Despair or Delight...You Choose

Despair or Delight...You Choose

Bryan Jones |

Psalm 73 reveals we all experience times of despair when our focus is not on God; however, we can choose delight when we encounter Him.

Summer in the Psalms
Despair or Delight… You Choose • Message 3
Bryan Jones
July 30, 2023

A. Introduction

Today, I want to look at Psalm 73. It’s one of my favorite Psalms because there is a raw, gritty, and thought-provoking look at the world and ourselves.

The title of today’s message is Despair or Delight… You Choose.

The reason I titled this message is that there are two things the writer of the Psalm does that lead him to despair but there is one thing that unlocks delight.

Now all of us want more delight, but the truth is our natural bend is more towards despair and discouragement, so we won’t just fall into this, we have to be intentional.

… but Christian people too often seem to be perpetually in the doldrums and too often give this appearance of unhappiness and of lack of freedom and of absence of joy. There is no question at all but that this is the main reason why large numbers of people have ceased to be interested in Christianity.  Martin Lloyd Jones

If you are in place where you are discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, or just in a place that you want more delight… more joy… then you’re in luck, this Psalm is for you.

The writer of Psalm 73 is a man named Asaph… in fact, Asaph is the author of twelve Psalms. He first appears in Psalm 50 as the author and then in Psalms 73-83.

Asaph is one of the official worship leaders around the time of King David. He was employed to lead the people of God. He was a gifted worship leader. He wrote many of the most popular Psalms. In this Psalm, he gets distracted, and he starts to despair.  And if one of the chief worship leaders got distracted and disillusioned that should encourage us.

B. Choices that lead to despair:

1. Focusing on myself.

Psalm 73:1-3 (NLT)

Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

Seven times in these three verses notice what the focus is… me, I, my, I, I, my, I, my.

Asaph goes, "Do you know how tempted I’ve been?" He starts going off, going, "I know God is God but I’m struggling. I know God is good. In my head, I know God is powerful and in control, but my feet almost slipped." He’s saying, "I’m struggling, I’m wrestling through some things, I’ve got some doubts about my faith."

Now, what caused his doubt? What was he wrestling through? He started to focus on himself…

Psalm 73:3 (NIV)

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Prosperity is the Hebrew word for Shalom, which means everything is good. Everything is peaceful. There is abundance.

He’s, in essence, going, "God I’m the worship leader, and I’m faithful, and I study the Torah, I know The Commandments, and I try to be good, and I honor you with my resources, and I help others… Why am I not advancing… why am I not doing better. Why am I not getting this?"

There are two major forms of pride.

  1. Inflated view of self (arrogance/boasting).
  2. Deflated view of self (self-pity/ insecurity).

I want to challenge you on something…  for the rest of the day, or if you want extra credit, this week, don’t talk about yourself and focus on others and see if that limits the words you speak. I did this a couple of years ago and it was sobering… I found myself having a whole lot less to say.

We are culturally trained to focus on our own needs above others. If the chief worship leader for the Israelites struggled with this, it’s safe to assume we will as well.

See the problem with self-pity, or pride is that we can’t see the miracles of God all around us.

There was a Jewish tradition that the greatest miracle ever performed was the splitting of the Red Sea. Yet there is a midrash, which is like a commentary from rabbis about certain stories in Old Testament and there is one story about Ruven and Shaman who missed the miracle. The sea floor was safe to walk on but muddy. Ruven said, "What is this mud? It’s just like the slime pits of Egypt." "What’s the difference," cried Shaman, "mud here, mud there, it’s all the same." Because they never looked up, they never understood why those on the other side were singing songs of praise. For these two, the miracle never happened because they never saw past their circumstances.

I don’t know if it’s 100% true but I do know many people daily miss the blessings of God right in front of us because we focused on our circumstances.

… So, if our circumstances are good then God is fair. But like Asaph, when bad things happen to us and evil seems to prosper, or our lives don’t go according to plan, it creates self-pity.

Now it’s okay to grieve and wrestle through stuff. We aren’t supposed to bottle stuff inside.

The second choice that leads to despair.

2. Focusing on what others have.

(Psalm 73:4-14)

And I mean more specifically to compare yourself to others. To focus on their blessings. Listen, you don’t have to keep with Jones’.

Psalm 73:4-12 (NLT)

They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats [More biblical proof God hates cats. It’s in the Bible.] have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words. "What does God know?" they ask. "Does the Most High even know what’s happening?" Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Notice they, them, these, they, them, their… do you know how many times he says these words about others… I counted 16 times… 16 times.

Steph and I took Tristan for the first time to the Texas State Fair.

The first year… we played those games where you get a stuffed animal. I got him a small prize, and he was happy for a bit until… UNTIL… he saw other kids with stuffed animals that were 3 to 4 feet tall. Then he wasn’t happy with what he received. 

But the next year things changed… take a look at what I got…  [Show pic]

Someone came up to me and offered me this… they had won it… and didn’t want it… so I said absolutely… I thought I had won because I didn’t have to pay anything but after lugging that thing around for 8 hours I didn’t feel like a winner.

