I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life where I didn’t think God was so good. In fact, some of you may have some circumstances where, you know, your theology, the Scripture, your teaching, what you intellectually know, “God is good.”
But then when you look at your circumstances you may be saying, “Uhhh, this doesn’t add up.”
I was walking across my college campus twenty-some years ago, I was half praying, half muttering, and I had the strongest feelings of anger toward God I had ever experienced in my life. I had been a Christian a little over three years.
I had only months before made the biggest Lordship decision I had ever made. I mean, it was one of those where I knew with all my heart this is what God wanted me to do and every fiber in my emotional and intellectual being wanted to do the opposite. And, by faith, I decided, “I’ll do it God’s way.”
And I thought, “You know, if God is ever going to bless me, it’s got to be now.” And instead, life didn’t get better; it got worse.
As I was walking across the campus, I irreverently, and I would add, unwisely, told God He had better speak to me very clearly tonight when I get back to my dorm room, or I am checking out of this Christian life forever. And, I mean, I was dead serious.
Now, you need a little background to understand what is going on. I had been dating for two years a gal that I was certain would be my wife, she was certain I would be her husband, she had gone home to meet my family, the whole nine yards.
And she was a believer, she was charming, she was beautiful, she was talented, I was in love up to my eyeballs.
Only little problem was I was convinced God wanted to do something significant with my life and, as a believer, being sold out to Christ was the only option. It was a real struggle but I came to that.
Her view was, “I know I’m in God’s family, I know I’m forgiven, and as long as God’s plan fits with what I want to do, that sounds good.” And so she was an only child, her family was very close, and there was a little home with a white picket fence across the street from her mom and dad and that’s where, in her mind, we were going to live happily ever after.
And I realized, “I can’t go there.” But I loved her and yet I knew her life was going this way, mine this way, and we broke up and my mind said, “This is the right thing to do,” and my heart said, “Ingram, this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in your life.”
I used to go out on a hill and I remember I could see the light of her dorm room and just cry and say, “God, you know, change her heart, turn it all around, I know You’ll make it. I know You’ll make it okay.”
On this particular night, it was a home basketball game and after home basketball games, for two years, I came up from the locker room and she was always at the top of the stairs waiting for me. It was one of those really neat things. We’d go out and get a coke and talk.
And it had been three months since that had happened. And I came up through the locker room and there she was and my heart skipped a beat. “Yes! God has worked! This is awesome! Her heart has turned around! We’re going to, oh man, oh God, you are so good! You’re so, this is so wonderful!”
And I said hi to her and I noticed it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t cold at all but it wasn’t like, “I’m here for you.” And as I was sitting there thinking how wonderful this was going to be and it was a little awkward moment, one of the other members of the team, another guy who played guard, walked right by me, she had a sheepish smile, said, “Hi,” and he put his arm out and she stuck her arm in his, and they walked out.
I mean, I was dangerous at that point. I have never been, now, you say, “Well, that’s childish and that’s puppy love and you were only twenty.” Yeah! I was only twenty! It was real to me! I thought it was really real and I think it was. I was so angry and I was so livid.
And so I walked out of there and I just said, “God, this stinks. You know what? I’m more committed to You than I have ever been and I get this? I make the biggest sacrifice of my life and I get this?” And, then, oh, I know this guy. And you guys out there or gals who have played on teams, you know what it’s like to be in a van for six or eight hours. You know what it’s like it locker rooms. You know what everybody talks about in locker rooms. You know where a guy is coming from, you know where his values are, you know what he thinks about girls. That guy with my girl? Aggghhhh! You know?
I wanted to say, “Stop! Stop! You need to know about this guy!” And I walked across that campus and I just said, I felt like an animal, I was so angry. In fact, that came to my mind. The phrase went through, “I felt like a beast inside,” and I thought, you know, “He is arrogant, he is proud, and he has mocked my faith in the locker room, and he has made fun of me, and he has made fun of You, God. How in the world?”
