Scripture Reference: Psalms 73
Rebuilding Broken TrustDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 23, 2022
Scripture Reference: Psalms 73
Selected highlights from this sermon
When you don’t see God working, perhaps you’re looking at things from the wrong angle.
I'm speaking on the topic of rebuilding broken trust—rebuilding broken trust. About ten years ago, a new word came into our vocabulary. It was the word “deconstruction.”
Now deconstruction means exactly what it seems to mean, namely the dismantling of things, the dismantling of our institutions; there are progressives who want to dismantle the Constitution, which means to take it apart—in effect, destroy it.
But the word “deconstruction” is also used for people who leave the Christian faith. And you and I know children who are raised in the church; they memorized all the verses; they may have even professed some kind of faith in Christ. And lo and behold, they have walked away from the faith—they have deconstructed. Now when I was younger, we used to say that they backslid, but nobody backslides anymore, they only deconstruct. Well believe it or not, this is not a new phenomenon.
In Psalm 73—and if you have your Bibles, I want you to turn there; find it on your iPhone or your iPad. Psalm 73. We have a man by the name of Asaph who almost deconstructed, but he was kept from deconstruction, and we have his story here. Now we don't know much about Asaph except that he was a musician, and we have a lot to learn from his experience.
Two other words by way of introduction. First of all 50 years ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Haddon Robinson on this Psalm, and as I prepared my own sermon, bits and pieces of what he said have been incorporated into this message. The other thing that I want to mention is that years ago, I memorized a great deal of Scripture. I memorized Psalm 73 in the King James Version, so if you find me quoting it and it's a little different than your translation, you will understand.
But Asaph begins the psalm by saying, you know, “God is good to Israel—to them who are of a pure heart, God is good.” But in verse 2, “Oh, my feet had almost slipped. I almost gave up the faith.” And he gives us several reasons why it is that he began to doubt that God was good to Israel.
The first reason is simply this: he said, “The ungodly are more wealthy than I am.” I think that's in verse three. He says, “I was envious at the wicked when I saw their prosperity.” He said, “This doesn't make sense to me. If God is good to Israel, wouldn't it make a lot more sense if He blessed His people with wealth; and the wicked—they wouldn't be able to pay their debts? They wouldn't be able to have the same amount of money! It is the godly who should prosper, but here they are—they have better chariots than we have, of course, a crop that is higher than mine, I can't pay my bills, and they are prospering. This is not what I assumed a good God would do.”
But there's a second reason, and that is, he says, that not only are they wealthier, but they also appear to be healthier! There in verse 4: "They have no pangs until death, their bodies are fat and sleek.” In those days, that was a tremendous compliment, because what it meant was they had plenty to eat. The other people were starving, they are not in trouble as others are, they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Later on, he's going to say that he was stricken every morning. And so they, of course, are healthy, they're wealthy, and they “blow off God,” so to speak. As a matter of fact, they're more carefree, he says. They live a much looser life.
I love the phrase where he goes on to say that, “Pride compasses them about as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness. Their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and they speak with malice. Loftily they threaten oppression.” Verse 9, what a figure of speech: “They set their mouths against the heavens and their tongue struts throughout the earth.” An ancient version of individualism, expressive individualism: “I am who I am and I want everybody to affirm that my truth is my truth, and I have that truth and I have the right to be whoever I am! Just worship me and we'll get along real fine.” So here, they set their mouths against the heavens.
Now that's one thing, but Asaph is struggling for another reason, and that is the fact that God doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. As a matter of fact the wicked, “They say, ‘How does God know and is there knowledge with the Most High?’” That of course is coming up here in the text (verse 11). “Is there knowledge with the Most High? Behold, these are the wicked; and they always increase in riches.” They're the kind of people who have enough money that if they're in trouble, they can get a high-priced lawyer to get [them] out of the trouble. They are the kind of people who strut against God, speak against Him, and God does nothing.
