The Most Important Thing to Think (When You Want Good Feelings to Follow)
I wish Easter could be every day. Or, for that matter, I wish Christmas was every day. How wonderful it would be if we could daily capture the anticipation and celebration of those holidays!
This thought was pinging around my brain when I ran across this verse:
"I'm still in your presence…." Psalm 73:23
It was as if God read my mind, so He decided to RE-mind me and let me know that every day can be Easter. We can still be in His presence.
The author of Psalm 73 had plenty to say on the matter. Words that both inspire and convict. But before we unpack the Psalm, it's important to note that this verse isn't God speaking. God tells us repeatedly, throughout Scripture, that He is always with us. But in this particular verse, it is the author talking. He says that despite A, B, and C––he is still in the presence of God.
The opening of Psalm 73 shares insight into one of the reasons we may not "feel" like Easter every day. It says this:
"No doubt about it! God is good–– good to good to people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people." Psalm 73:1-3
When we're not feeling Easter joy, we may need to ask ourselves what's driving our train?
This past weekend I was blessed to visit with my son. He was dealing with a problematic issue. I was so grateful for the teaching of a pastor who had shared a message that I'd never forgotten. I was, in turn, able to give my son the same gift of wisdom my pastor had given me.
The pastor explained that our lives are like a train. We need to ensure that our feelings are the caboose, not the engine. The engine needs to be what we know, the truth that we've learned and embraced with our minds. I'm a woman who must be careful not to let how I feel be the thing that leads my train.
The first thing the Psalmist points out is what we know to be true… God is good. No doubt about it. This is something we KNOW. This knowledge is what must drive our train.
The Psalmist continues, "I was looking the other way." The NIV version says, "my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold."
The Scripture continues as it captures the Psalmist struggling with envy over those who have more or who appear to have no troubles.
That's easy to do, isn't it? It's easy to think someone else has it better than we do. "They have it so good." Or "I have it so bad." But, bottom line, when we take our eyes off of God and choose instead to focus more on the people around us, we will stumble… we may even slip… we may lose our foothold.
The irony is that when our focus is where it needs to be (when we give precedence to what we know to be true about God), it isn't uncommon for feelings to follow.
Feelings of peace.
Feelings like we have on special holidays.
Comparison is a thief. Psalm 73 makes that clear. We've already mentioned that the author of this Psalm recognized that he got himself into a bad way of thinking when he began to focus more on people than on God.
This poor fellow starts on a wrong path that only gets worse. Let's listen to a few of his frustrating thoughts about others:
"They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man." Verses 4-5
"They're full of hot air. Can you believe people actually listen to them?" Verses 8-9
But then a subtle and destructive turn takes place. The author no longer focuses on what other people have and what he does not. Instead, he comes dangerously close to blaming God for the situation.
"What's going on here? Is God out to lunch? Nobodies' tending the store. The wicked get by with everything." Verses 11-14
We must be careful. When we take our eyes off God, we may misinterpret what is happening in other people's lives, and we may lack understanding of God's role in what is happening.
Before we know it, we risk having our skewed, sinful view of fellow man become a skewed, irreverent view of God. Fortunately, the Psalmist figured it out, and we can too! He says this,
"When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, till I entered the sanctuary of God." "Then I saw the whole picture." Verses 16-17
What whole picture do you suppose the Psalmist saw? What was it that grounded him in truth again? What line of thinking restored joyful feelings? The best way to uncover this is to simply read what he wrote.
The Psalmist begins by acknowledging that all the weight and credence he gave those other folks is no more permanent than a dream. Let's listen to his words from verses 20-28.
"As a dream when one awakes…." "We wake up and rub our eyes… nothing. There's nothing to them, and there never was."
When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence.
I'm still in your presence, but you've taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.
You're all I want in heaven! You're all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they'll never be heard from again.
But I'm in the very presence of God—oh, how refreshing it is! I've made Lord God my home. God, I'm telling the world what you do!"
At the risk of being redundant, we've circled back to home yet again. Last week, we focused on the fact that the cross was not only about eternal life but about crossing the threshold to home.
Here the Psalmist reminds us that when we are in the presence of God, we ARE home.
We're in the place where family meets, and there's a feast around the table.
We're in the place where baskets full of jellybeans are hidden while kids giggle and try to find them.
We're in the place where Christmas Carols are playing, and our hearts are warm.
We're in the place where a lit tree twinkles and reminds us of stars over a manger.
The Psalmist couldn’t enjoy the presence of God because of what he was choosing to focus his mind on. It wasn't God; it was other people.
May we learn from the Psalmist. May we be careful that good thinking is what leads our train for from good thoughts, good feelings will flow.
And that is how Easter stays alive in our hearts. That is how it's possible to celebrate Christmas all year long. He never leaves us. We just need to make sure we think more about Him than we do about anyone or anything else.
Would you pray with me?