"So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields." Matthew 9:38
Our two year old little girl has a problem. Her name is Haven, and she is a certified chocoholic. M & M’s, Hershey Kisses, and Kit Kat’s are her drugs of choice. And I’m her dealer. My wife Lacy is very good at telling Haven “no” when it comes to sweets and giving her healthier choices instead of the sugar that she desires. But I just can’t resist when she points to the candy and says, “Daddy please?” When I give her sweets to eat I am daddy of the year in her little mind. But recently, as hard as it is, I have been cutting Haven off from her chocolate fix.
Last night before bed, she came to me with a sweet smile on her little face and said “chocolate daddy.” And I said to her, “No ma’am, let’s get some fruit instead.” This is about the time the fit pitching began. Haven stomped her foot and instead of asking for chocolate nicely, she now repeated her request in a very demanding tone. And again, I refused to give her what she wanted. Tears, confusion, and anger followed. Haven just couldn’t understand why her father, who is supposed to love her, would deprive her of what she thought she needed, that being the sweet taste of processed sugar.
No matter how much I told her that I had her best interests in mind, all Haven heard was that her daddy wasn’t giving her what she wanted. Furthermore, she knew that other children ate chocolate because when we take her to story time at the library each week, the librarian always gives out candy to all of the toddlers in attendance.
Haven is only two years old and she doesn’t have the life experience that her mother and I possess. She doesn’t realize the health dangers that could stem from a steady diet of sugar and the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. She doesn’t have the ability to look past her own selfish desires and actually see that even though mommy and daddy are depriving her of what she wants, we actually are looking out for what is best for her.
It is in these types of situations with my children that God shows me how similar we are to toddlers. We praise God and have no problem quoting scriptures about Christian suffering and perseverance in hard times, except when those hard times actually hit us. We have no problem remembering the account of the disciples caught in the storm in Matthew 8, and correlating that to the storms in our lives when times are good. But what about when we are caught in the midst of a storm?
We make plans for our lives. It is human nature to set a path for where we want our lives to go. And then tragedy hits, and those plans often become derailed. The loss of a career, a death in the family, or a financial set back are among a few of these derailments that are most common. And when our plans and desires are unexpectedly taken away, the immediate reaction is not to trust God, but rather to question Him.
Why would God allow this tragedy if He truly loved me?
Have you been here before? Have you said these words? If you haven’t, chances are you will. And for believers in these times of trial, we tend to look at our track record of faithfulness as well as the unbelievers who are seemingly prospering and we begin to contemplate, “Is the Christian life really worth it?”
In Psalm 73, we see that Asaph was at this place.
“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.” Psalm 73:1-3.
Right away at the beginning of his Psalm, Asaph recalls what he knew to be true in his heart; that God is good to His people regardless of the immediate circumstances. However, Asaph then testifies that he almost forgot that in the midst of a trial. He almost lost his foothold on what he knew to be true about God in His heart. And in his confusion, Asaph gazed upon the wicked who were prospering and doubted the goodness of God towards His own people.
I ask again, have you been here? Are you here now? Has there been a time in your life where your desires and or plans had been unexpected shattered. And as you scramble to pick up the broken pieces, you begin to doubt the goodness of God in full sight of wicked people who are getting the best out of life. Asaph knew this slippery slope all too well. Lets continue to explore his account as Asaph begins to describe why he envied 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.” Psalm 73:4-10.
Put yourself in Asaph’s place. Asaph, who was a man of God, was looking at his own life with the trials and hardships he was facing. And then also comparatively looking at the lives of the un-Godly.
Asaph said that the wicked seem to have no struggles. They seem to live longer, healthier lives than the children of God. With their evil mouths they blaspheme God yet their lives seem to be on a continual prosperous climb while the saints of God seem to be riddled with hardships. Asaph knew that God was good to His people, but was judging the goodness of God by the fulfillment of his own desires. Asaph continues his assessment of the wicked.
“They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” Psalm 73:11-12.
