There are plenty of days in our service of sportspeople that seem sort of chaotic and we’re often confused about what the Lord could possibly be doing. Our service is not usually tidy, with countless moving parts, lots of factors outside our control or even our notice, and many people of less than noble or godly character. It’s easy to feel like we’re caught in a vortex of chaos and confusion. The writer of Psalm 73 had encountered this and wrote eloquently about the situation. Thankfully, he didn’t stay in chaos and confusion.
In the first part of the psalm, the writer postulates what he believes to be true and the forces that war against that supposition.
Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
As we serve in the sporting community, we’d like to believe that the Lord honors and rewards those who compete fairly, within the rules of sport, and ethically. However, it often seems like those who cheat the most win the most often. It appears that they will never get caught or pay the penalty for their malfeasance. Our steps could slip along the way of following Jesus, and we could stumble from the way.
The writer then goes into a rant of the seemingly endless ways that the wicked and arrogant get by with God defying behavior.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
5 They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
7 Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
8 They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
9 They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
10 Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
11 They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
The embittered writer pours out his heart’s frustrations with the apparent lack of justice and the perceived over-tolerance of the holy God of Israel. How many times have we enumerated the offenses of the players, coaches, teams, or clubs that repeatedly bend the rules or even more overtly, act unethically and abusively with no consequences. As we do, we join the psalmist in his frustration.
The psalmist then turns inward and his self-pity is exposed as he laments God’s inaction and his plight of being in a catch 22.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
14 For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
16 When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight.
The writer’s faithfulness to God and His law seems to have been rewarded with emptiness, punishment, and troublesome frustration. I know you have felt this. I have, often. Thankfully, the psalm is not complete.
The whole psalm pivots on verse 17. In a single moment, the writer’s attention is shifted from his self-pity to the wisdom of God.
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Suddenly, powerfully, immediately the psalmist’s vision is cleared and his perception is righted by the presence of God in His sanctuary. Think about it, what would he see in the sanctuary? Every element of worship in the sanctuary, the temple, shouts of the nature of God, including His righteousness, faithfulness, yes and His justice. Then, the writer perceives the end of the wicked, the arrogant, and the presently proud. When do you enter the sanctuary of God and have your vision cleared? Where do you encounter the presence of Christ and find your perception of truth changed?
In the next section the psalmist concisely outlines what he perceives the arrival of God’s judgment to be.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.
Can we, like the writer of this psalm, see beyond the most obvious circumstances surrounding those we serve and perceive the natural consequences of the foolish behavior of the arrogant, abusive, and the proud? If we are faithful to be in the Lord’s sanctuary, in the perception altering presence of Christ, we will.
The psalmist turns his attention inward again and vulnerably describes the former nature of his soul.
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
22 Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
24 With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Who among us has not found our hearts embittered and pierced, our minds senseless and ignorant, our souls beastly? Frustration and a lack of perspective can easily sully our hearts until we find the Lord has taken us by the hand, giving us counsel and guidance.
In the final section of the psalm, the writer turns his attention upward, offering a prayer of consecration.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
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 will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
Once restored in perception, in heart, in soul, in mind, the psalmist recognizes his absolute dependence upon God and His provision. His vision restored, his verse 1 suppositions affirmed, he commits again to the God who sustains him, offers him refuge, and fills his mouth with praise. May we be similarly restored as we have our hearts and souls restored by the Lord’s unfailing love and immutable justice.
We will undoubtedly encounter seasons of frustration, injustice, pain, and even despairing thoughts. Let’s be quick to return to the Lord’s sanctuary, get into His presence, listen to His counsel, receive His Spirit’s consolation, and we will also find our hearts, souls, minds, perception, and vision restored to Christ-honoring clarity. Such clarity will enable us to serve with extravagant love and selfless service, in spite of the swirling chaos and confusion.