Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25, 26The psalmist, a man by the name of Asaph, is very personal in this psalm. He opens his heart to us and lets us take a good look inside his soul. He allows us to see what it is that he most desires.
What is it that you most desire—more than anything else? To answer as Asaph answered, we may not simply say what we know we are supposed to say. We must take an honest look inside ourselves. What is it that you and I most desire?
It is God whom His people are to desire. We are to desire Him both for when we go to heaven and for now while we live on this earth. And we are to desire Him more than anything else. We confess that we do not do that. In fact, most of the time we do not desire God. But we also confess that when we stop (or are made to stop) and think about it, then we find that by His grace there is within us a desire for God.
Let us pray that our desire for Him may grow, that it may be more today than yesterday, and more tomorrow than today.
Asaph speaks of his desire for God. But he shows us that he did not always desire God. He was busy desiring health and wealth. He was busy desiring the good things he did not have, but which the wicked had. But now Asaph desires God. His desire for God arose out of an experience. It was a most difficult experience for him.
Asaph, a believer in God, had been comparing the circumstances of his life with that of neighbors who were obviously unbelieving. First, the people he was watching were not a little wicked; they were extremely proud and arrogant (6a). They made no efforts politely to hide their sin. They spoke openly and plainly against God’s people (8). They were bold to use violence against those who professed God’s name (6b). These wicked people even had the arrogance to speak against God, cursing and damning Him (9). Second, what made matters worse for Asaph was that these wicked seemed to be getting away with it. They had a life of ease, luxury, and prosperity. Their sins against believers and against God had no consequences. On the contrary, their life on earth seemed only to get better—they had great health (4) and they prospered, having more than their hearts could wish (7, 12). Third, what made matters still worse for Asaph was the fact that the circumstances of his life (as well as that of the others who believed in God) was just the opposite of that of the arrogant wicked. Asaph was striving to be righteous, but it seemed that his faith in God brought him nothing but trouble all day every day (5, 14). He saw the righteous as wet dishrags which were constantly being wrung out, their tears flowing from them (10). He felt that it was useless to be a believer in God (13). Fourth, the comparison brought him only pain (16), to the point of questioning God whether He knew what was happening on the earth (11). And Asaph was wondering if God even cared, if He cared about those who believed in Him. It did not seem so.
This experience drove Asaph to frustration, exasperation, and then to depression. He undoubtedly knew that he was sinning when he questioned God (2), but he was desperate for some explanation. He was ready to tell all his fellow-believers that it was foolish to believe in God (15).
Asaph’s experience continued. He went to God (and His Word) and God showed him a couple of things which enabled Asaph to see everything in a completely different light. His eyes and his heart were opened. He saw two things. He saw the ultimate end for both the wicked and the righteous—where God would put both. And he saw that God did see and know what was happening, in fact, that God was directly involved. This changed Asaph’s whole perspective.
First, Asaph was given to see the end (17) of the wicked. Though the wicked were blind to their end, they were going to hell. They were going to experience destruction, desolation, and eternal terrors (18, 19). Their brief life of ease would end in the eternal experience of being destroyed (with the destruction never ending). They were going to spend eternity knowing only horrible terrors. On the other hand, Asaph was made to see that the end of the righteous was glory (24). This glory is the glory of God. Believers in God will be given the wonderful privilege of sharing in God’s glory. The radiation of God’s infinite perfections will forever be shining on them and enveloping them. No more trouble, tears, sorrow, and death, but only ceaseless reason to praise God forever, from whom all blessings flow. Glory!
Second, and just as important, Asaph saw the way to these ends. He saw how foolish he was to think that God did not care about the troubles of the righteous. God cared and cares with perfect love. Asaph’s eyes were opened, and faith showed him the truth of Scripture that God never leaves nor forsakes His children. While believers may have times when they do not experience God’s presence, He is continually with them. In fact, He is always holding their spiritual hand (23). As believers walk through this life, the heavenly Father is at their side, holding their hand, never letting them go (even though we may not think so at times). And nothing experienced by believers on earth is by chance or a mistake. Everything is according to God’s counsel (24). His perfect plan is being implemented. Asaph had thought that something was wrong, that God did not know, that it was all a big mistake. Just the opposite was and is true. God knows exactly what is happening—He is doing it!
It is this experience which enables Asaph, with a renewed perspective of faith, to realize that he had the greatest and best when he had God. He may not have had prosperity and health. He may have had trouble and sorrow in this life. But because he had God (with the trouble and sorrow) he had everything he needed. Asaph discovered that there was nothing that could help or satisfy him but God. If he had everything this world could offer but did not have God, then he would be empty. When he saw that the wealth and health of the wicked ended in hell and all that can charm in this world is vanity (without God’s love), then he realized he was foolish to envy the wicked. And then Asaph realized that there is much value in the suffering and sorrow that comes by the hand of a loving Father who will make it work together for spiritual and eternal good.
