Consider the deceptive nature of this picture. Today’s study reveals that the reality of how things appear in people’s lives are not always a true reflection of how things truly are. As we read Psalm 73:1-15, it appears to Asaph that the wicked will always prosper, but that’s a deception that if left unchecked can cause him (and us) to fall into a heart of envy.
Why did Christ give himself to be crucified on a cross at Calvary?
By now in this study you have either learned or been reminded that all that is taking place outside of you (your attitudes, words, and actions) are being directed by an internal source from within. This internal source is commonly referred to as the heart.
We do what we do because we want what we want and we want what we want because we love what we love and we love what we love because we all worship. The outward behaviors of our lives are mirrors revealing the affections that live in our hearts. If we’re aware of our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions in life then we will also be aware that all of this behavior is feeding us useful data on what exactly our hearts are captured by and fixated upon.
Let’s take another look at our case study, Asaph, who is the author of Psalm 73. In verse one he reveals to us the truth that God is good to the pure in heart. However in verse two he quickly realizes that the condition of his own heart is anything but pure.
The realization comes with these words, “God is good to those pure in heart. But as for me…” One simple truth stated about the goodness of God opens the floodgates of conviction about the state of the psalmist’s own heart. His heart is impure, unholy, and undeserving of the goodness of God. Why?
(Read Psalm 73:2-15) From verses 2 to 15 there is a recognition by the psalmist that his heart is not functioning in purity. Notice what gives away the impurity of his heart! “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” (verse 2) His manner of life was a mirror reflecting back the impurities of his heart. His behavior was betraying his professed love for God. Listen, we’ve all experienced this. Here’s how we express it (usually we say it about others and not ourselves): “I can’t hear you because your actions are speaking louder than your words.” Asaph sees this contradiction in his own life and points it out for all of us to see and learn from.
Verse 3 reveals the temptation that is threatening the purity of his own heart. The temptation is envy. He says, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Asaph pauses and does a bit of self-counseling and he diagnoses his own heart. When he holds his heart up to the standards of God’s purity he sees a heavy dose of envy, greed.
Now wait a minute…we know that God is good to the pure in heart and the goodness of God entails an eternal inheritance (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8) that doesn’t compare to anything this world has to offer and yet, the psalmist is envious of the prosperity of the wicked. Yes, the psalmist is earthly just like us. We see what we see, and we often want what we see. We can’t always readily see the eternal reward, the riches of the goodness of God. However, we can see the riches and the prosperity of this world and our hearts are easily led astray to desire what is before us. Our affections are so easily swayed by the stimulation of our physical senses and we forget the greater glory that God promises to the pure in heart and we find ourselves greedy and envious of the wicked who prosper in this life.
There is a downward progression that we witness about Asaph and we can observe it in our own hearts as well when it’s there.
The impure heart is deceived (Psalm 73:2-3).
This deception of the heart goes straight to the questions you may have heard and even asked: Why do the arrogant rise to leadership in many cases? Why do those who do bad things prosper? While these are honest questions, they can also be asked with a deceived mind that actually buys into the lie that somehow the arrogant and the wicked will always prosper. Sometimes what lies underneath the question is a spirit of envy that exists in our hearts. Sometimes the heart is longing to be like the arrogant and like the wicked because they are in the power positions and they seem to have the prosperity of the world. We’re going to see that the psalmist comes to his senses in verses 18-20 and the veil is torn away from this deception. However, this deception is step one in the downward digression of the plight of the human heart.
The impure heart is distorted (Psalm 73:4-5, 13-15).
Do you see the distorted perception in his thinking? These are the lies that he’s telling himself. The wicked not only prosper, but they look good doing it. Here’s what these distortions may sound like: “They have bodies that are healthy and desirable. They don’t go through the same struggles that I go through. They live above the fray. They never experience misery and trouble and suffering like I do.” If this doesn’t describe the way some people view the pop star and Hollywood elites in our culture, I don’t know what does. “Oh, she has the perfect life…clothes…hair…body.” “Oh, all the women love him. He has so much money and power and prestige.” “If only I could be like that person.” It doesn’t even have to be a Hollywood elite or famous person. Sometimes we can look at each other and in the distortion of our hearts think, “That person has it all together. They look good, dress well, are always happy, live above the fray, never have any trouble, never suffer…all while NOT living for the Lord.” What does this kind of distorted thinking lead us to believe?
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14)
What is Asaph saying? “Why do I attempt to live for God? Why do I pursue a clean heart? Why do I try to live well and please God? Why do I suffer rebuke and conviction of sin when this person sins and prospers in spite of it?” When my heart becomes focused on what another has and I begin to want what he has then suddenly I can be swept away by the distorted view of the temporal, rather than the eternal. I can be tempted to see a pure heart as a vain and profitless endeavor.
The impure heart is given to dishonorable passions (Psalm 73:6-12).
These verses describe those who live as though God doesn’t exist, with all of their dishonorable pursuits and passions and pride and yet, verse 12 says, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
Asaph’s confession is that he almost went there. His heart was prone to the deception, the distortion, and the dishonorable passions of the wicked. He almost bought into the lie. His heart went there to envy the wicked and in doing so was tempted to curse God and the pursuit of God. However, something happens in verses 16-17 that we’ll see next time. It’s a pivotal turning point for an impure heart.
For now, I invite us to join Asaph in a little self-counsel. Take some time and consider the following questions. Ask for God’s help as you examine your own behaviors, words, and attitudes. What reflections do you see in the mirror of your behaviors, words, and attitudes? What is your heart longing for these days? Are you envious? Are you angry? Are you bitter? Are you hopeless? Are you depressed?
What are the roots of those feelings? What does your heart want? What are you coveting? What are you angry about? Why? What is your heart longing for that’s got you depressed or hopeless? What or who has captured the affections of your heart?
As you diagnose your own heart I want to encourage you to spend some time in prayer confessing your heart condition before God. Write out your own psalm following Asaph’s pattern of Psalm 73. Asaph wrote out his examination and diagnosis for us to consider and next time we’ll see exactly what happened that turned his heart. Thanks for reading! God bless you!!