A Psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
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4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Troubles of the Working World
“I am sick of this world!”
Those are probably some of the most over-the-top words I have heard from a colleague. Milder versions I hear more frequently include: “I was full of enthusiasm when I started, but now I feel like a dead man walking,” “I worked hard because I had some expectations, but have been so disappointed,” and “I have stomach pains from trying to digest the pie in the sky my boss drew.” At work, other familiar phrases are often overheard: “how deceptive,” “how on earth?” and “9-9-6.” (The last phrase is an idiomatic Chinese term used to describe a culture of excessive work with hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.)
In an atheistic culture, amicable bosses and colleagues are rare commodities. One occasionally encounters a few with good character and conscience, but most of these, in the complex office politics of the Chinese workplace, do not survive for long.
A God Who Allows Questions
Of course, brokenness and injustice happen in theistic cultures as well. Asaph, author of Psalm 73, frankly describes his envy as he witnesses “the prosperity of the wicked.” (v. 3) He openly and honestly expresses his doubts about his beliefs: “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure… For I have been stricken all day long, and punished every morning.” (vv. 13-14)
Christianity is the only belief system that allows, even respects, human doubt. The core of Christian faith is based on Jesus giving himself to the human race as a gift, as opposed to building his own reputation and power by misleading people through superstition.
It is easy to understand why Asaph had doubts and questions. If your superior exploits your labor (vv. 5, 12), brags unceasingly (v. 6), and manipulates you through derogatory sarcasm (v. 8) – how would you feel? If your superior not only despises you, but also your God (vv. 9, 11), and if, most irritating of all, he lives well and successfully climbs the ladder, while you have been praying to God for success for two or five or ten years – what then? The unshakeable faith and fervency you had in the beginning would by now be riddled with holes, as you continue on, miserable in the relentless stress of each workday. Is it not careless to ask you to simply and unwaveringly trust God’s righteousness?
I suppose that for Asaph, an awareness of his own “envy” (v. 3) kept him awake at night, because the tenth commandment is, “Do not covet.” Perhaps, in the dead of night, Asaph heard a still, small voice saying something like, “Is there some jealousy at the root of your unhappiness?” If we examine our own hearts, we may find, hidden within, transactional logic: “Am I purifying my heart, not for myself or even for God, but in order to live like that supervisor?”
I Went Into the Sanctuary
Asaph’s turning point occurred when he began to worship. (vv. 17-20) As he experienced God’s presence, Asaph began to see God’s perspective. Although previously he focused on his own failures, now he sees that the wicked will perish forever. Although previously he felt forgotten, he realized that the wicked would perish for all eternity. It dawned on him that, behind the veil of the visible and material world, a spiritual reality stands in stark contrast to what one sees.
Asaph began to repent. This naturally led to his becoming humble and meek (vv. 21-24). It seems to me that, in Gethsemane, Jesus also experienced this same process, moving from intense struggle to liberating obedience: we love because he first loved us.
Exactly 100 years ago, at the age of 18, Watchman Nee read these words: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (v. 25) When Watchman Nee read those words, he said, “Asaph can say this, but I cannot.” But God did not let him escape the lesson of this verse. This Scripture led to his regeneration; soon after, many people were saved.
Ding Baogong (a pseudonym) has served in the investment arena for over 20 years. During this period he has often observed and explored the interplay between work, faith, and culture.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You are so good. Thank you for not leaving us or forsaking us; your grace and gentleness make us great. Thank you that, in love, you allow us space to doubt. Thank you that, in love, you meet us there and allow our wandering hearts to return home.
We are displeased when we see the wicked and arrogant at peace, while we seem to be plagued all our days and punished anew every morning. Our feet have nearly slipped! However, you open the eyes of our hearts and expose our own hidden greed and lust. Before you, we are like foolish, ignorant livestock. You show us that we do not enjoy you for yourself alone – our hearts are drawn to the lifestyle of the wicked. Thank you for convicting us, cleansing us, forgiving us, and covering us again with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. You are “the strength of my heart,” for there is no one better than you.
We are willing to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, for this is pleasing to you, and it is right that we should serve you in this way. In an upside-down, broken, and unjust world, we need you more than ever. As Psalm 73 says, “for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Heal and comfort us; grant us humility, courage, and vision. As we repent and are renewed, may your name be lifted up on high, drawing all nations to you. We are persuaded that your glorious gospel will break every chain and expel every lie to the ends of the earth. One day, we will be like you. Hallelujah!
In the name of our Lord Christ Jesus, Amen.