Where as the believer abstains from reveling in the evil desires of his flesh and is obedience to Christ, the wicked not only prosper in health and wealth, but they divulge themselves in activities of carnality without a care in the world. The wicked say to themselves that God has no reign over their lives. Asaph now goes from observing the wicked straight into doubting God and even calling into question his own faithfulness to this God who seems to not care.
“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.” Psalm 73:13-14.
Asaph is doubting his faith. He is doubting that following Christ is even worth it if all that comes from his obedience is heartache. Asaph begins to believe that his pursuit of the Lord and adherence to living a life of holiness was in vain. Affliction seems to come at him all day, and each new morning seems to be worse than the former.
In short, just when Asaph thought that he had hit the very bottom of life’s barrel, the floor gave way and he continued to fall deeper and deeper into despair.
How often do we find ourselves in the foible of Asaph, asking the same questions and wrestling with the same doubts? But Asaph did not let this doubt consume him. He didn’t allow this deception to lead him away from God.
“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.” Psalm 73:15-17.
All of his doubts deeply troubled Asaph. He wrestled with trying to reconcile the goodness of God in light of the suffering of His children. Confusion, anger, and doubt had consumed Asaph until he began to dwell on the truth that was buried deep in His heart.
“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.” Psalm 73:18-20.
Asaph concludes that although the wicked seem to be prospering, the Lord has placed them on very slippery ground. For in an instance, their lives will be over and they will stand in judgement before the Lord of all creation. Romans chapter one is a great depiction of the passive wrath of God which Asaph is describing.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Romans 1:28.
The wicked live by the creed “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They pay no mind to God and live for the sinful desires of their flesh. Why is it then that the wicked prosper? The Apostle Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans. God looks upon these evil people and sees that they desire the garbage of the world over the glory found in knowing Christ. And the Lord in essence says, “You want your sins instead of fellowship with me…take them.”
God gives them over to their debased mind to do whatever pleases them. But there will be a day, as Asaph pointed out, where the wicked will awaken from their sinful fantasy and stand before God with no defense, and eternal suffering in His wrath to come.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Psalm 73:21-22.
What a beautiful confession from Asaph. Even in the midst of his doubt, Asaph knew that he was being ignorant and part of the grief he felt during that time was due to his own embittered spirit. Asaph had the sense to know the truth of God’s goodness all along, even when he was questioning God.
I am ashamed to say that there have been many times in my own life where unforeseen tragic circumstances have caused me to doubt the goodness of our Lord. But I can relate to Asaph in saying that even in these times of doubt, I knew deep in my heart that I was the fool, and that God was working for my good despite the proverbial chocolate being taken away from me.
“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26.
The truth of God’s goodness begins to replace the doubt that had once subsided within the heart of Asaph. There is a saying that says “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That is a lie. Most of the time God will purposely give us more than we can handle, so that in our weakness we will put our trust in Christ. Life’s burden’s may be more than we can handle, but never more than the Christ in us can bear.
“Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73:27-28.
Although the wicked may prosper, they are far from God. And in their unfaithfulness, they will be destroyed in judgement. The wrath of God will be the only reward when their last breath has been drawn.
And the absence of the blood of Christ will leave them without excuse. But as for the believer, though we face trials and tribulations that at times seem to be down right crippling, we can rest in the knowledge that even in our hardships, God has already poured His goodness out upon us.
In the book of Malachi, God’s people cried out against the Lord in the midst of their troubles and asked the Lord “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). And through pointing them back to the account of Jacob and Esau, God essentially says to His people, “My love is seen in that I saved you.” To quote the words of evangelist Paul Washer, Isn’t salvation enough? What more proof do we need of God’s goodness?
Though our lives may not always turn out as we had hoped, and our dreams and plans may come to a crushing halt, we have reason to rejoice! Because we who were once enemies of God have been called sons and daughters. We who were once outside the family of God have been adopted by the King. We have been washed and redeemed. God owes us nothing in return.
Our reward is not found in this earthly life, as if God owed us a reward in the first place. Just the fact that He has taken our guilt sentence away through the death of His own Son, dying in our place and for our sins, is proof of His grace. And like Asaph in remembrance of this great truth, we can praise His great name, even in the hardest of times.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.