It is undeniably possible for Christians to become discouraged while living in the world but not of the world. “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Its ways are against the ways of God, and we are often vexed or distressed by the evil and injustice we witness. What we need is to be able to view things through spiritual “eyes” with spiritual understanding, for things are not always as they appear. I believe the 73rd Psalm, a psalm of Asaph, helps us with this.
In the 73rd psalm, Asaph begins with the truth of which he is sure, and that is “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart.” But then he proceeds to tell us that at a point previous, he did not have that confidence, for his faith had almost failed: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped.”
He tells us several things that he had viewed about the wicked that really bothered him, including how they prosper, they die without pain, they have fewer troubles, and they are well-fed and materially blessed. He did, however, not fail to call them by what they are: arrogant, mockers, violent, boasters, and ungodly.
The things he observed and pondered fueled envy and fanned doubt within him. They were taking him down a road that would lead ultimately to his destruction.
And these things troubled him to the point that he even questioned the worth of trying to please God (vss.13-14): “Surely I have cleansed by heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning.” His observation of the ease of the wicked and his doubts in the value of him living righteously were not just light, momentary, passing thoughts, for he says that when he thought how to understand this, “it was too painful” for him (v.16).
However, his understanding turned, and that turning point he so clearly stated thus (v.17): “Until I went into the sanctuary of God: Then I understood their end.”
There it is. There is more to life than just life under the sun. And that spiritual understanding came when he went into the sanctuary of God. Having gone into the sanctuary of God, he could understand the undesirable end of the wicked. Hear Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.”
Furthermore, Asaph recognized, I believe in hindsight, that had he taught others these words of doubt and discouragement, which were the appearance of things to him, he “would have been untrue to the generation of Your [God’s] children” (v.15). He was grateful he had not taught others these doubts; they were not rooted in truth.
In the remaining part of the psalm, he confesses the truth of God’s goodness toward those who fear Him and His displeasure and punishment of the ungodly. He proclaims his need for God and His counsel as well as his faith in, trust in, and relationship with God.
Like Asaph, we can find ourselves envying others who seem to have it so easy, and we could sometimes even ask ourselves whether living the life of a Christian is worth the cost.
When we have those thoughts, let us do as Asaph – go into the sanctuary of God; that is, let us turn to God and His truth revealed in the Bible, meditate upon it, and pray to God. Only then can we see things the right way, with the light of God’s word showing things to be as they really are. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105) Let us see events and circumstances around us with spiritual understanding. Let us long for God above all others: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth I desire besides You” (v.25). What a blessing to be guided by His counsel and afterward be received to glory (v.24). Isn’t that what we want and what we want others to have also?
– Larry Jones