This psalm is a meditation on the indulgence in and the deliverance from envy. Asaph, the writer, in a confessional spirit, gives us a first-hand account of his battle with this formidable foe. Prior to his liberation, he claims that his wits had devolved to the level of a beast. He made a wise move though; he carried his trouble to God. There, as he worshipped in the sanctuary, he found his footing; everything came into focus. In the place of worship he learned that the objects of his envy were doomed (which perhaps drew some excessive celebration on Asaph’s part). Most importantly though, God was enlarged in his perception so as to become more than a sufficient compensation for any any grievous circumstance, regardless of the agent of cause.
Are battles with envy a familiar battleground to you? I confess that they have been to me. I was not at all honest in my heart about them though. In my first major skirmish with this enemy I think I too, in my heart, had devolved to the level of bestial perceptions.
When I was 37, I was outside the inner-circle of my immediate family watching my brother-in-law become the son my father never had. While I was on the cusp of realizing my personal vision of living a simple life and working with my hands within a close knit community of Christians, my brother in law was about to realize his dream of becoming a somebody in this world as the heir apparent to a construction company (owned by my Dad). My father needed a succession plan and my brother in law was “the guy” since I had vowed to never work for my Dad.
Like a beast, I had not really tracked how this vow had effectively driven my life. It had even infiltrated the formation of my idealistic, non-material objectives of which I was somewhat proud and self-righteous about. I did not perceive my true motives either until, like Asaph, in my bitterness, I too had been broken (or pierced as he has put it).
People often wonder why I just cannot seem to get away from the theme of suffering. It is because without the pressures of suffering God allowed (or created, I don’t know), I would still be living in deception as to why I had charted the course I had for my life. Without the pressures that came from my uncertain vocational path, the resulting financial vacuum, immediate and extended family pressures, a failing business, body, and vision, I do not believe that I would have ever seen my heart sufficiently and consequently would have not been able to take responsibility for it as I have been called to do.
Most painful of all to me, was the notion that my sovereign and good God was permitting (or causing) this! This was the straw that broke this camel’s back. I know that God as the cause agent of pressure is out of vogue in some schools of thought but I simply cannot side-step the fact that I was hurting and a sovereign God was deeply involved with redemptive purposes at all levels of my mess. Neither can I sidestep the fact that this appears in scripture (and in the testimony of those who have known Him intimately) to be how He brings sons into their glorious destinies. This includes Jesus who learned obedience through the things He suffered.
It was all I could do to maintain my sanity, trying to imagine that all my troubles were going to work out for the good since I was called by God and belonged to Him. Envy and bitterness were having a heyday in my heart. In my body, soul and spirit, I’m hanging by a thread while my brother in law is swinging from the big rope in circles way above my pay grade. Regarding this and a litany of other matters, my soul was screaming, “WHY GOD?!” The silence was deafening. I was actually developing a morbid curiosity; I was thinking, OK this may hurt but I will at least have a front row seat for the spectacular crash that is surely around the next bend.
My attitude was disastrous and I knew it. I had had enough dealings with God by this time to know Him as incredibly loving and faithful. With this backdrop, given my stinking attitude, I could even add shame to the weight of it all. I was crying out to the Lord, asking him, “Please do not let this season pass without showing me what it is you are after. Surely Lord I am a dumb beast. Lead me out of this valley. If possible lease prevent the crash that seems inevitable.”
God’s word of deliverence to me was not at all what I had expected. While I was chafing at the injustice of it all, wanting vindication from those who (I perceived) had marginalized and abused me, a scripture passage just stuck in my perception. It was Romans 12:18…..
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
I knew immediately that I had serious ought in my heart toward a few people. I was indignant at the abuse I believed I had suffered at the hand of these people. I perceived reconciliation happening between us when these two scoundrels returned to me with adequate repentance for their crimes. At the same time, I also knew that reconciliation was a priority with the Lord; that it was possible and that it depended on me , not them. I knew exactly what I was being asked to do and it was the most unfair unjust thing I could have ever imagined. A more impossible directive could not have been conceived! Yet, I knew I had some dying to do.
This would be a fair example of just how unlike our ways are compared to God’s. Restitution for any crimes (real or perceived) against me was to be between God and them. I was to deal with one thing and one thing only – my own deceived heart, which was ensnared in unforgiveness, jealousy and bitterness. Note; Sadly, like a Pharisee, my heart was totally convinced of its innocent and righteous position. I wanted a trial where justice would be served. I knew with a jury of my peers I would be exonerated of all guilt in these matters!)
Again, like a beast who had forgotten that God was his judge, I was either unwilling or unable to see these things until I obeyed my mandate to make peace with all men (well…. at least two people to start with). It is not the time to retell the account of those reconciliations but suffice it to say that they happened within weeks of receiving the 12:18 Romans mandate.
