but because others are preventing them from receiving it. Politics, wars, greed, corruption all play a part in this.

Ill. A number of years ago someone showed David Pawson a newspaper article featuring a famine in Ethiopia where 100s were dying of starvation. They asked David, “Why didn’t God supply their needs?” David pointed to another article on the very same page of a bumper crop of wheat in the USA and said, “God did supply their needs. It’s just that the greedy people didn’t send it to them.” 

At present God is showing kindness to everyone whether they acknowledge it or not. Why is He doing this? He is hoping that people will realise how blessed they are and how kind He is to them and will turn from their unbelief and wrongdoing to Him. 

Romans 2:4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin to Him?

THE PSALMIST’S PROTEST v13-16

As the Psalmist saw the godless unbelievers amassing wealth, enjoying good health, living trouble free lives and getting away with murder, he began to question whether it was worth following the Lord and doing His will.

“I have sought to live a life that is pleasing to God. To be honest, just, morally pure, loving and kind and yet I have had nothing but trouble, problems and suffering.

These other guys mock God, ignore His commands, deliberately lie, cheat and abuse others and yet everything seems to go well for them.

It’s just not fair and I cannot understand why.

Do you sometimes feel that as a Christian? My non-Christian relatives, friends, workmates and neighbours seem to have it so easy. They seem to be far happier than I am. Everything seems to go well for them and yet I struggle with a host of difficulties. I thought that following Jesus meant I would be free from all that stuff.

Ill. A couple of friends of mine who became Christian in their 40s told me that life was much easier when they were non-Christians.

And there is truth in that because when you become a Christian you discover that you are suddenly living in enemy occupied territory. You come under attack from godless forces in the culture, the sinful urges in your nature and the satanic powers in the heavenly realms. Whereas before you just gave into these things, now you find yourself resisting them and battling against them.

Like a fish in a stream. It requires a lot more effort to swim against the current than to let the allow the current to take you with it.

Jesus never hood winked us into thinking that following Him would be easy. “If you follow me, in this world you will have big trouble because this world is under the power of the evil one.”

Well the Psalmist tried to figure out why the wicked prospered but he said he just couldn’t get his head around it until he went into the house of the Lord.

THE ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE v17-20

This is the turning point of the Psalm. Before this the Psalmist was only looking at the situation from a worldly, human point of view. It wasn’t until he got into God’s presence that he saw God’s view of the situation.

This is why it’s so important spend time with the Lord and to gather with God’s people, because it helps us to see our situation from God’s perspective.

At present God is showing His kindness and goodness to everyone regardless of who they are in the hope that they will acknowledge this and turn to Him, but God’s patience won’t last forever and there is coming a day when those who have continued to rebel against Him and ignore His kindness will be severely judged.

It will be a day when the wicked and the godless will get their just deserts. At present it seems unjust and unfair that godless people are getting away with so much wickedness – but the truth is that they won’t get away with it in then end.

Everyone who committed sinful and criminal acts in their lifetime and went to their graves thinking they got away with it will find to their horror that their trial is yet to come.

Do you know that every our word, action, thought and motive is  being recorded and on the day of judgement our lives will be replayed and the Bible says that our very words, thoughts and actions will testify against us and condemn us – so that we won’t even be able to offer an excuse.

The only way we can escape that is by giving ourselves to Jesus and following Him who took the punishment for our sins us at the cross.

THE PSALMIST’S PENITENCE v21-28

When you look at your troubles and difficulties without bringing God into the picture you will always react to them from a merely worldly, human point of view.

You will find yourself complaining, feeling sorry for yourself, resentful, even bitter and that is what was happening with the Psalmist.

He was so focussed on his physical and material problems that he had forgotten how blessed he really was.

And so he says to God, “It was only when I turned to you that I saw things from your perspective. You showed me the true condition of the godless and I realised how blessed I really am. Now I feel so stupid for even envying them, because compared to them I am so rich.”

And he counts his blessings.

Ill. Doug McKnight was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 32. Over the next 16 years it would cost him his career, his mobility and eventually his life. But he never lost his sense of gratitude. When his church friends asked him to compile a list of prayer requests, he responded by sending them 18 blessings for which to be grateful, and concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings were three times greater than his needs. Doug discovered that what he had in God was greater than whatever he didn’t have in life.

