My husband made a beautiful bookshelf for our homeschool room. It was made from old rotting furniture that had previously been something very different – something with a very interesting story. This bookshelf, which currently contains curriculum that educate, enlighten, and prepares my children for their future was once, a long time ago, pews from my husband’s grandfather’s church. In fact, his grandfather, who had been the pastor of a church, hand-made each pew and placed a wooden cross on the side of each. He was the son of an alcoholic, but he and his wife became Christians and decided to serve the Lord by pastoring a church near their home. Unfortunately, my husband’s grandmother, a lovely Christian lady, got cancer at a young age and died. My husband’s grandfather then turned his back on God and followed the ways of his alcoholic father and his father’s family. This once pastor became an angry bitter drunk, who gave up on preaching and on God. Although it appears to be a story of lost hopes and dreams, of anger and pride, of lost relationships, and ruined families, it is actually a reminder of the peace, strength, comfort, and goodness of God.
One of my favorite chapters of the Bible is Psalms 73, which talks about this bookshelf – well maybe not exactly. Psalms 73 starts with, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me…” The psalmist acknowledged how he felt which was basically, “Your good to everyone else, but not me!” Then he went on in agonized prayer, “My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He observed how good the wicked seem to have it, and that they have no struggles, they’re healthy and strong, and free from burdens and ills. Even though the wicked are proud, violent, callous, and oppress the weak, they are carefree and wealthy. He complained that he had been innocent in heart and deed, yet had been plagued by problems and punishment. Does this seem fair? The psalmist didn’t think so and neither would most of us.
When I look at this beautiful bookshelf my husband built from his grandfather’s old church pews, I don’t think about the unfairness of life, or losing the one you love at such an early age, or a life wasted in anger and alcohol, I think about the rest of Psalms 73. In verse 16-17 the psalmist tells us, “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God…” Let’s stop there for a second. Entering the sanctuary of God – a holy, consecrated place where we know and feel God’s presence, His peace, His comfort, and His strength is a life-changer. Entering the sanctuary of God is referring to a “place” we can go that isn’t an actual building or physical place. And until we enter the sanctuary of God, we can’t know who God really is. We can know stories of God, and we can “accept” God into our heart and receive salvation, but entering the sanctuary of God takes us to a new place in our relationship with the Holy One. Hebrews 8:2 mentions this sanctuary as, “…the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.” To enter His sanctuary we make a choice to enter a place where we give all of ourselves – heart, soul, spirit – to God and cling to the place of His glory and power. When we truly and earnestly seek Him, our body will long for Him as it would thirst in a dry and weary land that has no water (Psalms 63). And then we get to experience being with the One whose love is better than life, who satisfies our soul, and who is our help. Psalms 73:17 encourages us, “…till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” The psalmist understood that the wicked would receive judgement – their ruin, destruction, and terror. But he finished up with recognition of who God is in his life. He was comforted with knowing that “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart…But as for me, it is good to be near God.” God doesn’t promise an easy painless life, but He promises to strengthen, comfort, and love us. He doesn’t take away all our problems or bring back our lost loved ones, but He promises He will never leave us. As Psalms 73 tells us, “Surely God is good…I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge…”
Hours before my husband’s grandfather’s death, he repented to God, acknowledged Him, and received Christ as his Savior again. So when I see this bookshelf and think of its story, I’m reminded of the hope that God offers to us no matter what our situation, and the help when we’re in trouble, and the comfort when we lose those we love, and the strength when we feel we can’t go on, and forgiveness for a lifetime of defiance.
Psalms 73 – Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.