And, I mean, I’m livid. And I said, “God, if You don’t speak to me tonight, if this is the way it works, I’m out. I’m checking out.” And I went home and I didn’t, I thought I was an old enough Christian to know that probably just opening my Bible and saying, “God, speak to me,” would not be a good way to go, although He had done that some in the past.
And so I picked up my Bible where I was reading normally and I was in the Psalms and I read Psalm 70 and, eh, was alright; Psalm 71, eh, was okay; Psalm 72, didn’t make much progress. And then I read Psalm 73. I want you to imagine, if you will, where I’m at emotionally, what I’m thinking, and follow along as I read. In fact, better than follow along, enter in the experience with me.
I’ve told you how I felt like, “I am getting a raw deal.” But before we read this, I’m going to tell you how God spoke to me like never before, I had no understanding that the God of the universe could cause the Holy Spirit to make His word so alive, to interact in one little guy’s life like mine.
But before we do that I want you to think of when you’ve received the raw deal that bothers you the most. So, when we read this, I want you to read with the same kind of feelings and emotions and thoughts and questions that I had that night.
When is the last time you received a raw deal? When is the last time someone betrayed you after you did good to them? When is the last time someone else got a promotion because they had a special relationship with the boss, not because they were better than you? When is the last time you sat down, those of us that are parents, and said to your little son or your little daughter, “The reason you don’t get to play and you try…you see…that other kid is the coach’s son, even though you’re a lot better.”
For some of you it was a mate who walked out on you. For others, you invested the entire life in your kids and you cared and you loved and, you know what? Something happened and they took some course somewhere and now they’ve shined you and all their problems are your fault.
For others, you’ve cared and loved and your parents and they got near the end of their life and they just wrote you out of an inheritance. For other people, you were involved in a business relationship and they did you in. You know, you trusted them and they just did you in.
For others, you were involved in the marketplace and, you know? People moving right ahead and they’re lying! I mean, they’re not telling the truth, you’re playing by the rules, and they keep going upward and you are stuck and you’re stuck because you’re doing it “God’s way.”
Now, I want you to think about when that was because then you’ll read this passage with the kind of emotion that Asaph did. He’s the choir director for David’s choir and he’s a godly man, he’s a worship leader. But he’s having a bad day.
He writes in verse 1, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are the pure in heart.” I mean, to those who are totally committed. That’s the idea, that word. Yeah, that’s true, right?
Verse 2, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; I nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” I thought about that that night. I watched that guy going with my girl and I thought, “That stinks.”
“They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.” Literally, it’s they’re sleek. “They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; and they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.”
As I read this, little pictures were coming to my mind about sitting around and talking in the locker room and this guy mocking God and his arrogance.
“They scoff,” and I thought, “Boy, I’ve heard that.” “They speak with malice; and their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” They think they’ve got it all together. They think they’ve got the world by the tail.
Therefore people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” You know, it’s kind of like the life of the rich and the famous. I mean, they’re cheating people and doing stuff then doing stuff that’s immoral but, you know, people just lining up. Just lining up around the street to get around them.
Therefore, people turn to them and they drink up these waters of knowledge but only that, “They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’” No regard for God.
“This is what the wicked are like – always carefree. They increase in wealth.” Then a little low moment, “Surely, in vain I have kept my heart pure, I have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued, I have been punished every morning.”
That’s exactly how I felt. I thought, “Here I am, I’m twenty years old, twenty and a half, something like that. I’ve got a pure relationship with this girl, there are four girls in this campus to every guy. We’re in the midst of the sexual revolution. I’ve become a Christian right before I go to college and I just thought I’m going to do it God’s way and every basketball trip I hear all these guys talking about all the pleasures of the world and it’s killing me to live a pure life.
And then what’s God do? He takes my Christian girl and some guy who, I know where his heart and mind and everything else is, is with her, in vain. Basically, “What am I getting out of this, God?” And my answer is, “Not much.” You ever felt like that?
And then he goes on to say, “I’ve been plagued.” You know, I experienced God but I have a lot more struggles as a Christian than before I was a Christian. I didn’t struggle with temptation, I did lots of stuff, I didn’t even know it was sin!