You know, there is a verse of Scripture in the Book of Ecclesiastes which says these words, and it's only a paraphrase that I'm giving you today. I think of chapter 8, verse 11. It says because the penalty against those who commit crimes is not executed quickly, the wicked feel free to do wrong. And there are Christians today who, because of grace, think it's okay to sin because we're under grace and God isn't doing much about it anyway. And the wicked say, “Does God know? And if He does, it doesn't matter to us, because our God is ourselves, and furthermore, He's not doing anything about it, and they're getting away with it.”
Asaph says, verse 13, Asaph is struggling with this, and he says, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean, and I’ve washed my hands in innocence.” What he’s saying is, “What is the worth and the value of trusting God? I look around and see no reason to trust Him, because those who don’t trust Him—those who are unconverted are actually doing better than I am. What’s the payoff? In vain I’ve kept my heart pure.”
I remember speaking to a young woman who said, “I’ve maintained my virginity. All of my friends are sleeping around, and they seem to be getting away with it, and they seem to be having a very good time, and I have to go back to my lonely apartment…so of what value is faith in a good God?”
A businessman said to me, “Everybody in my business cheats. I serve with integrity because I’m a Christian, but what’s the payoff?” He said, “The cheaters often are the ones who are promoted, so what’s this business of faith in God all about?”
That's what they are asking, and that's what he is asking, and that's what Asaph was asking. “In vain I've kept my heart pure. I've washed my hands in innocence. I haven't stolen anything, I do no violence, but is it worth it?”
You look round and you say, “It certainly doesn't appear to be worth it.” Now Asaph did say this, he said, verse 15, “If I said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I have betrayed the generation of your children.’” He said, “You know what, I kept my doubts to myself,” and he said, “The reason I did that is because I didn't want other people to stumble because of me.” In today's terms he would say, “I didn't go on Facebook and tell the world, ‘I'm deconstructing, please deconstruct with me!’” He said, “I didn't do that; I had the wisdom to know that I could be a stumbling block to others, so when I was about to deconstruct, I didn't spread it around, and therefore cause confusion, and perhaps be a stumbling block to others.”
Now, he's in a real dilemma, isn't he? He says, verse 16, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me to be too wearisome a task.” You know, how are you going to put this together? Doesn't make sense.
And then he tells us these words: “Until,” verse 17, “I went into the sanctuary of God, and there I saw their end.” He said, “When I went into the sanctuary of God, I got reoriented. When I went into the sanctuary of God, I began to see things from a different perspective—from an eternal perspective, so that I could evaluate what was going on.”
He said it was “In the sanctuary of God where I learned something.” Is that why you come to church? I hope so! I hope that that's one of the reasons we come: to worship God and remind ourselves who God is, and we remind ourselves who we are! It's there that we gain our sanity back in a world that has gone crazy.
Now, up until now, you may not have been taking notes this morning, and you can be forgiven for that, but this might be a good time for you to write down three mistakes—three mistakes that Asaph saw that he had made when he was about to deconstruct. Three mistakes.
First of all, he said, “It was in the sanctuary of God I realized mistake number one. I had overestimated their prosperity.” He said, “They weren't just riches; I thought they were!” Look at this: verse 16, “But when I thought to understand this, it seemed too wearisome a task.” [Beginning in] verse 17, he's in the sanctuary of God, “Surely you have set them in slippery places. You made them fall to ruin. How were they destroyed? In a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” Wait a moment, my feet had almost slipped, but You have set up circumstances so that their feet are in slippery places, and they are going to slip, and how they're going to be destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors. “Like a dream, when one awakes, O Lord, you will rouse yourself and despise them as phantoms.”
He says, “God, I realize now that the wealth that they have is not going to last. As a matter of fact, they're really living in a dream world; they are living in a world of Illusion.”
