“We need to gather with fellow believers and commit to holding one another accountable in directing our hearts and affections toward God and not the things of this world. ”
Book Three of the Psalms is unique. Starting with Psalm 73, we see a collection of songs that were written from the perspective of worship leaders. Different from some of the Psalms we sing today, the songs of Asaph, in particular, are somber and filled with disappointment. That is not particularly something you would associate with a call to worship.
Asaph was a priest and a choir master who sang before the ark of the covenant when it first arrived in Jerusalem (I Chronicles 15-16). He wrote twelve Psalms, eleven of which are recorded at the beginning of Book Three and the twelfth, Psalm 50, stands apart, yet paired with Psalm 51 to declare what the LORD requires of His people. It’s not sacrifices that the LORD desires, but thanksgiving--an act of our worship.
When the Wicked Prosper
In Psalm 73 Asaph asks a question we can all relate to, “Why do the wicked prosper?” If God is righteous and holy, and He calls us to live a set apart life, why doesn’t He reward good behavior and punish sinners?
Verses 4 through 9 describe a pretty accurate depiction of humanity: they don’t suffer, they don’t struggle, they don’t face consequences for their actions, they’re never hungry, and they mock the righteous. But I think the most condemning of these qualities is found in verse 9 where they blaspheme God. We’ve probably all seen this, someone calling out to God in their arrogance and declaring, “If there really is a God, let Him strike me dead right where I stand.” Yet God remains silent.
When God’s People Turn Their Gaze
Verses 10 and 11 describe something far worse. God’s own people, seeing the prosperity of the wicked, have turned their gaze away from God. Seeing the advantages of living a licentious life and the fact that there seem to be no immediate consequences for sin, they ask, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
This is what happens when we take our eyes off of what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. We see all of the attractions of this world and we question the love and justice of God. But this unveils a false notion of God. It detects our faulty theology. We often think that God will relate to us on our merit, that God is somehow obligated to reward us when we do what He asks. We forget that if everyone got what they deserved, we would all find ourselves under the wrath of God.
As a priest, Asaph is like a pastor, watching over a congregation and imploring them to trust God. This is what brings him to the brink and causes him to be jealous. He says in verses 2 and 3, “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” You can imagine how he felt when he saw his own congregation turning to follow the wicked. Again, he elaborates on his frustration in verses 13 through 15 where he identifies with the persecuted, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” Yet, if he were to disclose his doubts to his congregation, they would have all abandoned their faith. So he continues to call people to worship, even though his own devotion to God had been brought into question.
When We Come To Worship
Asaph struggled through this conflict in his soul. Everywhere he turned the prosperity of the wicked was reaffirmed. But when he came to worship God, everything was brought to light. Verses 16 through the end of the Psalm show us a beautiful picture of how our worship can change our perspective.
Now, when Asaph sees the wicked getting away with their sin he understands that their foundation is unstable (18). We could even say that they are on thin ice, and spring has arrived. Likewise, for some, Jesus’ death looked like a victory for the wicked, but for those of us who understood what was accomplished on that cross, it was just the beginning of a new season. Death and evil have been ultimately defeated, and yet they may still appear to hold sway over our lives. If we look around us we are reminded of the prosperity of the wicked, but that is precisely why we are told to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). As the great old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Our worship leads us to declare with Asaph, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (25-26) It’s easy to say that, it’s much harder to live it. How many times have we been disappointed by the temporary pleasures of this world? Yet, when we are discouraged and see the prosperity of the wicked, what do we turn to? We turn to the same things that have let us down time and time again. This is why we need regular, intentional, and sustained worship. We need to gather with fellow believers and commit to holding one another accountable in directing our hearts and affections toward God and not the things of this world.
As we gather to worship, know that we are playing a vital role in our own life and in the lives of those around us as we turn our attention to the source that can bring true happiness in the midst of a world that is selling false promises. Our worship changes us. And as we perform this good work, we will shine as a beacon of hope to those who have lost their focus and we invite others to join with us in giving glory to our Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Rev. Adam Miller is the President and Host of Songtime and can be heard daily on the Songtime Radio Broadcast.