My Portion Forever
Last night, eight of us got back into town from a four-day canoe trip on the Churchill river north of La Ronge. We had an amazing time and thoroughly enjoyed all the things we did, all the conversations we had, and all the food we ate as we sat around the fire.
The highlight of the trip for me came at about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, as I stood on the edge of a bridge, with two life jackets on, looking 30 feet down as the Otter Rapids churned beneath me.
Cameron and Andrew and I had decided we were going to jump, something that we had been assured many times was completely safe and lots of fun. So there we stood, looking down at the water, absolutely terrified. (Well, at least I was.) And as I was trying to work up the courage to just step off, the question passed through my mind—and probably my mouth: “Why am I doing this?”
Why am I doing this? Do I have a strong and compelling reason for moving forward with this ridiculous, terrifying venture? Or is this just a total waste of energy and emotion, and I should just walk away now?
Apparently I came up with a reason, because we stepped off, and fell thirty feet through the air into the swirling water, and lived to tell the tale. And it was certainly worth it.
Psalm 73, which we’re considering this morning, was written by someone in a surprisingly similar spot. Someone who was asking himself, “Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Should I just stop wasting my time and move on, or should I keep going?
Except, what he was asking these questions about was not something trivial like jumping off a bridge into a river. He was asking these questions about the whole direction of his life. He was asking these questions about whether he should be following God in the first place.
So where did these questions come from? What made him stumble and slip and start to second-guess his whole life of faith in God? The answer is in verse 3: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
The State of the Wicked
In verses 4-12, he goes into more detail, telling us what he saw as he observed the wicked and the lives that they led. First, he saw them having an easy life. “They have no pangs until death” (v. 4). “They are not in trouble as others are, they are not stricken like the rest of mankind” (v. 5). Their life seems to be easy and free from the trouble that others—including the righteous—struggle with so often.
Surely you’ve looked around and noticed the same thing. People who don’t love God, people who have no care for him, and they are doing great. Everything seems to be going their way and their life is just smooth sailing.
Next, he sees these wicked people prospering. We saw that in verse 3, when he mentions the prosperity of the wicked. And he highlights this again in verse 4 and 7 by highlighting the state of their bodies, which were “fat and sleek” (v. 4). That’s not an insult. At that point in history, being large meant that you could afford to eat good food and pay other people to do your manual labor for you. And so he’s simply saying that they are rich. Not just having an easy life, but doing really well at it.
Third, what’s worse, this ease and prosperity is not making them thankful, or causing them to seek God. Instead, it’s making them more sinful, more arrogant, more confident in their hatred of God.
Verse 6: “Therefore pride is their necklace, violence covers them as a garment.” Verse 7-8: “Their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.” These people are proud, and flaunt that pride. They use their wealth to exert themselves over others, oppressing and overpowering those weaker than them.
And this pride extends all the way up to God. “They set their mouths against the heavens” (v. 9). They speak arrogantly and sinfully against God. We get an example of this sinful boasting in verse 11. “And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’” Wow, wow, wow. These wicked people are directly questioning God’s ability to see and know.
In God’s covenant with Israel, He had promised to bless the righteous and curse the wicked. And yet here are the wicked, doing better and better and better and not seeming to taste any of the curses that God had promised them. And that’s surely a big part of the Psalmist’s struggle, and it’s perhaps why the wicked are wondering aloud if God actually sees or notices their sin.
And the worst part of it all is that instead of being avoided, these wicked people are incredibly popular. Verse 10: “Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.”
God’s people believe the arrogant boasts of these wicked. They are intimidated by their threats of oppression. They swallow it all, hook, line, and sinker.
And so verse 12 sums up this whole section when it says “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
The Psalmist's Initial Response
So put yourself in the Psalmist’s shoes. You’re someone who is trying to follow God. You’re trying to obey His law. You’re trying to believe His promises and are looking forward to the blessing that will come to you as you obey Him.
And yet you look around you and see that the wicked seem to be getting the blessing instead. And you, on the other hand, are just struggling away. What does verse 14 say? “For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” This Psalmist’s life is hard. Things are not going his way.
If you look at the title of this Psalm, you’ll see that it was a Psalm of Asaph. Asaph was one of the Levites in charge of the music in the temple (1 Chronicles 6:31,29). And God had told the Levites that they weren’t allowed to own land. They weren’t allowed to have a portion or inheritance among the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:9),
So Asaph is this guy who is not even allowed to own land, because God is supposed to be taking care of him, and yet things are hard. And meanwhile the wicked are over here doing great.
How would you respond to all of this? I suggest that you and I would probably respond in a very similar way to what we read in verse 13. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.”
Why am I doing this? It’s been a waste. I’ve just been wasting my time here trying to live a righteous life, trying to obey God. It’s been for nothing. Maybe I should just quit my gig at the temple and go get a real job and buy some land and try to enjoy my life a little like those wicked people seem to be doing.
Have you ever had that thought? Young people, have you ever looked around you at school and seen your peers breaking all the rules, doing everything that you were taught not to do, and yet they seem to be having way more fun than you? Have you ever felt envy when they tell all of their fun stories after their weekends of sin?
