The Two Syllables that Changed Everything

A Midweek Prayer Meeting Devotional
Winnetka Bible Church
June 17, 2016

We don’t get a lot of biographical information about Asaph. We find out that he’s a “seer” (2 Chron 29:30), and that he is probably a director of the singers (Neh 12:46). So naturally, when you let the worship director preach a Psalm, he picks a Psalm by an ancient worship director!

But even though we don’t know very much about Asaph, he opens himself up to us in remarkable ways in this little message. Psalm 73 models vulnerability, and might make a top-10 list of most candid portions of scripture. Asaph is brutally honest about his struggle with the Lord. But he does not expose his doubts to bring us down with him, but to let us vicariously walk with him on this journey, and show us a way through the dark tunnel. He tells us:

[v.2] But as for me, my feet and almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.

May it be that the Holy Spirit would use this message to keep our feet firm and our steps secure, as a result of hearing from Asaph.

Listen to Asaph as he opens the door to his unfiltered thoughts. See if you can find the turning point in this psalm. Asaph’s tone and tune do a 180 half way. Try to spot where everything changes, and why.

(Click here to read Psalm 73)

I see structure of this psalm in 4 parts.

  • Introduction and main point (v. 1)
  • Personal narrative (v. 2-26
  • Summary of lesson (v. 27).
  • Return to the main point (v. 28)

Let’s start by looking at the bookends, because here we find what Asaph wants us to take away from his story.

[Ps 73:1] Truly God is good to Israel
to those who are pure in heart.

Asaph’s does not hide his main point: God is good to Israel. That’s his thesis statement, and that is the truth on trial as Asaph spirals out of control. As the narrative unfolds, Asaph calls into question this simple truth. He nearly slips and stumbles because the circumstances around him start clouding his perception that God is really good to his people.

At the climax of his despair he cries out,

[13] All in vain I have kept my heart clean.

In other words:

“I don’t think it’s worth it to follow you anymore, God”

“I’m wasting my time by being near you, and serving you.”

But Asaph’s thesis is not some generic statement of God’s goodness in the abstract, but it is personal. Look at how he concludes when he returns to his main point:

[28] But for me it is good to be near God.

So the question for is whether we believe following God is worth it. Are you wasting your time? Is it worth it for you to take an hour or two out of your week to gather for worship and prayer. Because not, let’s all pack up and go to the beach! I have no interest in wasting my time and yours if we are not getting something infinitely better out of spending time praying and studying the word with the people of God.

Asaph thinks corporate worship is worth it. Let’s see how he gets there, because he didn’t always feel that way. There was a time where he said being with God was like “being stricken all the day long” (v. 14). He started to look around at the unbelievers around him, and it looked like they were having a lot more fun than he was.

[3] I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

He throws a temper tantrum for eight verses about how much better it seems to live as a wicked person. They are prosperous, their consciences don’t haunt them, and they’re proud and arrogant. They even mock God, and seem to get away with it! And what’s worse, their prosperity and arrogance is actually drawing some of God’s people over to their side!

It’s almost like Asaph is the model student at school. He studies hard, follows all the rules, and then suddenly the big dumb bully gets the girl. He’s just dumbfounded. It doesn’t seem fair.

[10] Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.

And the seeming prosperity of the wicked even causes people (like Asaph himself) to doubt whether God even knows or cares about the abuses going on.

[11] And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

He sums it all up:

[12] Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

Asaph is ready to throw in the towel. Nothing makes sense anymore. The world is topsy-turvy:

[16] But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,”

And then we reach the most important word in this whole Psalm.

Until.

The entire Psalm hinges two little syllables: “until.” After this word, everything changes.

[17] Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Asaph is ready to throw it all away, but something happens in the sanctuary. What is the sanctuary? The sanctuary is the place where God meets with his people. The sanctuary is where the glory of God would dwell.

In the sanctuary the radiant display of the perfections of a Holy God burns the blurry-eyed fog of despair away. Asaph had been stumbling around in a blind stupor, but in the sanctuary he suddenly gets a cold splash of reality in his groggy face. Everything changes. He discerns the end of the enemies of God. The wicked may seem to have the day now, but it will not turn out well for them.

[18] Truly you set them in slippery places,
You make them fall to ruin.

Notice how remarkably active this language is. God is not a disinterested bystander in the destruction of his enemies. Asaph’s language about God’s role in judgment is far from passive.

[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.

In the sanctuary Asaph meets the holiness and justice of God. He sees that God is jealous for his name. These wicked ones who strut their tongues and set their mouths against the heavens, who call out “Does God even care?” Well, they will soon find out, yes he does. Asaph learns that no taunt against the God heaven and earth goes overlooked or unaccounted. No haughty look of man will be left unleveled when the patience of our God has reached its predetermined termination point.

And Asaph realizes that his little pity party makes him just as bad as those he has been huffing and puffing about.

[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.

But, praise the Lord! God is not only full of justice, but he is also full of grace and mercy.

[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.

Even when Asaph’s blindness has turned him into a brutish animal, even when his flesh and heart are failing him, God is the strength of his heart. Notice the principal actor in verses 23-24.

YOU hold my hand
YOU guide me
YOU will receive me to glory

Despite Asaph’s stumbling, envious, ignorant, foolish heart, God will not let him go. God is good to his children.

The turning point for Asaph was being in the sanctuary of God. Though the world had knocked his senses out of order so much that he could no longer see straight, in the sanctuary he got a glimpse of the glory of God. Seeing God re-tuned his heart and his eyes to see rightly again. The sanctuary recalibrate Asaph’s vision.

That is why we gather Sunday mornings. We gather to gaze upon God through the word and prayer. Midweek prayer meetings are not a waste of time. The world may have knocked us out of our right senses this week. But may it be that God would open our eyes to say with Asaph:

[28] But as 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.

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