The other day, I read in the Psalms; the Scripture says very clearly: “Why do you seek after lies?” We're living in a nation that is seeking after lies, and that's why it's so hard to have a conversation sometimes with people, because the desire to believe something is more powerful than rational arguments. So you and I have met people for whom facts simply do not matter. And so what he says is, “The wicked, they actually are not as rich as I thought they were, because it certainly isn't going to last.” As a matter of fact, doesn't he go on and say here, that “I was like a beast before you?”
Yeah, I think verse 22, “I was brutish and ignorant. I was like a beast toward you. I was thinking like an animal of the field.” Now squirrels may take time to store up nuts for winter, but the cow, there isn't a single cow in all of Texas who says to herself, “You know, we're living at a time of inflation and so what I'm going to do is not to eat too much today because I'm going to save some for tomorrow.” No! All that she does is she eats everything that she possibly can. She is not even thinking about tomorrow, and he says, “That's the way I was. I looked at their prosperity and I didn't realize it was just a second or two of time from the divine standpoint.”
Now, I want you to understand that there are some wealthy people who are believers, who use their funds for the sake of the Kingdom, and they make a difference in the world.
The 19th century preacher Spurgeon, in England, was asked by someone he met, an atheist. And the atheist began to talk to him about all the glories of atheism, and Spurgeon took a very practical turn and said, “I have a question to ask you: How many orphanages in London were started by atheists and supported by atheists?” Well, the answer, obviously, was zero. My point is that Christians who are walking with God become very generous in all that God provides. But Asaph said, “You know the first mistake I made is I overestimated how rich they were. It's a phantom; it's a dream. They are sleepwalking.” But he said, “I made a second mistake.” He said, “I underestimated my own prosperity.” He said, “I was richer than I realized I was.” I'll see if I can quote it, beginning at verse 23, “Nevertheless, I am continually with thee. Thou has holden me by thy right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there's none upon the earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” He said, “I've got God.” And he understood that having God and nothing else makes you more wealthy than somebody who has everything else but doesn't have God. . .I thought I might hear an amen! I mean, is it still legal here in Texas? [chuckles]
The simple fact is, Jesus asked this question. He says, “What shall it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul?” Asaph said, “I can't believe it! I almost wanted to swap places with those who lived the ‘good life.’ I didn't realize what a foolish decision that would have been if I had deconstructed, because I have God to guide me in this life. And God guides us in this life, and after God has guided us in this life, we've got all of eternity to enjoy Him, to worship Him and to be with Him forever.”
Asaph is saying, “Nobody could be richer than that. I have God.” So in that lonely apartment, you have God to fellowship with, God to bless you, God to help you, and God to remind you of that which is very valuable. He said, “I made a big mistake when I was envious at the wicked, because I overestimated their prosperity [and] I underestimated mine: to belong to God forever.”
But there's a third mistake he made, and I suspect if you have young people who have deconstructed, this third mistake may be the one that they latched on to. And it's found there in verse 21: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in my heart, I was brutish and ignorant.” “When my soul was embittered,” in other words, he allowed his emotions, his bitterness, to get in the way of the promises of God. He says, “My emotions, my bitterness, is more present to me than all the things that God promises me.”
Why is it that young people deconstruct today, or old people? Is it because of intellectual reasons? Sometimes. But oftentimes, it is not a matter of intellectual reasons; it's a matter of bitterness because of a bad experience. They are embittered, and therefore they leave the faith. There are so many illustrations that come to mind. A very famous woman told this story. She said that she was in Sunday school, and they had to memorize verses for free camp, or some kind of a gift, and she said she knew the verses cold. She quoted them well and yet she was not the one that was chosen to get the prize. The boy who didn't quote the verses as well got the prize because his father was a leader in the church, and so forth. And so she said, “Right there, I made the decision that I would not go to church as an adult.” And she said, “I have never been back.” Bitter. “If that's the way they treat you, if that's the way Christians are, I'm out of here.” But imagine what she's losing. She's allowing her bitterness to stand in the way of all of God's blessing.
