Good morning to you all and, no matter where you are OR under which circumstances you find yourself a very warm greetings from the Payne household. As a family we long to be with you and look forward to when we fellowship together in person again.

As you know we have started, and are busy with, a series in the Psalms, and over the last two weeks Andrew has shared with us from Psalms 18 & 19, where he reminded us that God is our rock, and that it is He that has made and named ALL the stars. If this is the case then we are to stand on God the solid rock, we are to anchor our lives on Him, and then we are to lift our eyes to the Glorious Heavens, that were crafted by His hands, and hear Him speak to us. What a wonderful reminder and an encouragement to change our perspective!

Well this morning I would like to continue in a similar vein! I have no intention of repeating Andrew, but rather to build on this concept of adopting a God-orientated perspective.

NOW, if you were to ask which is your favourite book of the bible? I am sure that there would be some usual suspects, but I am also pretty sure that the book of Psalms would be right up there at number 1. Why? Why do we love the book of Psalms? What is it that is contained within its pages that has echoed through the ages… Because maybe more than any other part of the Bible, the Psalms help us to explore the depths of our hearts. It puts into words poetically our doubts and frustrations, our fears and failings, it helps us to express those feelings that we would not easily share in polite company. This is not necessarily a matter of pride, although it can be, but rather a matter of not knowing how to put into words the emotions.

At the same time they remind us of the hope and help that we have in God our father. It is a source of great comfort in times of trouble and challenge when needed.

And this is especially true of Psalms we will focus on this morning, Psalm 73 (READ TOGETHER).

Zena and I have an electronic photo frame on our kitchen counter and it is constantly changing and grouping our pictures from past holidays, the animals or the kids together… It triggers wonderful memories of past events and people that are no longer with us. BUT what is the purpose of memories, is it just to give us warm and fuzzy feelings or to fill us with dread? Yes, but they are also there to help us learn and to fashion future decisions… There are valuable learnings in the past. The book of Psalms allows us to vividly draw down the memories and learning of God’s people over.

Now before we get going, I have a vivid memory that I would like to share with you!

As a young man, fresh out of school I attended Teachers Training College, working very hard academically! Don’t believe me, just as Jeanette and Mary Anne. I had a particular passion for collecting CDs. There is a song by the Christian singer/songwriter Steve Wiggins which had a profound impact on me as a young man, called ‘18” Journey’.

The gist of the song is that the physical distance from your head to your heart is 18” (45cm). The head which houses the brain, is widely acknowledged as the seat of intellectual knowledge and understanding. Although I taught young boys for 20 years, you would be forgiven to think that their brains resided somewhere else in the body. The heart, in Western culture, is seen as the centre of our emotional being or the point at which knowledge transitions from understanding to action. We talk about ‘taking things to heart’… or ‘his heart was not in it’ OR ‘it was heartfelt’!

When we take things to heart it means that we are so deeply affected that it moves us to act.

So the gist of the song is that there is a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. You can have an intellectual understanding of something but no practical application or action.

Well they say it is an 18” journey from your head to your heart

So why did it take me 20 years to get the nerve to start

It’s an 18” journey but for some men it's a million miles away

So do you believe in Jesus, and that he truly died

Can you honestly say that he’s living deep inside

It’s an 18” journey but for some men it’s a million miles away

The reason why these lyrics resonated with me is that as a young man I had grown up in the church, I had a good teaching in the scriptures, but my life was being lived in a way that did not reflect my intellectual understanding.

I was coming to church every Sunday, I was attending a bible study, I was part of the CU groups on campus, but there was a complete disconnect between my head and my heart. It was not that I did not not believe, but rather the allure of the world, the pull of the world was too strong.

I was able to read a scripture like Jeremiah 29:11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I understood it, but when it came to practical decisions I was plotting out a different journey, one that was better for me…

It was as though the journey from my head to my heart was a million miles

And so it is with Asaph the author of this Psalm.

You see Asaph, is a faithful follower of God, a worship leader, he had all the intellectual knowledge, but despite this he has a head to heart disconnect moment!

Psalm 73

A psalm of Asaph.

1 Surely God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;

I had nearly lost my foothold.

Asaph begins the Psalm by declaring what he knows to be true: God is good and he is good to those who are His!

God is good all the time, all the time God is good!

I have no doubt that this is a statement that he had proclaimed many, many times in his lifetime, he had heard others declaring it too, but the problem was although he may have fully appreciated it at one point, he now finds himself in a situation where this is head knowledge and not heart knowledge.

He confesses that despite knowing the truth, he has taken his eye off the ball, he has focused on something else and this has caused him to slip.

So what was it that caused him to slip?

3 For I envied the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Despite his best efforts to serve and honour God, his life is marked with difficulty, and as he looks around he sees those that have no regard for God living in prosperity and happiness.

He is frustrated at the state of affairs. He looks at this lot and he is filled with envy. There is pain in his heart, a deep wound, as he looks and sees the good fortune that the wicked are enjoying, and he is resentful... this is good fortune that he should be enjoying, that he deserves as a reward for his faithful service to God.

His confidence has been eroded, once he was confident in God, but now his faith has faltered.

He has been faithful to God and yet he struggles while the wicked have no regard for God and seem to prosper.

IN v 4-11 Asaph then identifies 4 different sources for his envy.

(1) Firstly (v4-5), their lives appear to be trouble free!

4 They have no struggles;

their bodies are healthy and strong.

5 They are free from common human burdens;

they are not plagued by human ills.

They have no struggles, their bodies are physically strong and they do not appear to suffer from illness, or if they do it does not seem to last long.

