(These are the notes I preached from this morning in our church worship service. Here is the link for the video on our church Youtube site = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkcnrD_sCpw).
INTRODUCTION – One of the beautiful things about our God is He a restorer of His children from the pit of darkness and despair. King David testified of this when he said in Psalm 40:2, “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay (lit. mud of the mire), And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.”
King David was a man after God’s own heart, who reached some wonderful highs in his walk with God. But he also sank to some dreadful lows. And it may very well be that one of the reasons he loved God so much is that God mercifully delivered him from every one of those lows sooner or later.
Spiritual lows are not uncommon. But I need to tell you this morning they are not to be casually accepted. Rather they should be vigilantly avoided.
Another Psalmist named Asaph also came to know God in this way. And I want to share some lessons from his story this morning, because the reality is all of us have the capacity to lose our perspective, our hope, and even our faith when certain trying circumstances converge on our weak minds and hearts. Thankfully in Christ, we have the capacity and resources to overcome, stand firm and finish strong – even when our circumstances become very difficult.
The sobering thing in my experience is this stumbling into a time of spiritual darkness and depression can happen to us even when our theology and knowledge of the Bible is pretty solid.
As you turn in your Bibles to Psalm 73, I want to share several lessons from Asaph’s testimony, and the first one is this:
I. Solid doctrine and theology in and of itself is not enough to protect our hearts from despair and hopelessness Let’s read vs. .1, “Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!” Asaph knew this. Most of Israel knew that God is good to all, but that there is a special and unique experience of God’s goodness reserved for those who walk with Him in purity of heart and devotion. But as true as this statement is, and as powerful as this truth is, and as important as this doctrine is, given the right – or better the wrong circumstances,…. darkness, disillusionment and depression can become the portion for those who know God and who at one point walked in the light. And that leads to our second lesson which is this:
II. An inaccurate reading or analysis of the seeming happiness and prosperity of those around us can greatly harm our faith and our devotion to Christ. Let’s listen in as Asaph describes his loss of perspective and flawed analysis of the lost Vs. 2-12
“But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death, And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them.
Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of their heart run riot. They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high.
They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth.
Therefore his people return to this place, And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.”
Asaph was one of the Levites that King David appointed as a worship leader in the tabernacle choir. He was anointed and devout. But probably paid minimally. One wonders if on the side he waited tables at a restaurant for the wealthy. I can almost see him having to walk a long distance to get to this restaurant from his poorer neighborhood. And then spend the next 8 -10 hours serving the rich and famous. I can almost see him having to listen to their jokes and watch their alcohol enhanced laughter. They ordered seemingly whatever they wanted not even noticing the price. And the longer Asaph served them, and the more tired he got, the more his defenses weakened, and the enemy of his soul began to whisper things like,
- These folk don’t age and they don’t seem to have any adverse effects on their bodies and health from all their gluttony and excessive drinking
- They don’t have trials and hardships like we do
- They say awful and wicked things against humanity and against God and they get away with it
- They have no worries at all and just continue to get richer and fatter
Now Asaph only saw them at this restaurant. He didn’t see them when they were all alone with a miserable hangover. He didn’t see them fighting with their spouses. He didn’t see them having sleepless nights over their investments – wondering if there was anyone in their world they could trust.
Asaph’s analysis was defective and demonically inspired. It was one dimensional.
And it caused him to second guess the wisdom of his own attempts to walk with God in holiness and to endure the suffering and afflictions that come with that. That’s what we see in vs. 13, 14, where he laments,
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning.” His slide into the mire even caused him to exaggerate his suffering and afflictions as can be seen in that last verse.
I wonder if these were his thoughts at the end of a shift at the end of a long week of serving the rich and famous?
Ever been there? Ever allowed yourself to fall into this kind of self pity and perverted perspective? Maybe you are there now? Maybe you are not there now, but you know you could be.
So what turned Asaph around? What can keep us from spiraling into a sense of hopelessness and futility and envy of those who seem to have it better?
Well that’s a good question and the answer is multi pronged. Here’s the first prong or principle or lesson from Asaph’s recovery from his sad state: One of the safeguards from falling into self pity and faulty anaylsis of our life circumstances is realizing the influence we have on the next generation. No matter who you are – you have influence for better or for worse on those around you. Unless you live on an isolated island all by yourself, someone or someones are watching you – especially any children or young people around you. And a huge part of their persistence in life and ability to want to know and please and walk with God is seeing you stay the course and not complain and grumble. Asaph knew this. In face it was he who penned Psalm 78:5-7, wherein we find one of the clearest calls in the Bible to generational transfer – or imparting our faith and knowledge of God to the next generation.
This realization alone was not enough to pull him out of the mire he had allowed himself to fall into. But it helped. He put it this way, “If I had said, I will speak thus,” Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.” Vs. 15
That realization of the responsibility we have for the next generation is helpful to curb our tongue, but it alone will not solve the turmoil in our soul. Asaph admits this when he says in vs. 16, “When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome (lit. labor) in my sight.”
There are times when you and I on our own just cannot dig ourselves out of the mire we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into. It’s like a dark cloud is hovering over us everywhere we go and we just can’t get out from under it on our own. That’s where Asaph was at. For the life of him it seemed like he had signed up on the wrong team.
