The Perspective of Joy
Crash and Burn
It was a normal January day. I had been working at the church in Elizabethton, TN. and lunch time came, so I headed down the street to my home for lunch. When I walked through the door, I could tell something was terribly wrong. There sat Marie, our baby sitter on the couch with a look of horror on her face. At first I thought something had happened to Jenny, but as I came into the den I realized what was wrong. On television they were reporting that the space shuttle, Challenger, into which so much work had gone: that first shuttle on which there had been civilians; the first shuttle on which a wide eyed, expectant, excited school teacher had ridden, had exploded in mid-air. I watched, with that sickening feeling you get inside when something terrible happens, as they replayed the tape of the disaster over and over again. I listened as the impersonal voice of the Houston space Center announcer droned time and time again: “Obviously a major malfunction”... OBVIOUSLY!
How much like our lives this is! About the time we finally get it together; about the time we’ve gone through the hard preparation and have conquered our last frontier; about the time we’ve “blasted off” and set the controls to automatic pilot, OUR WORLD EXPLODES AROUND US. It may be a wayward son or daughter, an unfaithful spouse, a close friend who disappoints us, the loss of a job, financial reversal, an unexpected, unfavorable diagnosis, or any number of other unwanted disappointments that bring us crashing back to earth. And we wake up afraid, confused, hurt, and yes, even angry.
Well if this describes your position today, let me say that I sympathize with your pain and I can even understand your disillusionment, but I am also concerned for your well being. For you see, it is in these crash and burn times of life when we are at our lowest point, that the tempter, our arch enemy, Satan whispers lies like: If God really loved you, how could He let this happen; or if Christianity is really legitimate and if God’s power is real, how could such a spiritual person in whom you had so much confidence have fallen; or if God owns everything why are you suffering need when those who don’t really love God seem to have everything they want?
If you are going through anything like that right now, I know that sermon series on “joy” can really make you feel very disillusioned. There are problems and issues that we deal with in our lives that leave us feeling quite hopeless and even ready to abandon everything we’ve ever trusted in.
I am so glad that God’s word is honest when it comes to talking about our feelings. You cannot read the Psalms without encountering the deepest of emotions, expressed honestly and without fear. In Psalm 73 we see a person, Asaph, who has obviously encountered one of these deep disappointments. If the caption of this Psalm is correct, this is Asaph, the worship leader who is writing. He was an important musician and worshiper of God. But in this psalm, he’s lost his song. He opens up with refreshing honesty and allows us to look into his heart. There is no attempt to hide his disillusionment or to sugar coat his pain with spiritual cliches. And more than anything the story of Asaph has something to offer you if you are in the valley of disillusionment. Asaph offers your HOPE!
Read this text with me: Read Ps. 73
This psalm points out a great truth about joy and it is this: Joy depends on your perspective. How you see your life and your situation will greatly determine how you feel about it. So how can you keep the kind of perspective that fills your heart with joy no matter your circumstances? Well, there are some truths about joy and perspective that you have to understand. In the first place:
D1: WRONG PERSPECTIVE DESTROYS JOY
Whatever you might say about this worshiper, Asaph, you have to say that he seems to have lost his joy. Now we don’t know what caused Asaph’s great disillusionment, but it does seem that something traumatic had happened to him. In verse 2 He says: “My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”
Asaph says that on the slick slope of great disappointment his spiritual feet had almost slipped. In other words he was saying “I was like a drowning man going down for the third time. I was tired of serving God when it didn’t seem to pay. I was tired of going to church when no one else seemed to think it was important. I was tired of giving my tithe when others kept theirs and could afford to build bigger homes and drive fancier cars and send their kids to college. I had had enough!”
What was wrong with this guy? Wasn’t he the psalmist? Hadn’t he wrote many words of praise and adoration to God/ how could such a man of god come to this place in his life?
Look at verse3: Hey, what’s wrong Asaph? Why have you become so disillusioned? Why are you about to quit? He says, “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Uh, oh! Asaph is looking around him and, when he does, his perspective gets redirected and he becomes focused on the wrong things. And he demonstrates this truth: When you have the wrong perspective, you will reach the wrong conclusion.
Now Asaph had the wrong perspective. Does that ever happen to you?
Say, does that ever bother you? Does it bother you to see millionaires that live in open sin day after day after day and just get wealthier and wealthier? Does it bother you to see senators in congress peddle their influence for money and then lie or buy their way to freedom when they are called on the carpet? Does it bother you when businessmen, by hook or crook, find a way to avoid paying thousands of dollars in taxes when the IRS hassles you for making an honest $50 mistake?
Well old Asaph was having a problem with the rich and the famous. He had suffered a great disappointment which had led to disillusionment and now the very core of all he believed was on the verge of collapse. His faith was faltering and as you read on in this Psalm, you see why.