The object of Asaph’s yearning then became only God Himself. He realized that he had to look at God rather than at what God gives. It was when Asaph focused on the things God gives (rather than on God), that then he questioned God’s love and wisdom. He and we must delight, not in God’s gifts, but in the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Have we learned that only God can satisfy? Often He sends afflictions to teach us that nothing can satisfy but God! Often difficult experiences in this life are hard but powerful teachers to lead us to love and to desire God more and more.
It is most interesting and striking to note that this passage is listed by the Reformed fathers of the Westminster Standards as the proof text for the latter portion of the first question and answer of the Shorter (and Larger) Catechism. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify and enjoy God forever.” To desire God is to enjoy Him. And it is in the way of our striving to glorify God that we will enjoy and desire Him. We will enjoy and desire Him when we glorify Him!
Asaph’s desire and enjoyment of God is exclusive. His language is very plain. There is nothing in heaven and nothing on earth that He desires besides God! Not family. Not possessions. Not health. Not even heaven itself.
The meaning is that without God everything on earth and heaven is nothing to him. God is the beginning and the end of all his longings. Heaven and earth and all things in them are not the end nor the object of trust and love. He loves God and He trusts Him exclusively.
Asaph begins with heaven. “Whom have I in heaven butThee?” As you reflect on heaven, what is it that you are anticipating? What are you hoping for in heaven? Is it freedom from diseases? Or freedom from persecution? Or deliverance from troubles? Or to be without sin? Or is it to be given rest from all that makes life wearying? Or is it the possession of the peace, joy, and glory of heaven. Or is it to be able to see a loved one there? Let us praise the Lord that He will give us all this, but let us praise Him that these are not the main or primary things that make heaven to be so wonderful and desirable. The Bible constantly presents heaven as the place where God is, where His presence is experienced most highly. Paul said that for him to die is to be “with Christ.” Jesus told the repentant malefactor that he would be “with me” that day. Scripture gives us very little description of heaven because God wants us to desire nothing there but Him. It is God’s presence in heaven which gives to heaven its glory, and which makes heaven so joyous and peaceful. It is God Himself in the face of Jesus Christ which makes heaven to be heaven.
When we realize that there is nothing that we desire about heaven but God, then we can add, “and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” The earth has much to offer us because it is so concrete and familiar to us. But Solomon discovered that while we can easily set our hearts on the things of this earth, nothing truly feeds man’s soul. Family, friends, possessions, and prominence mean nothing without God’s love. Without God’s love they are all vanity. Asaph had previously wanted his satisfaction in these earthly things. He had thought that he would be happy if he could have what the wicked possessed. But now he sees these things as perishable and able to lead to destruction (when man sets his heart on them, he will perish with them). So Asaph learns that it is God alone who must be his all in all. It is having God, being loved by Him, being held by His hand, that is everything to him. Paul said it this way, “For me to live is Christ.” Then we with Paul can count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus as our Lord. O God, give us the grace to grow in our desire for Thee!
There are great implications which arise from our desiring and enjoying God.
The first is that we do not set our hearts on the things of the earth. In them we will find no lasting peace and fulfillment. Oh, they are able to provide us with some joy—that is why they are so deceptive. But it will always be only temporary, so we will move from one earthly thing to another.
Rather, let us see that God is the strength of our heart and our portion forever. He is the rock under our feet. He who changes never, provides stability in the midst of the storms of life and in the valley of tears. His hand holding our hand gives His strength to us. We stand in His strength! And He is our portion, that is, our supply, our satisfaction, the fullness of our joy. We can delight in Jehovah (Ps. 37:4) and rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4).
Therefore, “it is good for me to draw near to God” (28). Literally Asaph says that, for him, nearness to God is good. His and our nearness to God stands over against being far from God. Asaph was aware that when he had problems earlier in the Psalm, it was because he had been drawn away from God. Sometimes afflictions and troubles show us that we can be a whole lot nearer to God. Asaph thought that his discontent and despair were because of his suffering. Now he sees that it was because he did not stay near to God. We draw near to God by looking to Him by faith, by keeping Him in our mind’s eye. It means to live in the fear of God, conscious that He is near. Our nearness to God is possible because of His nearness to us. He already said that He holds us by our right hand. Like little toddlers we try to let go and slip away from Him. Instead let us get closer to Him. So, in love for Him, let us be near to Him.
Finally, with nearness to God comes trust in Him. We have confidence that He knows what He is doing. We may not be able to see it, but His Word assures us that He is working according to an all wise counsel. That is why “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”