While we on our own cannot dig out of the mire, even with the significant Bible knowledge we have and the realization of our responsibility towards the next generation, we have access to something that can radically turn this whole situation around and that leads me to my next principle: God’s children thrive, regardless of their circumstances, when we learn to come to Him and cling to Him until He opens our eyes and ears. Look with me at what led to Asaph’s breakthrough in vs. 17, “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end.” Literally this word sanctuary should be translated “sanctuaries”, which in Asaph’s day referred to any and all of the times and places where God’s people gathered to seek God.
You see you can ponder and wrestle with and try to make sense of your confusing and distressing circumstances until you are blue in the face, but until God removes the cloud and the deception of the evil one and reveals the truth about Him and His goodness in regards to your circumstances, you will remain in the mire. Asaph, when he was at work in the restaurant rushing from one table to the next and back to the chef found himself sinking deeper in the mire of self pity and envy and bitterness. But when he got off alone, or perhaps gathered with the people of God, and called a timeout to all of his responsibilities and gave attention to his chief responsibility – that is – knowing and seeking and listening to and just soaking in the presence of God - - perspective was restored; joy was renewed; understanding and discernment was granted him by the only One who can grant such things.
Depression is often due to the deprivation of much needed revelation and illumination from God. That revelation and illumination can come when you are alone having some quiet time with God, it can come when you are sharing and praying with your spouse, or it can come when you are gathered with His people. But the challenge we all have is learning to overcome all the distractions and obstacles that keep us from connecting with Him and truly hearing from Him and having Him open our eyes and ears to all that we are blind and deaf to.
The wonderful thing is when we do connect with God - all the things that we were mis reading and mis judging suddenly become clear as a bell. That was Asaph’s experience first regarding the truth about the lost folk he had been temporarily duped about. Let’s see what God revealed to him in vs. 18-20 & vs. 27, “Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction (lit. ruins). How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.” The demise of the wicked is certain. Nothing they have said or done or neglected to do or intended to do in an evil way has escaped God’s notice. Their punishment will be perfectly timed and nothing will stand in its way. While Asaph knew that theologically and intellectually, it took an encounter with God to get it into the depths of his soul and to remove his self pity and envy.
Well not only did Asaph’s encounter with God enlighten him as to what life and destiny was really like for the wicked despite all of their prosperity and seeming ease of life, it also enlightened him into just how sick his sin made him. Let’s listen in as he testifies and confesses what his sin did to him in vs. 21,22, “When my heart was embittered And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.” When you and I out of our carelessness for the care of our souls lose sight of the overhwelming goodness and lovingkindness of God towards us we can become like driven, soul-less beasts. Sin can take us where we never dreamed it could take us. Asaph shuddered when he saw just how deep in the mire he had become. That’s what happens when we truly connect with the living God. We see our sin as it really is and the depravity of our hearts in the flesh as it really is. No more sugar coating. No more self righteousness. No more sloppy agape.
When the prophet Isaiah saw in the temple – in the sanctuary of God – God’s greatness and holiness – he immediately became aware of his sin and the sins of his people. “Woe is me, (he said) for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips, For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5
We need to see our sin for what it is. But we also need to see the greatness of God’s goodness and grace toward us despite our sins. And that’s what Asaph describes in verses 23-28, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. … But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.”
Even though Asaph was at the lowest of lows - totally mired in self pity, envy and bitterness. God never left him. And He has never left you! I love that word, “Nevertheless”! While God hates all sin, He so loves you. And somehow He hangs on to us even when we are pursuing the lusts of our flesh, and are blaming Him for our misery.
One of the greatest needs you and I have in this earthly life is enlightenment - - the supernatural ability to see God as He really is; to see our lives from God’s vantage point; and to see those around us as God sees them. One of the reasons this need is so great is because the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to deceive us and discourage us and depress us by seeing things from his sick and perverted, God hating vantage point. This is why we must fight for sanctuary time. Time in the Sanctuaries of God is time devoted to knowing Him, communing with Him, hearing His voice, meditating on His word, worshipping Him, and having Him – the Light - open our eyes and ears to all that we are blind and deaf to.
That’s why the very first recorded prayer of the apostle Paul’s for the church goes like this, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Ephesians 1:17-19.
Paul prayed for the churches he ministered to day and night because he knew that unless they encountered God in the sanctuaries or hidden places or worship gatherings of the saints they would never overcome their own flesh, much less the lures of the world and the sinister attacks of the evil one.
Saints become truly saints in the sanctuaries. The place or building or lack of is irrelevant.
What matters is that I connect with the living God to the point where I can confidently say, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand.” Vs. 23 And He has taken hold of it with a grip like none other!
What matters is that I connect with the living God to the point where I can confidently say, “With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.” Vs. 24
Only an encounter with the living God will get you and I to the place where we can say with all sincerity, and integrity “….besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” Vs. 25
Only regular encounters with God will get each of us to the place where we will gladly and authentically testify, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.” Vs. 28
May we increasingly be a people who can’t wait for the next opportunity to encounter our God in the sanctuary, wherever that might be, and however that might look.