Adults, you ever have that thought as you pull in here on a Sunday morning, and you see some guy drive by with a truck and trailer and boat that you know you could probably afford if you were just a little bit more selfish with your money? If you stopped giving to the church, if you stopped coming to church, you’d have that much more time and money to enjoy life a little bit more like everybody else?
These are just a couple of examples, but I think we’ve probably all been in the Psalmist’s shoes at one point or another: looking around at everybody else, wondering whether following God is really worth it.
Dealing With the Doubt
So what does the Psalmist do about this? How does he deal with these questions?How does he find a way across this river of doubt to the shore on the other side?
In Verses 15-17, we see three really important ways that the Psalmist navigated his doubt as he fought his way through it. First, he kept his mouth shut. And we see that in verses 15: “I I had said ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.”
The Psalmist knew that if he had voiced these doubts out loud, and told everyone what he was thinking, he would have been betraying all of God’s people who were listening to him. Remember that Asaph had a position in the temple. Other people were looking up to him. He had influence.
And so Asaph knew that if he voiced these doubts before he had resolved them, he would have been harming God’s people. He would have basically been joining God’s enemies by weakening the faith of God’s people.
This is a major lesson for us who live in an era when Christian celebrities use social media to “be authentic” about their struggles with faith. Psalm 73 teaches us that it is wise to keep our mouths shut.
That doesn’t mean we don’t find a few trusted friends or our pastor and have an honest conversation with them. But Asaph waited to go public with his struggles until after he had wrestled them through and had something helpful to share.
Second, we see that he tried to understand his struggles. Verse 16: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.”
Trying to understand his questions felt like hard work. But he tried. And maybe you think that’s obvious, but often it’s not. I’ve talked to many people who have struggled in major ways and they’ve never tried once to understand their struggles or do anything about them. They’ve never some to someone like me and asked for help. But the Psalmist tried. He thought about how to understand it.
The third way he dealt with his doubt was that he continued to follow God. We see this in verse 17. “…until I went into the sanctuary of God…” He kept going to the sanctuary to worship God, even while he was wondering if that very act was just a colossal waste of time.
In my experience, when someone wanders away from faith in Christ, there’s usually a point before they give up entirely when they stop going to church. Stop reading their Bible. Stop praying. Because it just feels hard to do those things when you’re not sure if it’s all even true or not. But stopping is the absolutely worst thing you can do. When you’re in a spot of spiritual weakness or vulnerability, that’s when you need the fellowship of God’s people and the food of God’s word the most.
And so we see that the Psalmist kept serving God even though he had these big questions on the table. And he goes into the sanctuary of God to worship even though he’s not sure if it’s really worth it or not.
The Doubt Dissolved
And there, in the sanctuary, in that place where God’s people worshipped and songs were sung and God’s truth was on full display, that’s where the light broke through the darkness of his doubt.
Can you imagine if he had allowed his doubts to keep him from the sanctuary? This might never have happened.
But he did go into to the sanctuary of God, surrounded by all of these reminders of God’s truth and glory, and God allowed the light to break through.
Specifically, Psalm 73 shows us that there were two major truths, two major beams of light, that God caused to break through and begin to dissolve the darkness of doubt.
The first truth is introduced in verse 17: “then I discerned their end.” He came to understand that the lives of the wicked were going to end.
Up until that point he had just been thinking about then and now, when things seemed so great. But God helped him understand that they were gong to come to an end. They were going to die. And when he discerned their end, that’s when it all made sense.
He describes their “end” here in verses 18-20: “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.”
You know what this is describing? Death. The wicked are going to die. Their life is going to come to an end the way that a pleasant dream comes to an end when you wake up. And when they die, all of their wealth, all of their success, all of their prosperity, is going to mean nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? Me neither. You don’t take any of it with you and it won’t mean anything to you then.
And when you think about it that way, it puts some of the Psalmist’s earlier struggles into perspective. Why would you get all tied up in a knot over someone who is going to die, and all of their joy and happiness is going to die with them? Why would you be jealous of someone whose success in life is as fleeting as a dream, and will be over just like that?
It’s almost silly, isn’t it? And that’s what the Psalmist recognizes in verse 21. “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast towards you.”
This is a good reminder not to take our doubts too seriously. They might feel like a big deal in the moment, but one day we might feel pretty foolish about the whole thing.
So this is the first truth that breaks through the darkness of doubt. The wicked are going to die and all of their pleasure and prosperity is going to be completely meaningless.
The second truth that breaks his doubt apart is the understanding that God is with him, and was with him even in his doubt, and will be with him through out all of his life and into eternity. And so unlike the wicked, his future is incredibly bright.
We find this all in verse 23-24: “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.”
This is the secret to not being jealous of the wicked. This is the secret to contentment even as you suffer and others don’t. God. Right now, God is with you and is guiding you with His truth, and later, after you die, God will receive you into His very presence in glory.
