“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…
As for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge.”
Psalm 73:25-26, 28
Psalm 73 begins the third book of psalms and is the middlemost portion of the Psalter. This particular psalm, as are many others in this collection, are authored by Asaph, a figure of whom very little is known. What is known comes from I and II Chronicles: that he was a descendent of Levi, and a such was trained to serve in the Tabernacle, he was one of three men—all Levites—commissioned by David to be in charge of singing in the house of the Lord, and he performed at the dedication ceremony of Solomon’s temple. In addition to these things, Asaph wrote twelve psalms which bear his name. Asaph might not be as famous a musician as David, but the psalms Asaph composed rival any of David’s works.
At the heart of this psalm is a question with which Asaph was wrestling; it is the same question that has perplexed many throughout the ages: if God is good, why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer? Asaph doesn’t doubt God’s goodness, but he doesn’t understand how this goodness translates into the world. All around him, Asaph saw the wicked showing off their wealth and power while the righteous languished and seemed to barely survive. Nothing appeared to make sense to Asaph, nor did any of it seem to be fair.
Nothing made sense until Asaph came into the sanctuary to worship.
Being in the presence of God forced Asaph to change his perspective; being close to God woke Asaph up. Instead of focusing on everything which appeared to be going wrong in the world, Asaph remembered who met his needs and who provided for him. It is not by his own strength that he survived, but by the divine providence and mercy of God. In worshipping, Asaph remembered it is this same God who met his needs who has already destined the wicked for their day of judgment. Despite how things appear to us in the moment, God already has everything worked out.
Being close to God also reminded Asaph that there is no other being, in heaven or earth, who is capable of doing the things that God is. There is no one else who can protect him—be his refuge—in times of distress and trouble. There is no one else who can provide for him or sustain him. There is no one else whose presence can change him. Asaph goes as far as to say that drawing near to God is the only good he will experience. God is all he wants, and all he needs.
The pivotal moment for Asaph was entering into worship and being in the presence of God. It was an experience that opened his eyes and realigned his perspective. Our worship can and should do the same thing. We find ourselves entering into worship in much the same way as Asaph did, full of questions, doubts, and worries. However, we should not leave the presence of God in the same way in which we entered it; if we do not leave our worship experience changed, we must reevaluate how we worship. Being in the presence of God should be an utterly moving experience. Being near God is the only good we have, and Christ came to die that we might be able to come nearer, that we might be able to enjoy that Edenic closeness.
There is no one else in heaven or earth that can do for us the things that God can do or has done. He is our refuge, He is our strength, besides Him we have nothing. Why then do we go through the motions with our worship? Why do we only give Him a pittance of what He deserves? Why are we content to leave His presence unchanged?
God, give us hearts like Asaph, that wish to worship you fully and to be totally lost in your presence. Remind us that coming into Your presence is the most incredible thing we can ever experience. Move us in our worship, and allow us to worship you as we should. Allow us to remember that You are all we have and are all we need. Our hearts and strength will fail, whom do we have but you? Continue to be our strength and refuge. Teach us that being near You is the only good we have. Amen.
artwork: from “The Creation of Adam,” Michelangelo, c.1508-1552.