Verse 4: He says of the wicked: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence from their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How can God know? Does the most high have knowledge?”
You see, Asaph’s wrong perspective was the result of his misguided sight. Whatever he had experienced had caused him to take his eyes off of the Lord and begin to look at those around him and Asaph didn’t like what he saw! It always happens! When you take your eyes off of god, and you no longer view your world through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, your vision becomes cloudy. You are blind to the goodness of God and blinded by the injustice of this world. You can tell that Asaph was having eye trouble in verses 4-11. Listen to what he says of the wicked: In verse 4 he says that they have no struggles; in verse 5 he says they are free from the burdens common to man; in verse 6 he calls them proud and violent; in verse 9 he indicates that they seem to respect or answer to no one in heaven or in earth. They are totally free, totally happy, totally healthy, totally lawless, totally unaccountable. It’s as if they are living their lives as they please and God can’t do one thing about it.
Now I ask you, was Asaph right? No! Absolutely Not! There are plenty of millionaires who die of cancer. There are plenty of rich playboys who are lonely. And there are plenty of work-a-holics on Wall Street who will one day wake up and wish to God that they would have made more time for their children instead of making money for their retirement accounts.
This came home to me a many ago when I was living in Nashville, Tn. I was teaching music in a Christian school and was out for the summer. As so many teachers do, I had, of necessity, found me a summer job. I had started my own business named Russell’s Jetspray in which I would go around to different homes and pressure clean their decks and sidewalks. Well it was a hot summer day and I was working at Mr. Beaman’s house. Now if you ever lived in Nashville, you knew of Lee Beaman. He was about the wealthiest man in town, because he owned the local Pepsi distributorship along with many other investments. As I was pressure washing the sidewalks in his palatial garden, I began to feel a little like Asaph. I looked around and saw the lovely estate he owned, and I began to think, “This guy probably makes in one day what I make in one year.” I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I saw something moving inside the house. I watched as the most pathetic human specimen I had seen in a while hobbled by the window. Stooped over and moving with slow, painful steps, Mr. Beaman walked past his huge livingroom window. All of a sudden, the tables turned. Before I was feeling sorry for me. Now I felt sorry for him.
Certainly the wicked suffer just like you do. They will die one day just like you, but when we are blinded by disillusionment and we lose sight of God we begin to see things that aren’t there and the wrong perspective leads us to the wrong conclusion. It happened to Asaph. His situation led him to take his eyes off of God. His misguided sight has now led him to incorrectly conclude in v 13: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
You see Asaph has begun to doubt the value of godliness. In essence he was saying, “Why should I do right? The righteous life is one big joke. I’ve been good for nothing!” it’s the same question I hear from Christian businessman when they say”Why should I be honest when it’s the dirty dealers that get ahead?” it’s the same question I hear from church members who say, “Why should I be sincere about my faith when no one else seems to be?”
But Asaph’s skepticism goes even further, for he not only expresses doubt in the value of godliness, he also expresses doubt in the goodness of god. In verse 14 he says All Day Long I Have Been Plagued; I Have Been Punished Every Morning. He says that not only has God not rewarded his goodness, He has also punished and afflicted him while giving the wicked a free ride.
And when your perspective is wrong and your conclusion is wrong, then you are often guilty of the wrong action. You see that here in v 15. He says, If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. The psalmist first temptation is to blurt all of this inner turmoil to everyone he sees. Now, in Asaph’s case, that would have been a problem because he was the worship pastor. He was the guy who was supposed to be in “God’s corner” talking about how great God is. Asaph realizes this, so instead of blurting out his doubt, he stuffs it down.
Now you might think, “How noble of him!” Not!! Now surely, that may have kept him from directly denying the God he was supposed to celebrate, but it was no long-term solution. Why not? Because, stuffing down his anger simply corroded his joy. Yes, he still played the cymbals at the temple and led in 55 verses of “How Great is Our God,” but his heart wasn’t in it! He had no joy! And don’t you think that people could tell it?
In fact, Asaph implies exactly that in v16 when he says, When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me. So he moped around a joyless worshiper, denying with his expression what he claimed in his profession.
Does that ever happen to you? Is it happening to you right now? Do you know it’s possible to be bitter against God and not even know it? How can you tell? Well, let me give you some questions to ask yourself to see if you suffer from disillusionment with God: Do you enjoy reading the Bible. Is it something which, if you don’t get it, really bothers you.
Do you pray spontaneously? Is there a constant, continuous stream of prayer making its way from your heart to God, or are you not really on speaking terms? Does prayer flow out from you?
Do you constantly complain? Are you so caught up in comparing your situation to that of others and finding fault with the lot God has assigned to you?
