When we are faced with problems, whether it is cramp in our legs or mice in the garage, it is always good to know what helps. The same principle is true when we are faced with the burdens and challenges of life. In Psalm 73, Asaph tells us about something he has learned from his own experience, that helped him when he was in trouble: ‘It is good to be near God.’
Why do the wicked prosper?
Asaph’s problem was a common one. He saw wicked people prosper, and God’s people suffer, and it all seemed so unfair. In the Psalm, he refers to proud, violent men who use others for their own ends and mock God. They have comfortable lifestyles and plenty of money, and when they face death, they seem untroubled. God’s people, by contrast, seek to be pure in heart and to treat others with integrity, yet their lives are filled with hardship and mistreatment.
When Asaph sees this, he struggles with the injustice of it all. He begins to be envious of the wicked and is tempted to think that all his faithfulness to God has been in vain. The more he thinks about it, the more pain it causes him, and he is afraid to speak about it for fear of putting a stumbling-block in front of God’s people. In his pain and confusion, he feels so alone.
God’s people can often sympathise with Asaph. Life throws a curveball at us, and it all seems so unjust. We are passed over for promotion, or we struggle with ill health. We know sadness in our families or disappointment in our relationships. It seems as if being a Christian only makes life harder, and we are tempted to ask, ‘If we are God’s people, why does it have to be so hard?’
The nearness of God
But Asaph learned by experience what helps in this situation. He learned the only thing that really helps — the nearness of God. Asaph found help when he went into the sanctuary. Here are four ways in which the nearness of God helped Asaph.
An eternal perspective
Firstly, his perspective was changed. He was able to view the injustice in the world around him, and in his own life, in the light of eternity. There is a real day of reckoning for the proud, the violent and the unjust. And on that day, every tear will be wiped from the eyes of God’s people, and they will dwell with their Lord in glory forever. Have you lost this vision? Time is only a drop in the bucket compared with eternity, and ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’
Confidence in God
Secondly, his confidence in God was renewed. He saw that amid all his difficulties, the Lord still sustained him and led him, holding his right hand, and guiding him with his counsel. We must never doubt the compassion and wisdom of God. Though ‘we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny himself.’
A desire for the Lord’s presence
Thirdly, his desire to know God was refreshed and deepened. Not only did his difficulties stir up a longing for heaven, but the Lord’s goodness stirred up a yearning for fellowship with God amid his troubles here and now. ‘Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.’ Are you in danger of looking for strength and comfort elsewhere? We must never forget that ‘only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
Fourthly, he found the secret of true contentment. It was the nearness of God that enabled him to stand when all else looked like it would crush him. ‘My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’ It is the presence of God that enables us to be content, and the Lord’s presence is not constrained by our circumstances. He can even prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and as a result, our cup, even amid troubles, can overflow.
Draw near to God
How then do we experience the nearness of God? We must act on his promise, ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ We draw near to God in his Word and the Lord’s Supper, but particularly, perhaps, in prayer. It is when we cast our burden on the Lord, that he sustains us.
We must draw near to God through Christ, whose blood has opened a new and living way through the veil into the very presence of God. We can never dwell too much on Christ and his all-sufficient work for sinners. His blood can wash the foulest clean.
We must draw near in sincerity of heart, not like those who draw near to God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him. And we must draw near with humility. It is when we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord that he will lift us up.
Asaph’s circumstances didn’t change, but Asaph changed. It was good for him to be near God. And so it is today, for you and me.