The life of the wicked is like a dream that vanishes as soon as you wake up. The life of the righteous, those who trust and follow God, is the opposite. It may be hard now, but God is with us, and glory is coming.
Could we ask for anything more in this life, but to have God with us? And could we ask for anything more for the life to come, but to be with God?
The answer is no. And so in verses 25-26, the Psalmist continues to celebrate the absolute satisfaction found in God alone: “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.”
Whom have I in heaven but you? What else is there for me? What other hope do I have? What else do I have to look forward to when my life here is over? Nothing. God is everything.
And God is everything, not just after we die, but here and now. Did you catch the second half of verse 25? “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” There’s nothing else I want but God.
This is the great secret to the Psalmist’s contentment. It’s not just that he knows that the wicked will perish. It’s that he’s no longer jealous of them right now. Their stuff doesn’t tempt him. Because there is nothing on earth that he desires besides God.
Satisfied in God Alone
Let’s think about this last point for just a little but more. Does this sound realistic to you? Like, really? You could really get to a spot where you don’t want stuff, you’re not envious of big homes and new vehicles; you don’t want anything besides God?
Is that even possible? What about breakfast in the morning? What about a drink when we’re thirsty? What about sleep when we’re tired? Don’t we want those things? Is it even possible to desire nothing besides God?
Augustine, the great 5th C church theologian, helped us out here when he wrote down these words of prayer to God: “He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.”
Do you hear what he’s saying there? We don’t love God enough if we love other things besides God, if we don’t love those other things for God’s sake.
What does it mean to love something for God’s sake? An example might be my family. I love my family. And yet Augustine is saying that I should love God and love my family, but that I should love my family because I love God. I should love them for God’s sake.
I should love them because they came to me as a gift from God. I should love them because I see in them each a reflection of the creativity and beauty and glory of God. I should love them because God has given me the responsibility to love them. I should love them because in their love for me, I experience God’s love for me. I should love my family for God’s sake.
And if my family ever put me in a spot where I had to choose between obeying God or “loving” my family, the choice would be obvious. God would win.
I think that Augustine’s words are true, and really help us understand what’s going on here in verse 25. We should not desire anything on earth besides God. Anything we desire, we should desire for God’s sake, or because of God.
That’s why we pray before we eat. We’re reminding ourselves that we don’t desire this food besides God, but rather that we receive this food as a gift from God, the One whom we truly desire.
And that same mindset should dominate our lives. Our material possessions, our relationships, our hobbies—none of it can be a competitor to God. If it has a place in our life, it is there for God’s sake, received as a gift from Him and used to serve His purposes.
I remember someone saying that they would never watch a movie that they couldn’t thank God for afterwards. And that’s what Psalm 73 is describing. There should be nothing on earth that we desire besides God. Because God is what we really want.
We see this expressed beautifully at the end of verse 26: “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
God had promised the Levites that he would be their portion and inheritance, and Asaph is no longer feeling short-changed by that. Instead, he is saying “Yes! That is what I want. I’m content, satisfied with that. I want God more than a chunk of land somewhere. Even though my body itself starts to fall apart, I have a source of strength in God whom I desire.”
Are We Satisfied?
So those are the two reasons, the two truths, that dissolved the Psalmist’s doubt. And they are summed up for us so well again in verses 27 & 28. “For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you” (Psalm 73:27). That’s reason one for why we should not envy the wicked.
Reason two is found in verse 28: “But 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.”
I just want to be near God. He’s my refuge, the place I go and hide. And I want to bring Him glory by telling others what He has done.
This is the two-pronged secret to satisfaction. The two swords that we use to fight against the sin of envy. Remember the way that the wicked will end, and be satisfied with God, both now and into eternity.
So how do we make this real for ourselves? How do we work this truth into our souls?
If you are here this morning and you don’t know God, than none of this will make sense to you. Being satisfied with God in such a way that you don’t care about homes or bank accounts or toys? That’s craziness—until you come to know God. Until God, who said “let line shine out of darkness,” shines in your heart to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And He can do that for you. God sent His own son Jesus to die for our sins in order to bring us to Himself (1 Peter 3:18). And God can make you know him in such a way that you will experience real joy and real, eternal satisfaction in a way that you’ve never tasted before. So if you don’t know God, would you please pray this morning, and ask God to do this work in your heart? Ask Him to open your heart to believe and see and understand and be satisfied with Him.
If you are here this morning and you do know God, but in some way or another you are struggling to be satisfied with God alone, this Psalm shows you the path forward.
Continue seeking God. We talked last week about ways to cultivate joy in God. Do those things. Keep doing those things. And pray, pray, pray for God to keep revealing His satisfying glory to you. Pray, like Ephesians 3 shows us, for the strength to comprehend the love of Christ. Pray Moses’ prayer, which we again saw last week: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14).
Pursue God. Seek satisfaction in Him. You will not be disappointed.
We’re going to end now with a song from Philippians 3 that talks about satisfaction in God alone. If this song is not your story, could you sing it as a prayer, asking God to make it your experience? I can’t imagine God not being willing to do this for you.