Then there’s a little shift in verse 15. He begins to think a little harder, a little deeper. The emotions now are beginning to calm down out of this flame, “If I had said,” hypothetically, he’s thinking out loud to himself, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’” I’m going to talk like this, this is the direction I’m going to go, this is how I’m going to view life, “I would have betrayed Your children.” Very tender idea here.
He’s a worship leader, people look to him for guidance, he’s a guy that’s really walked with God. He said, “If I bail out on the faith, there’s going to be, like, a big rock in the pond of impact and I am going to impact multitudes of people who have placed their faith in God because of what You’ve done in me and if I bail out, this isn’t just about my personal faith. This is going to impact them and not only that but what about all the deep relationships I have with them?
“When I tried to understand all this,” he says, “it was oppressive to me.” In other words, the word means, “I was in turmoil; my gut was turning. Life’s not working and it’s not fair but if I bail out, think of the implications! What do I do? Where do I go?” And that’s how I felt.
Verse 17 begins a very important shift where he gets perspective. It says, “Until,” or, “then I entered the sanctuary of God.” He gets out of his human reasoning, he gets out his passionate emotions, he gets out of, “Life isn’t fair, life stinks, why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people,” mindset, and he says, “Then I entered the sanctuary of God; and then,” ah, the lights came on, “then I understood their final destiny. Literally, the word means, “Their afterwards.” What’s going to happen later. “Surely, You place them, the wicked, on slippery ground; You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed,” it comes like a surprise, “completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakens,” in other words, the wicked prosper but it’s only a dream, it’s only a fantasy, it’s only a phantom, it’s only short lived.
“So when You arise, O Lord, You will despise them as fantasies.” You know, people sell porn on the internet and people do all kinds of lurid things but there’s a day of reckoning and there’s a day of judgment, and when it comes, God, in His justice, pulls the rug out from under people who flaunt evil. And He’s the Great Equalizer and He doesn’t put up with it forever. See, he’s getting perspective.
And as he gets perspective, now, he moves from getting perspective on the wicked who are prospering and now he’s going to get a little perspective on his own life.
Verse 21, “When my heart was grieved,” literally, “When it was pierced,” “and my spirit was embittered,” literally, it means when he was depressed, when he was struggling, when he was filled with self-pity, he said, “I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You.”
He said, “I got so hot emotionally that I got irrational; I lost sight of the big picture. I lost sight of who You are. I lost sight of what You’ve done. I lost sight of the relationships You’ve given me. And I got so mad, so angry that I lost it.”
And now he’s going to move out of that into some very clear perspective. Verse 23, “Yet I am always with You.” Huh, that’s true. “You hold me by my right hand.” In other words, “You’ve been a counselor to me, You’ve helped me, You’ve sustained me.”
“You guide me with Your counsel,” and here’s that same word, “and afterward You take me into glory.”
Notice those three things: Hold me, guide me, take me. He says, “I’m protected, I’m secure, I’m loved.” He’s beginning to get the lights. And then he raises this rhetorical question, when he really thinks about it, when he really ponders he says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.”
In a final analysis, who will never let me down? Who will be my security? Who is taking care of me? Who gives me joy no matter what? He says, “It’s You. Whom have I in heaven but You?”
And then he admits his humanness, “My flesh and my heart may fail,” I may blow it – I’m going to have ups, I’m going to have downs – “but You are the strength of my heart and You are my portion forever.”
And I’ll never forget that word “portion,” it was like it grew this big on the page and jumped out of the page and landed on my shoulders. And I realized all of life is like a big pie and every person in the world gets a slice. That’s your portion, your slice.
And in my heart of hearts I thought what would really make me happy in my slice is the right girl, the right job, success, and on and on and on. And I looked around the world and I realized, “There’s only really a portion or a slice that will ever, ever fulfill me. And my portion is God Himself.”
That night, this passage became my dating verse, my future verse whether God ever gave me a mate, is that He would be enough plus nothing, He would be enough plus not anything else or no one else. He would be my portion, He’d be my slice of pie.