And do you find yourself dreaming about the life you could have if you didn’t have the restriction of being a believer, or serving God? Have you begun to think that the grass might just be greener on the other side of the fence?
And, do you say lots of things with your mouth that your heart calls a lie?
There was a wistfulness in his voice as we talked. It had been a while since I had seen him and I could tell something was wrong. He was my best friend and I remembered how we used to encourage each other in the Lord. In fact for awhile we had met very early in the morning once a week to study the Bible and pray together. We kept each other mutually accountable in our areas of weakness, and there was nothing we wouldn’t have done to help each other, but after moving away we didn’t hear from each other very often. As we talked I could see the pain on his face and hear the disillusionment in his voice. You see, he had defected. Because of some disappointment or problem or maybe even his own failure he had given up on God. O he still went to church and was now a deacon, but the fire was gone.
Is that where you’re headed this morning? Is that where you are? If so, you probably have a perspective problem, and you definitely are not walking in the joy of the Lord. Why do I say that? Because the wrong perspective destroys joy. If this is true then, how can the situation be changed? How can our perspective be corrected? Well, the answer is right here in this psalm:
DIV 2 - DECISIVE FOCUS CORRECTS PERSPECTIVE
This psalm describes 6 decisions the psalmist makes that turns things around in his life. They all have to do with how you relate to and understand God. In the first place, the psalmist decides to enter. David says, When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me— 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. Now we are not told exactly what was happening in Asaph’s worship while all of this was happening, but from all that he has said about his outlook, I think that it is safe to say that his communion with the Lord had been compromised. Listen! He may have even gone into the house of God to play his cymbals and sing worship, but his heart had been distant. He may have been like many of you who go to church with your body, but not with your heart.
But something happened to Asaph. Maybe it was something someone said, or a some sermon he heard. Maybe it was just his own desire to give up his joyless resentful existence, but, whatever it was, on this occasion, he didn’t just go to church, he entered the presence of God. He decides to enter. That was the first perspective correcting decision he made, but it wasn’t the only one.
He also decides to value. When he encounters the greatness of God, he comes to realize how wonderful He is and he realizes that the Great Jehovah is the only one who can help him, and who he, in turn, really needs. That’s why he says in vv 25-26 - Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Once he experiences the real, awesome presence of God, he is overwhelmed. He realizes what he’s been missing and he cries out: “There is none on earth I desire besides you . . . God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. He consciously decides to value his relationship with God again. And once he decides to enter and decides to value . . .
He then decides to worship. In v 27 he says: For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. But it is good for me to draw near to God. Before, Asaph, even though he may have gone through the motions of worship, really didn’t worship. He was too distracted. He was asking too many why questions to really appreciate His God. But as he truly places his mind on God and off of others, he begins to realize just how “OFF” his outlook has been. That’s why he says that those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert you for harlotry. Asaph has come to realize that the prosperity of the wicked is only temporary and that justice is coming. In that assurance, he decides to worship God.
And he also decides to trust. v28 says,. . . I have put my trust in the Lord God, That I may declare all Your works. Whether Asaph would admit or not this had been the problem all along. He had faltering faith. He had decided to look at his circumstances and, in the face of difficult circumstances, his faith had weakened. But here he confesses that he had “put his trust in the Lord God.”
And, if you are here today with Asaph’s disease of doubt; If your perspective has been thrown off by something that has happened in your life, or in the life of someone close to you, more than likely relief will not come through some lightening bolt of miraculous circumstance. No, your relief from doubt, and your return to joy will come through a change in perspective and that change in perspective will come through a series of decisions you make about God. You will have to decide to enter His presence. Not just go through the motions of “being here,” but truly come into the presence of God. Focus your attention on Him and remember fully just Who He is. And once you enter, then you must decide to value the presence of God more than you value wealth, health, or any other earthly comfort. Then, because You are in His presence, and you have decided with your will to value Him, you will be moved to worship and draw near and you will be inspired to fully trust Him again.
You see, finally and at last, it is this decision to focus our worship upon God alone which restores our perspective. Failing that, you begin to view your world through the lens of circumstance which will ultimately disappoint you.
Most of you have heard the legend of the Taj Mahal. In fact I’ve told it before. You remember, Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife died. He was devastated, so much so that he vowed to honor her memory with the construction of a temple that would be her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large piece of land and the temple began to be built around it. No expense was spared. Her final resting place would become a great wonder of the world!
But weeks turned to months and, as his grief over his wife subsided, his passion for the temple grew. Construction consumed him and one day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. He brushed the dust off of his leg and ordered a worker to throw the box out. He didn’t know that he had ordered the disposal of his beloved wife’s coffin, which, now forgotten, was hidden beneath layers of dust.
