Psalm 73 (read it here http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2073&version=NASB ), is a great help to me. I go through times where I struggle with my faith in The LORD and this is one of the passages in which God strengthens my heart.
The psalmit begins with an affirmation “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” It’s good that he starts with this for what follows lines up with the experience of the doubter. The author of this psalm lets us know that he doubted also, but has come through those doubts and states the surety of a truth before walking us through the dark valley he traversed. He affirms the light at the end of the tunnel before taking us through it.
“But as for me, my feet had come close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped.” He describes has he had almost completely fallen away from the truth he initially stated. He was weighed down with doubt and attributes it to being consumed with the appearance of the wicked stating “As I saw the prosperity of the wicked…” This is problem. This is when the cares of this world are at their strongest – when we’re staring at them. Whether it be financial prosperity that lures us, intellectual respect, the belief system of the majority, peace and enjoyment among friends, etc; when we get our eyes off of Jehovah and see things through the temporal or naturalistic lens, we loose heart. We begin to entertain thoughts like those of the psalmist, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence…” These thoughts may sound more like this to us, “The God you were taught as a kid is not real, look at the majority of scientist and even the average Joe – they don’t even believe in Him!”, “How could God be real and this bad thing still happen to me? Maybe I’ve just been fooling myself.” Or “Where is God anyway, is He there? My world seems like it’s falling apart!”
The sure-fire way to stay in this situation is to continue to do what started it. This is the lot of those Jesus spoke of in His parable of the soils. Those who’s sprouts are choked out by the cares of the world. But by God’s grace, He will not let His children stay here long. (Why He designs our trials like these is for another day.) He will turn our eyes and hearts back to Him. Just as the Psalmist tells us, “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight, until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. ” He goes on to describe the certain destruction of those who do not fear Almighty God, and then describes himself through all this. “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.” Looking back on his doubts and struggles he professes himself to have been senseless. This is interesting for it’s while going through these doubts he thought himself to had been foolish for believing in Jehovah; he had doubted the wisdom in not living as the ungodly. Now, having seen God afresh, he professes his doubtful time to be marked by ignorance and his mindset as that of a brute beast. Yet even in his ignorance and weakness he sees God’s grace through it all – “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 to glory.” Through it all, God had the psalmist. Through it all God was holding on to this doubting, weak creature, guiding him and will in time bring him to be with HIM.
The psalmist closes up with praise to the God he doubted initially. He declares that there is no one in heaven beside God, and nothing on earth he would rather have than Jehovah. He knows his own strength will fail him, but God is his Sustainer. It is good for him to be close to God, so he has made God his refuge. We come full circle now and see why he says as his opening statement “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!”
As I read this psalm, I am strengthened; for the world has it’s wise, it’s rich, it’s successful; and they look wise, rich, and successful. The cares can grip tightly, and there are times where I feel I am being strangled by these worldly cares. My steps are slipping, and I feel like I’m almost gone. It seems the wicked are wiser than me, it seems they have their act together, and I’m over here by myself living in a delusional world or I’m not having as much fun as they are. But God in His grace, revives me. He Who is able to keep me from falling holds my hand and guides me. There is a reason Scripture speaks of those who persevere to the end as His people. It is most definitely a fight, and by His grace, His people do fight. We are weak, but our God is strong and watches over us. We are foolish and ignorant, we are unstable and doubt the God Who created us and reveals Himself to us. We are quick to forget His mighty acts, for we easily are caught up by what we see now. Like Thomas, we are quick to believe only that which we can see; but God opens our eyes to the reality of Him. Soli Deo Gloria!
I was brought up being told the quaint saying “Any dead fish can float downstream!” But I think this little fish story is misapplied all too often, for the current is not always bad, and it’s possible to “fight” against a current simply because we’re dead fish floating in a counter-current.
The problem is that either side can quote this to their prospective proselyte in opposition of the opposing side that currently has the loyalties of the desired recruit. For example: An atheist could tell an individual who was raised in a Christian home that the only reason they are Christians is because they were raised to be such. This may, or may not be true in reality; but the only one who really knows that is the one who professes Christianity. Yet the same could be said by the Christian to the atheist who was raised in a non-Christian home. Or, the one raised in a Christian home could determine to not be a dead fish, so he swims against his upbringing and becomes an atheist, or agnostic, or just plain apathetic toward God (practical atheism) just for the sake of it. The one raise atheist could do the same, and profess Christianity simply because he was raised without religion. So just because we’re going against the current doesn’t mean we’re right; and just because we may be floating in the right current doesn’t mean we’re right.