And, see, what that does is that gives you incredible freedom because people come and people go and jobs go and jobs come and money goes and money comes and houses go and markets come and markets go. And we don’t control it. But He says He will be there forever. “You’re my portion forever.”
Then, notice the conclusion. He says, “Those who are far from You,” he takes the lens and he goes, “Wait a second,” he says, “Those who are far from You,” people who mock You, people who are arrogant, people who don’t want to live life Your way, people who stiff-arm God and reject Christ, he says it’s never God’s desire, but when people do that for a lifetime, they perish. “You destroy all those who are unfaithful to You.”
Then notice the contrast, “But as for me,” notice that was verse 2. Verse 1 was, “Surely God is good to Israel, to the pure in heart, but as for me, my foot almost slipped.” “I almost bailed out of the faith,” is what he said. And now he’s come full circle and he says, “You know, in the final analysis, you know, the wicked are going to really, they’re going to go through some very desperate times when you look at the big picture.”
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” and then notice here’s a choice he made. He reaffirms his relationship. “I have made,” that’s a choice, “the Sovereign Lord,” what an interesting view of God. He’s in control. “I have made,” personal choice, “the Sovereign Lord my refuge,” the place that I run.
And then he says, not only that, but I’m trusting, since God is good, even though my circumstances aren’t, and He’s in total control, that means He allowed it, and since He’s faithful, He’s going to take even the worst of my circumstances, turn it around for good, and someday, notice that last line, “I will tell of Your deeds.”
God’s going to work it in such a way where you will have the opportunity where, like I can now, twenty plus years later, I can tell of His deeds! That night, I was crushed, that night I was angry, that night I lost the most important person in my life.
I’ve got news for you! She wasn’t a Theresa. You bet. She wasn’t a Theresa. And I know just enough about science to know that my DNA and Theresa’s DNA are unique and when our DNAs come together, there are unique people on this planet that would not be on this planet unless she and I got married.
And I look at the kids that I have and I can now step back and say, “Short-term pain, long-term gain.”
Now, let’s talk about you. This is a lot more than I share about my inner-struggles than normal. But I thought you could identify. Now, what I’d like to talk about is your inner-struggles. And I’d like you, on the whiteboard of your mind, to say, under the heading, “I got a raw deal,” and now underneath that I want you to say, “What is it?” What’s the one that pops up to the surface.
And, by the way, knowing that sometimes that’s so painful, instead of dealing with it, instead of facing it, a lot of us repress and are in denial, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to think about that. It’s way too painful.” I know that one out of four, according to statistics, one out of four or one out of five women have been sexually abused. That’s a raw deal.
We know that half of all Americans have been divorced. We know that infidelity is rampant in America. We know that people lie and cheat in business.
Now, I’m going to encourage you, as painful as it is, to let that come to the surface so God can deal with it. Have you got it? Trying to give you a little time. Where do you feel like you’ve gotten a raw deal? Where have you gotten injustice? And then I want to develop four life lessons or four principles to help you walk through how to deal with the raw deal that you appear to have. Okay?
Well, let’s look at that together. Principle number one or life lesson number one: If you want to overcome the raw deals in your life, and that’s God’s will, here’s the first thing you need to do – Asaph models it for us – pour out your heart. Face it. Share it. Get it on the table. Tell God about it.
I don’t know about you, this is so encouraging, even godly people struggle with doubts and confusion when God’s truth and their experience don’t mesh. It’s a fallen world! If you haven’t got it yet, life is not fair! Until Jesus comes back, it’s not going to be fair! You know what that means? That means bad things happen to good people and the converse, good things happen to bad people.
And when that happens, don’t stuff it, don’t repress it. What’s Asaph show us? Take it to God! It doesn’t mean you’re ungodly. It’s okay to be mad with God. Now, do it reverently. Don’t do it like I did it. I think I was such a young Christian, God kind of winked at how I talked to Him.
You be honest and you share it and you get it out on the table and let the full vent of your emotions say, “God, I am upset! This stinks! This is raw! This is terrible!” And if you never get it there, you will put it down inside and it’ll come out. I guarantee it’ll come out in very unhealthy ways.