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What's good for our hearts

Life pushes us in unpleasant directions. Living a life of faithfulness to God can become a challenge in the face of immense pressures to conform to modern culture and a godless lifestyle. We certainly don’t have the strength within us to push back. Scripture challenges us to keep Christ and his kingdom as the top priorities in our lives, but we have bills to pay, a mortgage to keep, a boss to please, a family to raise, and temptations to face.

One of the best antidotes for the venom that threatens to paralyze my own spiritual life has been Psalm 73, one of the handful of “wisdom” psalms found in our collection of 150. Asaph, listed as the psalm’s author in the heading, reminds us of one simple fact: God is good. Nothing else is good as God.

The psalm opens and closes with this truth, which then frames the entire discussion of pressures in life that are not so good. The opening verse of the psalm says "God is good to Israel," God’s people. The last verse, verse 28, concludes by reminding us "it is good for me to come near to God."

In between these bookends of God’s goodness comes a too-familiar story of struggle. In verses two and three, Asaph says he came close to falling apart because he lost contentment with what God was doing in his life. Actually, he says, “my feet nearly stumbled, I almost slipped up, because I was filled with envy of the those who oppose God and are still prosperous.”

Asaph expounds on his problem in verses 4-12. He describes the God-haters as rich, proud, and successful. They openly mock the knowledge of God and yet people look up to them, admire them, and want to be like them. Sounds like lots of celebrities. Fame and wealth lure us in.

The internal struggle in Asaph’s heart - likely a reflection of the struggle within our own hearts on too many occasions - is expressed in verses 13-15. It pained Asaph to admit he was filled with envy. He wanted to live for God, but it looked to him like the God-haters found more enjoyment in life than he did.

And don’t underestimate the pain this internal struggle brought upon Asaph’s heart. Ours too, when we are honest about it. The desires of our heart, too often, are not to see God glorified, but to see ourselves living the good life, in comfort and ease and filled with our own pleasures. Down deeper within our hearts, however, we know this pleasure-filled life we crave is a mirage, but we struggle with the pain this conflict brings.

Asaph’s solution to the pain comes in verses 16-17, structurally the central portion of the psalm. Spending time in God’ sanctuary, that is in his presence, is the antidote to the venom. There, in God’ presence, Asaph understood the end of the wicked. They are the one’s who are about to slip (echoing the language of verse 2). They will be destroyed. Their dream life is really a nightmare (verse 20).

Verses 23-27 demonstrate that true contentment, true joy, true strength of heart comes in God’s presence. Stay in God’s presence. Because God is good to his people and it is good to draw near to him.