So how do you know? That’s the question I asked myself.
To float is wrong regardless of the stream! Just because you may be running with the right crowd doesn’t mean YOU are in the right. If you’re floating down stream you’re still in the dead fish category regardless of the direction of the stream; and if an opposing current that is strong enough comes by then you’ll float along with that one. This is the fault of parents depending on “positive peer pressure” in raising their children. All they’ve done is taken dead fish out of a stream flowing south and tossed them in a north bound stream – ‘problem is, is that the fish are still dead! Sure, it may keep them out of certain areas of immorality for a while, but they couldn’t swim upstream if their life depended on it. They don’t need a new stream to float in, they need life.
To go against the current, is not noble (or right) by default. Some people think that questioning the norm places them in a category above all the other “simpletons”. They refuse to be a dead fish and just float down stream. The problem with these fish is that they’re not fighting the current for the sake of truth, but for the sake of rebellion. In reality, they’re just as dead as the “floaters” because they’re simply floating in a stream that runs opposite to the one they’re “fighting”. One could liken it to being caught in an undercurrent. These fish can’t evaluate things on the basis of truth – they’re lifeless, and if the undercurrent gets weak enough, they’ll float the other direction just the same.
In both of the previous instances, each fish were dead because both were controlled by the stream it was in. A fish that is alive may swim upstream, or down stream depending on the alignment of the current with the direction he knows he needs to be traveling. The one thing he NEVER does is permit the stream to dictate his direction of travel. The stream doesn’t represent truth or falsehood; it is simply the direction of the majority in which he is living. This majority may be right or wrong, but never either by default. If he assumes the majority is always right then the majority will determine his direction. If he assumes the majority is always wrong then the majority still determines his direction. Truth, then, becomes relative to the current.
By now you’re probably wondering why I am messing around with these stupid fish/current analogies anyway. What’s all this about? Well, so often we let those around us determine what we believe about an issue. We do not examine things in light of God’s truth; rather we accept it as true if the “right people” commend it to us as such. Whether we are in the right stream or not is irrelevant since we don’t accept the issue based on God’s Word, but based on those who are in the current with us. I know one individual, whom I love dearly, that will not examine a theological position because it seems to be on the rise among young believers – it’s popular. Yet the current position they hold was popular not too many years ago (and is still popular in the denominational circles they lives in). Right or wrong, they are simply floating down stream. Yet, I have another good friend who is open to evaluating everything they have ever been taught, but it seems their rationale isn’t because they are seeking truth, but because they assume that EVERYTHING in the “stream” they were previously in is false. The past things are guilty by association. I would argue that this, too, is a dead fish. Both are floating in their respective streams, but looking at the other stream and foolishly thinking they are swimming against it. The only way to not be controlled by the current is to be controlled by something, or Someone rather, outside the current – JESUS.
Get your eyes off the current.
Oh, for God to reveal HIMSELF to us in such a way, and burn within us songs like this again. We have been silent, resting upon the hymns of the saints of old, but where is our fire? Are there no words of love within our hearts? Does HIS grace not burn an unspeakable gratitude that we must at least attempt to express?
Oh, God, revive THY people, that YOU might be glorified!
Lord, I was blind: I could not see
In Thy marred visage any grace;
But now the beauty of Thy face
In radiant vision dawns on me.
Lord, I was deaf: I could not hear
The thrilling music of Thy voice;
But now I hear Thee and rejoice,
And all Thine uttered words are dear.
Lord, I was dumb: I could not speak
The grace and glory of Thy Name;
But now, as touched with living flame,
My lips Thine eager praises wake.
Lord, I was dead: I could not stir
My lifeless soul to come to Thee;
But now, since Thou hast quickened me,
I rise from sin’s dark sepulcher.
Lord, Thou hast made the blind to see,
The deaf to hear, the dumb to speak,
The dead to live; and lo, I break
The chains of my captivity.
Words by William T. Matson