It was an astonishing watershed affair to experience God pouring his grace and mercy into one circumstance after another, especially into my parched soul. So, what launched this turn about?I believe it was because the Lord had never taken his hand off of my life and that as I reached up for his help, He was waiting and ready to deal with the root issues that were playing out in so many unhealthy ways in my life. When I determined to obey, something alive began growing once again in my heart. I could then acknowledge, with Asaph, with great confidence….
Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me into glory.
Though I have truly despised the misery of soul brought on by testings and trials, I would not alter my past history with God even if I could. Without coming to the end of my rope, body, souls and spirit, I would not have known first hand that God is faithful to be there when the crash occurs. Really, what could I possibly exchange for the value of coming to personally know God’s love and faithfulness in the form of the severe mercies He permitted to touch me. Without these chapters in my story, how could I have ever come to proclaim with Asaph….
Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Was my suffering just the reaping of what I had sowed? Or, was this a customized cross designed to put to crucify certain aspects of my personality that were, in their own way, killing me? I confess, I do not know the precise answers to these questions. I strongly suspect both are true. I believe at all times and in all ways, (especially in the darkest moments) the Lord is faithful to His Word and that truly all things can work toward our good if we just follow Him and are willing to obey. This messy spirituality has culminated in my ability and willingness to say (in spite of my perceptions and feelings)….
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 His works.
Obedience in this circumstance required that I let go (die to) my right to justice on my terms. (Oh, I cannot tell you how contrary to my desires this was.) Whether I am theologically accurate on this or not I do not know, but this type of dying is what I perceive Jesus called us to do when He commanded that we take up our crosses, deny ourselves and follow Him.
Lessons learned? As far as it concerns us, God wants us to take responsibility for our own hearts. We are to watch over our own motives, dreams and ambitions with all diligence. We aren’t called to do this for others. God will make far more headway with them anyway when we let Him be Lord by letting go of our judgements against them. This will do both their hearts and ours worlds of good.
In the evening of that day when I made restitution from my heart with the second party, God met my wife and I in a supernatural way involving prophecy – something I had seen sorely abused (and even have since). Imperfect as prophecy can be , I heard the Lord say that evening some things through people that could have only come from the One who searched men’s hearts.
That evening I was given a prophetic word that God was going to return to me the borrowed axe head that had been dropped into the river; that when it was recovered it would be mine exclusively. (from 2 Kings 6:1-7). He acknowledged that this passage just dropped into his mind (much like the Romans passage had in mine); that he had no earthly clue what it meant; that he was just the messenger. Like Mary, I held that word in my heart, wondering what it might mean.
Although I had no ambition to reclaim my rightful place of inheritance as a first born son, it was accomplished in spite of me. Allow me to explain. The extreme pressure of this season revealed that my so-called righteous motives were co-mingled with the self preservation motives I had worked out along the way to protect my heart from feelings of rejection that my Dad provoked. My vow to never work for my Dad, when honestly restated was, “Over my dead body, will I ever, by God, let that man hurt me with his rejection again in any way or form!”
I was in relationship with God but if I was going to go on with Him as a disciple, I had to break this vow, return to my earthly father and see how life would play out in a place and in relationships I had fled from my whole life. If Jesus was to be Lord, things beneath the surface, like inner vows and roots of bitterness could not be allowed to drive my life as the father of lies would have had them do.
Without it being at the forefront of my conscious ambition, God arranged that I would be the heir to that construction company. I served as its president for the better part of the last two decades. God prospered it under my leadership. Favor has relentlessly followed me in this unlikely, unanticipated chapter of my life. More importantly, love prevailed in that a son and a father reconciled much of the wreckage of their non-existant relationship. My father accepted Christ just before he died of cancer in 2002. The borrowed axe head indeed became mine. Even greater applications of this prophecy are accruing to my heart as I have also walked more deeply in my own identity in Christ. Indeed, He has done exceedingly abundantly and beyond my wildest expectations.
This is why I reject doctrines that excuse believers from suffering, trials, tests and discipline. While they admittedly provoke some fear and trembling, none of these words have negative connotations to me. Without them, I do not believe my story ends up where everyone lives happily ever after (as they have and as I believe God has intended).
Father, indeed you would have us to hear Your counterintuitive words of deliverance. Oh Lord permit our trials to break our hard and darkened hearts such that Your redemptive power and light would pour in, setting us free from all things that would blunt our understanding of the ways of Your Love. Liberate us from our delusions of our own righteousness. Break us down Lord that our only foundation is You. Proceed ahead Lord and create in us clean hearts that give You Your rightful place as Lord in every facet of our lives. All for the sake of Your beautiful and glorious name and Your unending kingdom. Amen.