Ill. Jack Hinton was leading worship at a leper colony on the island of Tobago. A woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around.

“It was the most hideous face I had ever seen,” Hinton said. “The woman’s nose and ears had been eaten away by the disease. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing Count Your Many Blessings?’ ”

Overcome with emotion, Jack left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, “I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”  “Yes I will,” he replied, “but I’ll never sing it the same way.” 

The first blessing the psalmist mentions is that He belongs to the Lord and the Lord will not let him go.

Eph 1:13 and 14 “And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”

In Bible times when a merchant bought a sack of grain at the market and was unable to take it home at the time. He would pay for it and then place a lump of warm wax on it and put his seal into the wax and come back for it later. The seal told everyone else that that sack of grain belonged to him.

You and I who believe in Jesus were bought from the forces of darkness and death with the blood of Jesus and God has placed his ownership seal upon us which is the Holy Spirit that says, “You belong to me.”

The truth is that even the people you belong to will be taken from you at some stage and you will be left alone.

Ill. The Belgian filmmaker Chantal Ackerman’s mother was a survivor of the holocaust. Not long after her mother died Chantal took her own life at the age of 65. She said that when her mother died she felt so alone, as if she didn’t belong anywhere or to anyone. In fact she produced an award winning film entitled, “I don’t belong anywhere.”

When you belong to the Lord, nothing and no one will separate you from Him, not even death. You belong to Him for time and eternity. That is real security.

The Psalmist says, “Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious future.

The second blessing is that the Lord belongs to Him.

In Genesis 12 God called Abraham to leave the land of his birth and his follow Him. He promised Abraham that if he obeyed Him, God would bless him.

Abraham did as God commanded him and he received many blessings from the Lord. He became a very wealthy man, he was given the promise of descendants and a nation in which they would live. He was given victory over his enemies and he was greatly respected by all his neighbours.

After receiving all these blessings, God said to Abraham in Gen 15:1 “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, I am your very great reward.” 

As you move on in your Christian life it’s great to have the blessings of God, but they are nothing compared with the greatest blessing of all which is God Himself.

If you follow Jesus just for what he can give you, then when He doesn’t give you what you want or when he gives you trials and testing times, you’ll you will most likely give up and turn away. Because it wasn’t Jesus you were after but His blessings.

If you follow Jesus just for the blessings he gives there will come a point where will get tired of them. Believe it or not so many people who have everything this world offers; wealth, health, power, fame and prosperity get to the point of overload. They begin to say, “These things no longer gratify and fulfil me. I’ve run out of things to keep me motivated and interested. I’m bored with life.”

Ill. Dr Victor Frankl survived Auschwitz concentration camp and after the war went on to develop his career as a psychiatrist and university lecturer in the USA. As people became more prosperous and affluent he noticed that more and more of them were turning psychiatrists or shrinks as they call them, complaining of inner emptiness, a sense of total and utter meaninglessness in life. The wealth and prosperity of their affluent culture was failing to satisfying their deepest longings.

If you only follow Jesus for the blessings, you will eventually lose interest and I have seen this in the various movements that have come into the church over the last 40 years. I saw many Christians going from church to church, from meeting to meeting chasing blessings.

Ill. In the 1970s I spoke to a woman who was visiting our church and I asked her where she normally worshipped. Whereever the Spirit is moving.

Many of those people who chased after the blessings have lost interest and don’t even go to church now.

When Jesus was on earth there were 1000s of people who followed Him around wanting to be blessed, healed, fed and entertained, but as soon as He was arrested and faced the cross they disappeared.

The Ones who remained who those who loved Him for who He was, not for what they could get out of Him.

The psalmist was looking at all the material and physical blessings the unbelievers had and feeling He had missed out, then when he got into God’s presence he realised He was far wealthier than any of them, because he had the greatest treasure of all – The Lord. “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.”

Can you say that from your heart this morning?

The blessings come and go, but Jesus remains forever and I can testify this morning after walking with Christ for over 50 years He is far more precious and more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer. And He is becoming more precious to me as the days go by.

Loved with everlasting love, Led by grace that love to know; Spirit, breathing from above, You have taught me it is so.

Oh, this full and perfect peace! Oh, this presence all divine! In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.