The trouble with Christianity is that it doesn't seem to work. At least, not in the way we hope. I wish I could tell you that I haven't ever seriously considered leaving pastoral ministry. Becoming a lawyer (or even a manager at Chick Fil A) seems more appealing most days, and certainly more lucrative.
It doesn't take much for me. Most of our neighbors are doctors, engineers, lawyers, or successful entrepreneurs. I'm a pastor working two jobs. Our parking garage is filled with the newest BMW's, Mercedes, Audi's, F-150's, and Silverados. I leave for my day in a hand-me-down Ford Focus. Because our apartment faces the pool I can tell you most of my neighbors also have decent abs. I've been nursing this daddy belly for a good two years.
Now, I love my work. I know it's what God made me to do. I also love having a car without a monthly payment. But it's easy to get distracted and fall into self-pity when you're surrounded by (perceived) ease. I know I'm not alone either. The old cliche ("Keeping up with the Joneses") proves true nearly every day.
An Age-Old Struggle
This isn't a new problem either. Psalm 73 is a song describing this very ease-induced crisis. It was written by a man named Asaph. He was a priest who wrote songs for Israel to praise Yahweh; like an ancient, middle-eastern worship pastor. But, one day he starts looking around and notices that the people who don't know Yahweh seem to have a pretty good life. They eat at all the best restaurants, have great physiques, drive the best imported chariots. In short, "They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind" (73:5). Pride quickly finds a home in our hearts when we have success and ease. These people are arrogant and they know it. Like a beautiful necklace they wear their pride openly so everyone can see it. On top of all they already have, they just continue to get more (73:12).
You may have a specific person in mind right now. We all know those people who just seem to go from success to success. I have some in my own Facebook feed. They may give God lip service, at best, but they're on their own agenda.
So, Asaph starts to question everything. "What's the point of all this faith stuff?" he wonders. In a moment of great honesty he confesses that he feels "it has all been a waste of time, energy, and money" (73:13). Not only does he feel it has been a waste, he can't even share this crisis with others. He doesn't want to lead them astray, or worse, be seen as someone betraying their people and their God (73:15).
The more the non-believer succeeds, the more his faith crumbles.
The Perspective-Altering Presence of God
The song turns on a dime at verses 16, 17. Asaph has come to the end of his patience. He doesn't even want to try and figure it out anymore, "until [he] went into the sanctuary of God" (73:17). Rather than walking away from his ministry or his faith, he decides to take it to God. Being in God's presence changes his perspective entirely. He starts to see behind the veil of success and ease to see a quick and certain descent into destruction. Despite their perceived security, "they are destroyed in a moment" (73:19).
Having met most of my neighbors I can tell you that things are not what they seem. Sure, they may drive the latest model of European imports. And, they may have a pretty nice wardrobe and only eat the best. But, these are some broken people. Most have been divorced. Many don't see much of their kids. They are chronically lonely, yet distrustful of everyone. They give themselves to alcohol, sex, and drugs. It's a heart-breaking sight. Behind the facade of power and significance they, like Tolkein's ring-wraiths, are mere ghosts.
Asaph, on the other hand, sees that God is always with him. So close, in fact, that it's as though God is holding him by the hand (73:23). The certainty of God's intimate presence now strengthens hope for the future (73:24). Now he is able to say that even when his body begins to break down and his emotions are no longer stable that God will be his strength (73:26).