It doesn’t go into detail as to what Asaph's physical troubles were, was it terminal illness or a malady that was plaguing him, or simply old age… whatever the case Asaph looks at the wicked and they appear to be carefree. They are not plagued by human ills.

(2) Secondly, they flaunt their sinful ways (v6).

6 Therefore pride is their necklace;

they clothe themselves with violence.

In addition to the wicked appearing to be burden free, they know it and they are quite open about it and they flaunt their sinful ways (v6).

They are not ashamed of their sinful ways at all… rather it is a source of pride. Rather than being ashamed of their sin, they celebrate it.

(3) Thirdly,They get everything they desire (v7)

7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;

their evil imaginations have no limits.

Not only do they get what they desire but they do whatever they want via any method they see fit. No matter how grossly unjust or wicked it might be.

(4) Fourthly, they speak with arrogance and are mockers of God (v8-11)

8 They scoff, and speak with malice;

with arrogance they threaten oppression.

9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,

and their tongues take possession of the earth.

10 Therefore their people turn to them

and drink up waters in abundance.

11 They say, “How would God know?

Does the Most High know anything?”

Even worse, for those who honor God, is how wicked people ridicule and mock believers. The modern era is overflowing with examples of faithful Christians being slandered, taunted, insulted, and sneered at by those who think they are above God.

Then in v12 Asaph makes the following summary

12 This is what the wicked are like—

always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Asaph looks at the lives of the wicked and his conclusion is simple: They live as they please and seem to have whatever they want. Despite their open rebellion their lives seem good. The lives of the wicked appear easy and prosperous

Is this something that you identify with this morning? Are you grappling with your feelings and emotions, not understanding why God has placed these burdens on your shoulders? And is not just one thing, but rather like a boxer on the ropes you are being pummeled from every side. While others non-Christian friends or family members are having a whale of a time!

It might also be not as obvious as this. In the case of Asaph his discontent has given birth to full blown envy, but, as it is with sin, it can start in small ways. It may be something as simple as seeing other people, not necessarily the wicked, not suffering the same burdens as you are carrying.

It is sitting like a heavy lump in your chest this morning, sucking the energy and very life from you.

After taking stock of the lives of the wicked and his own life of pursuing Godliness, this is the conclusion that Asaph’s comes to in (v13-16).

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure

and have washed my hands in innocence.

14 All day long I have been afflicted,

and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that,

I would have betrayed your children.

16 When I tried to understand all this,

it troubled me deeply

From a human perspective he has tried to rationalise and wrestle to try to understand why it is that the wicked prosper and the Godly do not.

He makes the following conclusion: after living his life following God and doing all that is required, it has all been in vain. It has only led to hardship and struggle. It hasn’t been worth it!

Is this how you feel sometimes? Has it all been worth it!

For some, temptations and ridicule create unbearable pressure. Rather than oppose what God says is wrong, they turn away from faith and embrace the attitudes of these wicked people. They renounce their former beliefs. They claim that honoring God and obeying His Word is a waste of time. Worse, they claim it's a hindrance to their lives

It all sounds pretty depressing at the moment… Alister surely it is going to improve from here?

Well thankfully it does, here in v17 there is a beautiful turning point

And one wonders, what was the cause of the turning point, did someone sit him down and speak to him, did his wife sort him out.... Did he finally see the light? Well in a way YES...

16 When I tried to understand all this,

it troubled me deeply

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;

then I understood their final destiny.

Asaph enters the sanctuary of God and it is here that the light is switched on and he is able to see clearly.

We are not told exactly what Asaph experienced or what caused him to enter the place of worship but what we do know is that in this moment his heart and his perspective are radically changed.

The first half of the Psalm are marked by a man-orientated perspective, he now sees things from a God-orientated perspective.

And just like that God has moved that which is head knowledge to heart knowledge, the chasm between the two has been bridge.

And it is from this God-orientated perspective that the lives of the wicked do not appear to be so prosperous, you see when it comes to the future of wicked their good fortune is short lived, the long term prospects are dire (v18-20)

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;

you cast them down to ruin.

19 How suddenly are they destroyed,

completely swept away by terrors!

From his human vantage point Asaph can only see the current situation - prosperity of the wicked. But when he is able to view them from God vantage point he sees that in the end the wicked are without hope and in the end they will face the judgement of God.

The short term trials that he must endure now pale into insignificance compared to the surpassing greatness of spending eternity with God.

And as Asaph views the long term prospects of the wicked from God's-viewpoint he is confronted then with his own foolishness (v21-22)

21 When my heart was grieved

and my spirit embittered,

22 I was senseless and ignorant;

I was a brute beast before you.

With this new perspective he can see that the foolishness isn’t trusting God, the foolishness is in his former way of thinking.

Now It is important to understand here that during the course of this Psalm Asaph’s circumstances do not change. What does change is the way he sees his situation and the way he views God of his situation.

Where previously his thinking was plagued with doubt, now his confidence has been restored.

We can have total confidence in God (in life and death) (v23-24).

Last week Andrew encouraged us to stand on God the solid rock, to lift our eyes to the Heavens, and hear him speak to us… and in doing so to see things from God's perspective…

However what we need to realise once again is that this not something we can do ourselves.

The closing verse of the Steve Wiggins song spells this out:

Lord Jesus Christ as I sing this song take me on that journey 18” long

O my Lord, listen to me pray, 18”s journey it’s a million miles away

It is God who draws us near, guides us and leads us to glory.

While the wicked were finding contentment in earthly things, Asaph had to be reminded that it is only in the Lord God that we can find true contentment.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

May this be your prayer this morning.