“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
This morning I want to lead you through a series of verses unfolding two ways a heart can choose to take in this world and the truth of where each will ultimately end. I hope you enjoy this rich scripture and the thoughts I have felt led to write to connect them.
“Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Psalm 73:1-3
When you look at the path you have chosen to follow, are you keeping an eye on those who live lives apart from the Lord or just your own holy path? Do you find yourself asking, “Why are those who do not follow the Lord so prosperous and happy, yet I am not?” This is the opening line of thought the writer of Psalm 73 asks but then quickly rebukes himself for thinking because of the following reasoning he writes about in the next part of the psalm.
“For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.
Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
And they say, 'How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?'
Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.” Psalm 73: 4-12
Yes, the wicked seem to be prospering and things haven't changed much because they still are today as they were back then, but are they really experiencing prosperity? This is the question that continues to roll around in the mind of the psalmist. The contrast he sees between the lives of those who live against the Lord and his own life are causing him to be more and more perplexed about the disconnect in his thinking.
“Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.” Psalm 73: 13-17
The pull within the heart of this psalmist to live for the Lord and not live for himself like those he saw prospering around him was too difficult of a contrast for him to reason within himself any longer. At a point that seems to be the end of his rope in reasoning, he finally can stand it not longer and goes to the sanctuary to inquire of God about his deep theological questioning. What follows now is the wisdom he comes away with after seeking the Lord on this issue.
“Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
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;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.” Psalm 73:18-28
What the psalmist comes to conclude from all his pondering and seeking of the Lord is that what we can see with our human eyes is not the complete truth about what a person's life is amounting to. Only the Lord has the full perspective and only what is to come will reveal real and eternal prosperity.
Now, I want to take you to Isaiah 65 while the words of Psalm 73 are still on your mind and have you look to what the Lord says He will remember of our days here on earth and what will be of importance when He creates the “new heavens” and “new earth.”
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
Nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord,
And their offspring with them.
It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,”
Says the Lord.” Isaiah 65: 17-25
The Lord makes it very clear in these passages that the prosperity as well as the affliction experienced in this world will make no difference when His kingdom comes. In this world is where those who live apart from God will leave their prosperity, never to regain it again. But for those who live for the Lord, their prosperity in His kingdom will never end.
As I leave you to ponder these scriptures, I want to leave you with a few last verses that come from Titus. This text explains clearly how to reform our thinking as the Lord taught the psalmist above when he was having a hard time living his own life for God apart from desiring the evil prosperity which flourished around him.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14
In order to be completely free of any jealous thoughts or feelings we have about those who are prospering because of their evil ways we must focus on Jesus and the truth of His kingdom to come more than we focus on the things of this earth. Immerse yourself in His word, His ways, His presence, and His grace and you will find that the prosperity of this world will be much easier to look beyond as you seek our His kingdom alone as your great reward and follow the path you know if the right one to take on this earth.