I don’t know what it is about walking around with a giant corn dog all day that invites everyone to come speak to you.  There was one time we saw Tristan look at another giant stuffed animal and start to compare… it’s amazing how easy it is to compare, isn’t it?  

"Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about."  C.S. Lewis

It’s fundamental for us to compare ourselves to other people. Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s the thief of delight…that’s why the enemy, satan always wants you to focus on what you don’t have.

Asaph sees what he’s received in his life, and he sees what others receive and he starts to question the goodness of God. This is often how satan attacks…

Now as he starts to compare, he envies, but what is he envious of? What is he jealous of?

  • Their life is problem free (v.4a)
  • They’re healthy (v. 4b)
  • They’re living the dream (v. 5)
  • They’re prideful (v. 6)
  • They get away with wickedness (v. 7)
  • They’re careless with their words (v. 8)
  • They’re prosperous in everything (v. 9)
  • Their popularity (v. 10)
  • They blasphemy God (v. 11)
  • Everything comes easy for them.

So, Asaph sees wicked people prospering. He says some of them are cursing God. And then there are good Christians that are suffering… and he can’t understand, and it leads him to despair.

As he starts focusing on others… listen to what he says…

Psalm 73:13-14 (NLT)

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

Notice the word nothing, the NIV says vain. He said, "It’s in vain I’ve followed God. It’s a waste. I don’t think it’s worth it. That’s strong verbiage.

So how does he deal with it the right way? His frustrations, his temptations, his doubts…

C. The way to delight:

1. Focusing on God.

(Psalm 73:15-17)

To go to God…

Psalms 73:16-17 (NLT)

So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

Notice the most important word in this chapter… Then

Then I came into the presence of God. The way to delight is to focus on God. To get your eyes on Him.

We are to stare at Jesus and glance at our lives and others.

Part of the despair that a lot of us face is because we go to God last. It doesn’t mean that you won’t face problems… but if you focus on yourself, and compare yourself to others, you will head for despair. But if you go to God first daily, it’s amazing the amount of joy you will find no matter your circumstances…

Every day you will have to choose your then moment… when you start to focus on yourself, when you start to compare, it will always lead you into discouragement. But then when you go to God, and you start focusing on Him slowly but surely joy will start to take over.

2. The Justice of God.

(Psalm 73:18-22)

One of the things that can cut into my delight is when I get focused on the evil of this world. This is the same thing that happens with Asaph.

We want things to be right and fair… and when things aren’t fair, what are we focused on? Justice.

When I was in elementary school, I used to go to my grandmother’s house. The show she always watched every night, some of you have seen it, Unsolved Mysteries. I remember as a kid being over there, and she’d watch it, and it would end saying, "If you’ve seen this fugitive, please call 911. They are dangerous and on the loose." Then the show would go off and my grandmother would say, "Goodnight." Are you kidding? Besides being horrified to go to sleep, I remember watching that show and longing for justice. We all want things to be made right. To be fair.

Yet in life, not everything gets solved the way we want it to, does it?

Sometimes the crooked boss doesn’t get caught.

Sometimes the arrogant person doesn’t get humbled.

Sometimes you never hear those words, "I’m sorry."

Sometimes when you do the right thing, you don’t get the reward.

Sometimes the best person doesn’t get the promotion.

Sometimes, for no clear reason, a health crisis strikes.

Sometimes liars get away with deceit.

Sometimes the abusers don’t get punished.

You may be in here carrying some desire for justice, some anger, some wound, and it’s affecting your delight it’s affecting you like Asaph, but then Asaph sees a picture of the Justice of God.

Psalm 73:18-20 (NIV)

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.

He sees that doing the right thing is rewarded. That God honors the faithful followers of His and He takes care of the wicked and evils in this world. They don’t stay unsolved. 

3. The Goodness of God.

(Psalm 73:23-28)

It’s a scary thing to have a powerful justice-oriented God, but it’s comforting to have a good God.

Psalms 73:24-26 (NIV)

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.

The problem with focusing on myself and others is I start to worship stuff in this world over God.

Novelist David Foster Wallace gave these words to a graduating class, sadly, right after he committed suicide but listen to the significance of these words…

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what we worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Asaph for the first part was focusing on the wrong thing… but it’s amazing, as he begins to worship God… Listen to what he says… who do I have in heaven but You? There is nothing on this earth I desire besides You.

Earth has nothing I want but You… can you say that? What is it that you really want from life?

If you could have all the things of heaven, no sickness, pleasure joy, material things, friendship with loved ones, but no Jesus, would you be content? A lot of people don’t want Jesus, they just want heaven… I love this proclamation, who have I in heaven but You? Nothing matters but You.

I remember reading this as a pastor years ago… keep in mind and as pastor… this wasn’t true so no shame… but I prayed for this to be true of me… and let me tell you, God crushed me… I had to let go of some things, my wife will tell you the last years have been hard… but do you know what I’ve now started to find… delight.

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