“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”—Psalm 73:26
Among the many wonderful things in the book of Psalms, there is nothing in my mind more wonderful than the fact that this book is such a transparent account of the inner dealing of a soul with God. You have history books and prophetic books in the Bible, but here you have a book which just seems to draw the veil aside to let you see something of the inner conflict of the spirit as the man talks with God. This is tremendously so in the psalm we have read and from which our text is taken, for apparently the man who wrote it had been going through a pretty shattering experience, so shattering in fact that he nearly lost his faith, but he recovered his ground and came through triumphantly.
The psalm begins in the very first verse by a declaration of his spiritual conviction. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” which, more correctly translated, would read, “God is only goodness to His own” in other words, the New Testament commentary, Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
Such was his convictions, but the ship of his life was driven so far out to sea that he nearly lost hold and his anchor almost pulled up: “My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.” Yes, he just about lost his grip of everything until he came to the place where he was almost tempted to say “I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency” (v. 13). In other words, what’s the use? It seems as if he was saying, as he looked at circumstances around him, “Everything I stand for just gets shattered to pieces. The thing that’s right never comes out on top. Look at the fellow who doesn’t make any profession or have any belief in God. It seems to me that the saints are always sighing and the sinners are always singing. There is always a cross for those who love God and it almost looks as if those who don’t care are going to have a crown.”
Now I must confess that I find this to be very encouraging. The most discouraging kind of people sometimes are those who go around giving the impression that they are always on the mountain top and life is one big Hallelujah! They create an impression that they are living on a higher plane, but very often, by the way they explode from time to time, you know they are not living there: they are simply covering up.
I’m very glad, therefore, for a story like this which tells us the truth of someone who has gone right down to the very depths, but one day he triumphed and he did so because he went into the sanctuary, into the very presence of God. He had all the facts, save one, as he argued with himself, “It isn’t fair that these things should happen!” But he had left out one fact, the fact of God. Alone in the sanctuary with God he began to look at things from a totally different angle. Instead of looking at Him through circumstances he began looking at circumstances from the standpoint of the throne of heaven. He began to see the context of the situation in which he was placed, not merely from the limited aspect of his own life, but from the great sweep of eternity; and the outcome of it all was that he was able to say “My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my life and my portion for ever.” Two little words, but two great words, and when they were put in the scale they completely changed the situation: “but God…”
These words occur many times in the Bible. Sometimes they come as an alarm bell to the conscience; sometimes they speak with terrific warning of judgment to the hypocrite; sometimes they come with comfort to the soul in trouble; sometimes they come with great assurance of power to the soul that knows its weakness and is being tempted by the devil. Let us look at some of the instances which you find in the Word of God of these two great words, and may the Spirit of God apply them to your heart and life today.
Turn first to Luke 12:16 and subsequent verses, for here is a very interesting story that is not recorded in any other Gospel. It is the story of a very successful businessman who was so embarrassed with his success that he had to launch out on a big extension program. He had to have a new plant, and this is what he says to himself. “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits. (He was a farmer evidently). And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee…”
Picture this man, for he has made a terrific mistake. He has made a fatal grasp at sovereignty, and six times in two verses the word “I” occurs: “I will pull down my barns, I will bestow my fruits, my goods, I will say to my soul.” This man has made a common error in seeking to make a grab at the sovereignty of his life. Not only has he done this, but he is following a futile search for satisfaction. Interestingly enough, the man is not an atheist—at least in the sense in which we interpret the term because he doesn’t deny he has a soul. Indeed he talks to it. Oh, thou fool, do you really think that you can satisfy your soul with what you can satisfy your body? His soul has nothing—he has starved it almost out of existence. He thought he had much goods laid up for many years, and Jesus said, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (v. 21). The man had ignored his soul, and had chosen to believe that his soul was all personality and could be satisfied with the things that he had accumulated. He had a totally futile source of satisfaction, and now he was discovering it. Further, this man had a false sense of security. He sat back among all his accumulated wealth—no doubt a three car family, a lake, a yacht, everything the world could possibly imagine, he had it all and surveyed it, his new extension, new plant, new machinery, and all his goods stored up for many years. He strutted around in his own little self-erected castle until one day heaven broke in upon him and said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” But God…
Oh, what two tremendous words those are that break into the consciousness and into the experience of a man who has lived for nothing but self-gratification and self-pleasure and self-indulgence! One day God intervenes and says, “You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you and then whose shall these things be?” A solemn warning that comes as an alarm bell to the conscience of an individual who has lived for material things. In Psalm 75:6 we read: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” One day the final word is not with us, but with Him. One day God breaks into the life of the individual who has never truly confessed his sin, the man who has never repented and turned in simple faith to Jesus Christ. “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same; but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them” (v. 8). And as a man lives his life under a pretense and behind a camouflage, as he oppresses and judges, condemns and betrays, as he is dishonest and trifles with impurity, sanctity, and truth, in the hand of the Lord there is a cup of which one day the wicked shall drink to its very dregs. In other words, there is coming a day when the hypocrite shall perish, when the man who has made only a pretense of his Christianity and of his religion will have to stand before God, when all the facts and every detail are out in the open, and the cup is drained to its very dregs.