Max Lucado writes of this:
The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway. Difficult to believe? Perhaps. But eerie nonetheless.Could someone build a temple and forget why? Could someone construct a palace, yet forget the king? Could someone sculpt a tribute and forget the hero?
You answer those questions. Answer them in a church. The next time you enter an assembly of worship, position yourself where you can see the people. Then decide.You can tell the ones who remember the slain one. They’re wide-eyed and expectant. They’re children watching the unwrapping of a gift. They’re servants standing still as a king passes. You don’t doze in the presence of royalty. And you don’t yawn while receiving a gift, especially when the giver is the King himself!
You can also tell the ones who see only the temple. Their eyes wander. Their feet shuffle. Their hands doodle, and their mouths open—not to sing, but to yawn. For no matter how hard they try to stay amazed, their eyes start to glaze over. All temples, even the Taj Mahal, lose their luster after a while.
The temple gazers don’t mean to be bored. They love the church. They can cite its programs and praise its pastors. They don’t mean to grow stale. They put on hats and hose and coats and ties and come every week. But still, something is missing. The One they once planned to honor hasn’t been seen in a while.
But those who have seen him can’t seem to forget him. They find him, often in spite of the temple rather than because of it. They brush the dust away and stand ever impressed before his tomb—his empty tomb.
The temple builders and the Savior seekers. You’ll find them both in the same church, on the same pew—at times, even in the same suit. One sees the structure and says, “What a great church.” The other sees the Savior and says, “What a great Christ!” Which do you see?
I can answer that question: You will see the one on which YOU DECIDE to focus. If the wrong perspective destroys joy, then the proper focus will restore your perspective, and then what will happen? Well,
DIV 3: RIGHT PERSPECTIVE RESTORES JOY
That’s what happened to Asaph. He got his worship back . . . his real worship, that is. The kind that came from his heart. When his perspective was corrected, His joy returned. Let me show you what I mean.
Do you remember how we defined joy at the beginning of this series? You remember that we said, Joy is the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance made possible through the constant presence of God. You see this definition, again, right here in this psalm:
Joy is the current confidence. Asaph was filled with doubt in v2, but when he begins to see correctly, his confidence returns. He says in v18:
Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. 19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. 20 As a dream when one awakes, So, Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image.
Now he’s seeing correctly and he perceives that God really is in control and that the Lord is going to make things right. He is once again confident in God
And joy is the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance. The future hope is seen in 24. He says You guide me with your counsel... There’s practical guidance. The counsel of the Lord will guide us and he concludes, . . . and afterward you receive me into glory. There’s future hope.
And how is this joy made possible? It comes through the constant presence of God. v 23 says: Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.
And that’s what joy is: It is the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance made possible through the constant presence of God. And it only happens in the one who has their perspective properly focused on God!
And that is the answer for the disillusioned Christian. It is not found in the psychologist’s chair. It is not found in winning the lottery. It is not found in the immediate resolution of your pain or even in complete deliverance from every sinful habit. NO the answer for the disillusioned Christian is found in one place...In The Very Presence Of God!! It requires solitude; it requires honest prayer; it requires a willingness to focus our attention on Him and open our hearts to Him; most of all, it will require time. But whatever it requires, no matter what you must sacrifice, if you are a disillusioned Christian or even if you aren’t, there is no substitute for regularly spending time in the presence of God.
Christian, what is your hurt? Why are you discouraged? I don’t mean to trivialize your situation, whatever it is, but if God is real, and He is, there is hope for you! There is no problem you have that an eternal God cannot and has not already solved. There is a blood stained cross and an empty tomb that says there is not problem too big, no hurt too deep, no sin too black, no disappointment too great for God to handle.
But all of these blessings and all of the hope God offers are given to those who seek his face and gain His perspective. You must, just like Asaph, enter the sanctuary of God.
Howard Rutledge learned this lesson the hard way. “Howard, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was shot down over North Viet Nam during the early stages of the war. He spent several miserable years in the hands of his captors before being released at the war’s conclusion. In his book In The Presence Of Mine Enemies, he reflects upon the resources from which he drew in those arduous days when life seemed so intolerable. He writes: “During those longer periods of enforced reflection it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worthwhile from the waste. Fro example, in the past, I usually worked or played hard on Sundays and had no time for church. For years Phyllis (his wife) had encouraged me to join the family at church. She never nagged or scolded she just kept hoping. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, to spend one or two short hours a week thinking about the really important things. Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual good soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak (the name POWs gave their prison camp) solitary confinement, there was no pastor, no Sunday School teacher, no Bible, no hymn book, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God.
Amazing, isn’t it, it took the loss of everything to finally bring Howard Rutledge to a place where he could really experience joy. You might say it like this. His perspective was wrong until the only direction he could look was up. In one sense, joy is a matter of where you’re looking. It’s a matter of perspective.