I think of another woman who deconstructed—seriously deconstructed—and died a horrible death. Now why did she deconstruct? I'll tell you that her father, who apparently professed to be a Christian, abused her as a child, and you see the way the reasoning goes is this: “I hate my father, I hate his God. I'm going to go my own way. I'm going to deconstruct and leave the faith behind.” So young people go today, and they deconstruct because, you know, “the church is so judgmental, the church is this,” or “I had this experience with Christians.”
You know what Asaph had to do? He had to confess his bitterness.
One week ago today, I was speaking in a church and a man came up to me later and said, “You know, I am bitter.” And he mentioned something quickly, but I was a little late, I had to go somewhere, and I kind of blew him off and said, “You know just get on your knees and stay there until you give your bitterness to God.”
Well, a couple of days later—because this was a conference—I met him and I apologized. I said, “I’m so sorry that I just kind of brushed you off.” He said, “No, no apology needed!” He said, “I took your advice. I went home, I got on my knees, and God is removing my bitterness that I am giving to Him, because after all, I do want to trust God and I want his blessing, but you can't have it as long as you hang on to bitterness.”
You may have been treated unjustly; I understand that very clearly, but what you must do is to give that to God. Don't let bitterness stand in the way of all of these blessings. You say, “Well, how do I make the transition from the life I'm living to the one that is blessed with all of the goodness of God?” You must understand this: That when Jesus died on the cross, He got what He didn't deserve—namely our sin—and we got what we don't deserve—namely the gift of His righteousness. When we receive Christ, He gives us the authority to become the children of God, and not only that: “He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” You receive indescribable wealth when you turn from your sin to trust Jesus Christ, who will welcome you into heaven. [Asaph] said, “Who have I on earth beside thee?” Well, God guides you here, and afterwards, He takes you to glory, and you are with Him forever.
Robinson told the story of a young man who went to the Prime Minister of England, namely prime minister…and I know this story very well, Gladstone…but I had to check his name. You know, at the age of 81, sometimes you have to check names [chuckles].
Gladstone was Prime Minister of England, and a young man came to him for advice. Gladstone said, “What do you plan to do?” He said, “Well, I'd like to get a good education.” Gladstone says, “That's wonderful, we need young men that are well educated, but what then?” The young man said, “Well, I'd actually like to be elected to Parliament so that I can make a difference for the people; help the people of England.” Gladstone says, “That's great! Good to aim high, but what then?” The young man said, “Well, after that, you know, I might want to, in my old age, write some books so that I can pass my wisdom onto those who follow me.” Gladstone says, “That's great, and what then?” The young man said, “Well, I guess I'm going to have to die.” And you know, folks, the statistics on death are very impressive. And Gladstone says, “What then?” and the young man said, “I don't know what then.” Gladstone says, “Young man, go home, get on your knees, and stay on your knees until you have thought life through to the very end.”
Today you may have backslidden. You may have “deconstructed,” and you are the one that is losing because the riches and the fellowship of Jesus is not yours. And you think that you have these riches, but they are like a dream. And there may be some of you here who have never received Christ as Savior. What you must do is to receive someone who is actually qualified to save you: Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. He can take away your sin; He can clean you up; He can present you to God the Father as if you are perfect based on “His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”
In the sanctuary of God, Asaph got his priorities right. And there standing before God, he finally understood what life was all about. And this chapter ends: “For behold those who are far from you shall perish.” At the end of the unconverted, “You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” Think it's going to last? Not very long.
“But for me, it is good to be near to God. I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I might tell of all your works.” You get God. You get Him as your refuge, you get Him as your strength, and afterwards through all of eternity, He takes you to Glory. You are so rich in Christ, you have no idea of how rich you are!
I can't help but think that right here in this church, and those who are watching online, what you ought to do is to get on your knees, confess the bitterness, confess the envy of the wicked, and stay there until you have thought your life through to the very end.