I believe there are many areas of people’s lives that are never touched by sermons. There are many experiences from which people just refuse to listen to God’s Word and concerning which they refuse to turn. “It doesn’t matter; I’ll just live like this, nobody finds out!” Nothing is called sin these days unless you are unfortunate enough to be discovered. It doesn’t really matter too much, therefore as long as it can be covered up and forgotten (in our memory at least) and we can be in church and attend services and even teach and preach, but this verse says that the cup is filling up, and one day every dreg of it will be tasted and the last word is “but God…”
There is a moment beyond which a preacher cannot go. There is a stage beyond which ministry cannot reach. There are hearts which the preaching of the Word cannot touch. There are messages from which people will turn without even a blush on their face and to which they will refuse to yield. There will be situations in which, perhaps, habit has gone so deep that nothing the human voice can say not even the archangel Gabriel—can ever touch it, but there is one last word that sounds to my own soul like an awful sense of fear, “but God is the judge.”
Yes, these two words sound out with a tremendous sense of authority and of impending judgment to people who live like that. Ah, but they also sound a word of comfort to my heart. Turn to Ephesians 2:3, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,…”
What a portrait there is here of the personal experience of every one of us! “In time past,” to go back in our biography of pre-Christian days, “ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” That’s how we walked and lived. In such situations we had our manner of life in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desire of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature the children of wrath, but God…Something that no psychologist could do, something that no psychiatrist could do, something that no human being could do, something that none other on Earth or in heaven could do, but God…God stepped in with His mighty omnipotent, transforming power because He is rich in mercy, and with a great love wherewith He loved people who lived like that. Even when we were utterly dead, He quickened us together with Christ; by grace ye are saved.
Ah, He is the God of Jacob, the man who was a great supplanter and deceiver, the God Who turned him into Israel. He is the God of Saul of Tarsus, the great self-righteous Pharisee. He is the God of Simon Peter, the denying betraying, failing, wandering, worldly, vacillating, weak man, with so little stamina; He is the God of Simon and He changes him into a Peter. He is the God of these men, and He is your God today, rich in mercy still, for the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever. Though you be dead in sin and dead to God and dead to everything except the world, into that life of yours He can step with the same transforming power. But God…
You may say the situation is beyond help, it’s gone too far. You may say you’ve tried this, that, and the other. You have gone to this counsellor and the other. You have tried this kind of religion and that, and you may say that situation is utterly hopeless; but God…There is One Who is able for any situation if only you are prepared to be honest with Him. How full of comfort are words like these!
There is yet another place in the Word where these words stand out with comfort and authority: 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (and how many of us in spiritual arrogance and self-sufficiency have been like that). There hath no temptation take you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Look at that verse closely: “There hath no temptation”—not some, not even one, no matter how great, how severe, how powerful, how overwhelming, how crushing—“but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it”—not before it, not after it, not when the heat is turned on, but with the temptation He will make a way to escape, not that you might run from it, not that you might flee for your life, not that it might be taken away from you and never come back again, but He will make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it.
How is it that God is able to do this? How is it that at the very moment when the pressure is on, and the heat is beyond endurance, that God can do this? I’ll tell you how. In Acts 13:29–30, we have the answer: “…they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulcher.” That is the end of everything; God is dead, and this means that wickedness and sin have triumphed. But what are the next words? “But God raised Him from the dead.” How is it that God can step into a man’s life when the testing is almost beyond endurance? How is it that with the temptation He can provide the way of escape? Because God isn’t dead, He is alive, and the One Who has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin, bless His name, He lives today in the place of all authority and all power, and with the temptation He is there to provide the way of escape. Not that I may never have to face it again, but that I may have daily strength to meet its daily pressure. But God…
I doubt whether there was ever a day in our lives when a word like this was so urgently needed. There is such temptation on the part of the Christian today to be afraid, to panic, to run, to lose faith, to look at God through circumstances and only get a dim blurred vision, instead of looking at circumstances from the standpoint of the throne. When the psalmist went in to the sanctuary, then he saw the end. There must have been millions of people throughout history who have gone into heaven’s consulting room, into the presence of God, broken, crushed, overwhelmed, beaten, at the point of quitting, and they have come out radiant, with a new vision, with a new hope. What do I mean by getting into God’s consulting room? We have access by faith into the holiest of all, access into grace wherein we stand, right now by faith you can go into heaven’s consulting room, you can go into the very holiest of all, into the very presence of Jesus, introduced by His shed blood, and there you can see the whole situation from a different angle because you put into it these two words, “but God.” That will deliver you from the stupidity of interpreting anything in the light of an immediate context only. It will enable you to see that situation which faces you right now in the light of the eternal purpose of God. I don’t think there is anything in all the world so glorifying to God as when a soul, out of the very depths of despair or suffering or testing dares still in that situation to cling to his belief that God is faithful.
I have often quoted from the wonderful allegory of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a story of Satanic power attacking Christians. “Be not deceived, Wormwood,” writes Screwtape to his nephew, (you are entering at this point, you see, into Satanic counsel) “our cause is never more in danger than when a human being, no longer desiring but still intending to do the Enemy’s will (the Enemy, of course, being Jesus) looks around him upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and then he asks why he has been forsaken, but he still goes on obeying.”
“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”