Reading: Psalm 73
This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies (NIV).
Psalm 73 is all about the envy that we often experience when we look at the lives of the rich and famous. We live in a world of glitz and glamor. Glitz and glamor are pumped at us relentlessly through various forms of media. The common man or woman is just an insignificant nobody in light of the celebrity culture that pervades our society.
I find it fascinating that a psalm written more than 2,500 years ago is so relevant for us who live in the twenty-first century. The psalmist laments, “This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.”
But there is a turning point in this psalm. The light of understanding comes on for the psalmist; the truth dawns on him. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
Understanding comes in God’s sanctuary. When we enter that holy place, the Lord is able to give us His perspective. We can see as He sees. A man’s arrogant boasting is exposed for what it is—a breath of hot air. There is no permanence to human wealth or achievement. In the eons of time, all is swept away. Only what is built on the Christ the solid rock will endure for eternity. True value, true worth and permanence are found in our union with God in His sanctuary—in His sacred place. I pray you and I will be found there.
Response: LORD God, bring me to your sanctuary. Help me to enter into communion with you. Help me discern what is of real value in a world filled with idols and shams. Give me your understanding. Amen.
Your Turn: How do you enter God’s sanctuary? Does your heart need to be prepared?
Reading: Psalm 73
A psalm of Asaph
Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?” (NIV).
The last of the Ten Commandments warns us against the sin of covetousness. In one important respect this commandment is different from the other nine. Covetousness or envy is a sin of the mind. It is theft in germ form. It is the seed thought of adultery. Envy is the precondition of a sinful act, not the act itself.
Here in Psalm 73 the psalmist catches himself on a slippery slope leading to a more serious sin. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
I certainly can identify with the psalmist. I think we all have had moments when we thought in our hearts that God is not fair. Why is that person prospering when I am not? To the best of my abilities I am doing everything right—by the book—yet the road is hard and the rewards are meagre. Meanwhile, arrogant unbelievers are prospering—seemingly blessed by God. Where is the justice in that?
The root issue here is envy—our envy. God is not accountable to us; we are accountable to Him. Our hearts need tending, not God’s heart. In His time and His way God will deal with the arrogant and evil person. It’s my responsibility to deal with my thoughts and the attitude of my heart.
Response: LORD God, as I begin this new year help me to tend to the garden of my own heart. When envy raises its head, help me to decapitate that thought. I fix my affections on you and not the things of this world. Amen.
Your Turn: Do you have moments of envy? What works for you in countering such thoughts?
Reading: Psalm 146
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD (NIV).
Are you looking for the LORD’s help? Let’s be honest now. Many of us are. Well here’s a startling truth. The self-sufficient and well-to-do need not apply. We can also add the smug, the proud, and the arrogant to that list.
I thought the LORD was willing to help all who came to Him. True, but here is the sad reality; the arrogant and self-sufficient don’t come to God. They have no need for Him. They are too wrapped up in their successes and their pride to come in humility before the LORD. In reality, the LORD is the unseen author of any genuine human achievement of lasting value.
Today’s reading from Psalm 146 gives us a glimpse at those who should get their application in for the LORD’s help. Here’s the list as found in this psalm: the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, the bowed down, foreigners, the fatherless and widows. Help is promised to all of these. To put it simply, the LORD helps the needy.
I have often heard it said that the Lord helps those who help themselves. I have even had people insist that this statement is found in the Bible. It is not. This non biblical proverb is often used to justify human greed. In other words, I’ll grab whatever I can without any thought for those who are less fortunate. Furthermore, I’ll frame it as God blessing my greed. Ouch!
The character of God is the exact opposite. He is attracted to the needy. He helps the needy rather than running from them. Jesus continually demonstrated this quality in his earthly ministry. He showed compassion to the oppressed, the hungry, the blind, the widow and the fatherless. He set captives free from prisons of sin and shame. Jesus calls his followers to do the same.
Response: LORD God, I confess that often I avoid the needy rather than seeking to help them. Give me a heart of compassion—a heart like your Son, Jesus. You are my great provider. Thank you. Amen.
Your Turn: How do you respond when you see someone in need? Do you always help?