Refresh & Restore — July 29, 2021

We are continuing in our But GOD series by looking at life and death in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can find the written devotion here: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/09/15/refresh-restore-september-16-2021/
  1. But GOD — Episode 3
  2. But GOD — Episode 2
  3. But GOD — Episode 1
  4. Sabbath Rest & Teacher Tired
  5. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — FINALE/Epilogue

23  Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
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.[1]

Psalm 73:23-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

We are going to take a brief break in our Ruth series. I feel like there is someone out there who needs to hear this. If not, maybe I just need to write it.

I struggle.

I just want to lay that out there – I do; I struggle. My mind is often a mess, as is my heart. I do not have it (whatever “it” is) all together. I get depressed. I get stuck in my own head.

I am human. I am a sinner. Like I said, I struggle.

As I was reading the Word and studying this morning, I came across this passage. I was initially going to use it for an upcoming series, but I just could not get it to fit. I also could not get it off my mind and heart – two phrases specifically were sticking with me: “nevertheless” (v. 23) and “but God” (v. 26).

So, if you will indulge me. I would like to share a word with you today for those who struggle – for those who do not have it all together. And, it is my hope, dear Sojourner, that you realize you are not alone.

Nevertheless

In the ESV translation, the publishers titled this psalm “God is My Strength and Portion Forever”. That sounds so positive and good. And that is exactly how Psalm 73 starts out: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (v. 1). That is good news if you are Israel or if your heart is “pure”. However, I feel like we are more likely to fall in with the beginning of v. 2 which says, “But as for me…”.

One of my Bible school kiddos did an excellent job explaining what the conjunction “but” means. He said that it cancels out everything that comes before and replaces it with what comes after. So, all that good news for Israel and pure-hearted folks is cancelled and replaced with the psalmist’s (his name is Asaph[2]) reality. He describes his situation like one whose feet “had almost stumbled” or “had nearly slipped” (v. 2). And what tripped him up was his own heart because he was “envious” of “the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3).

It is easy to get tripped up. For me, it does not have to be some outside stimulus; to quote Tyler Perry, “I can do bad all by myself.” My own mind has a magnetic pull toward darkness. My heart is drawn toward sin like a moth to a flame. But what Asaph describes shows how disheartening our problem can be since he is jealous of those who blatantly work evil because they seem to be doing well (and you can infer that he is trying to do good and struggling).

If you look at how he describes them, it does not seem as if they are doing very well at all. He says that they are not suffering and have all their appetites filled (v. 4). They do not have the same troubles as other folks, “like the rest of mankind” (v. 5). But he also says that their pride and violence is all over them like clothing (v. 6) and that, while they have their appetites filled, they are actually filled with foolishness (v. 7). Ultimately, that foolishness leads them to mock God and mistreat others (vv. 8-11).

Rather than see their plight for what it truly is, Asaph is blinded by his desire to have his appetites filled – to have his own way. Instead of seeing the danger of their lifestyle, he sees them “at ease” and how “they increase in riches” (v. 12). He feels as if his pursuit of God was “all in vain” (v. 13) because of how difficult it was to follow God rather than his own desires (vv. 14-15).

I love the way that verses 16-17 transition and get us closer to our passage today: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to be a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” When he was wallowing in sinful desires and flirting with following the wicked rather than God, it “seemed…wearisome”. It seemed that way until he got alone with God in His “sanctuary”. Then the truth became clear.

That is how that works. When we are with God, spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, things seem so clear. Yet when we try to live like the world things get muddled. He was jealous of the prosperity of the wicked until he basked in the glory of the only Righteous One! In the presence of God, he could see that those he was jealous of were on “slippery places” and headed toward “ruin” (v. 18). All that prosperity they flaunted would be “destroyed in a moment” (v. 19) as God cast them away like one would a bad dream upon waking (v. 20).

More importantly, Asaph – because of the time he spent with God – saw himself more clearly and honestly! He began to discover that he was closer to the wicked than he was the Righteous One (v. 22)! He found that his “soul was embittered” – he was disheartened. But the good news is that through all of this he was “pricked in the heart” (v. 21). To be pricked in one’s heart is to be sharpened, honed, or taught. In his covetousness of the wealth of the wicked, his heart had become dull. He had grown weary of doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).

Not only was it good news that his heart was pricked and repentance began to occur, the fact that he could say “nevertheless” in the midst of those difficulties was good news! This is a beautiful contrast to his early descriptions of slipping and sliding because he realizes God was continually with him and holding his right hand providing strength and support (v. 23)! He realized that he was not going to fall – even though he found himself stumbling – because God was guiding him (v. 24). And he realized that striving after temporary rewards like what the wicked had could not compare with the glory that would come “afterward” from his God (v. 24, 2 Corinthians 4:17)!

But God

How easy it is to veer from the path! It does not take much to steer our hearts and minds in the wrong direction; after all, we are only human! Yet the closer we get to God, and the more we realize that what the Bible says about Him is true, the easier it is to see our desire shift – little by little – from the fading, temporary appetites of the earth to God. Asaph’s desires shift when he realizes that there is no one like God and nothing on earth that can compare with Him (v. 25).

The most common advice is to follow one’s heart. But look at where following his heart got Asaph! He began to learn what we find in Jeremiah 17:9-10:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

He could see how his heart and flesh would fail him (v. 26). In fact, that was his reality, slipping and sliding on his path instead of following God on the foundation of His Word. The good news – for Asaph and for us today – comes in the middle of verse 26 – “but God”. Remember that “but” cancels everything before it and replaces it with what comes after. The good news here is that God’s strength replaces our failing hearts and minds; God becomes our “portion”, satisfying our hunger, to replace our earthly failings and lusts. That’s good news!

But For [Us]

Asaph wraps up his psalm by sharing what God taught him through this tough and disheartening time: salvation comes from God and that those who are “far from [Him]” and “unfaithful to [Him] will ultimately “perish” (v. 27). That is bad news for those who do not know the Lord, but it is true. This highlights the contrast in verse 28 when Asaph says, “but for me it is good”. Again, we see that “but” changes things up.

Asaph’s “but for me” shows that his faith in God – his nearness and relationship with Him – has cancelled out the perishing that others would experience. Rather than desiring their wealth, he now takes refuge in “the Lord God” and sets out to “tell of all [His] works” (v. 28). We need the same thing for ourselves today. Maybe you are like me and find yourself disheartened from time to time (or depressed, in a funk, whatever you want to call it). The only lasting solution that I have found is that of Asaph – to take up the “wearisome task” of moping our way to “the sanctuary of God” and letting Him set us aright.

If you are not saved, then you have nothing to set right. In fact, you need a new heart altogether (Ezekiel 11:19). But I urge you: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God offers us the same help that He gave to Asaph. Yet we have hope that Asaph did not yet realize. God has already come down to help us in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). He has walked every path that we need to walk, overcome every temptation we will encounter, and paid the price so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

If you belong to Him but feel like you are slipping, I want to urge you to reach out to Him. Heed Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” Then, we can call out to Christ with the words of Asaph:

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.”


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 73:23–28.

[2] Asaph was a worship leader from back in the days of David (1 Chronicles 15:16, Nehemiah 12:46).

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