I Saw – Asaph’s Vision

The human eye with the faculty of vision is an incredible gift, defying evolutionary explanations and enabling humanity to experience the beauty and wonder of creation. It makes possible the observation and the learning which results from it. It opens vistas of imagination provided by the thrill of reading. The blessings of vision are so numerous that they are difficult to detail. The human eye is an amazing organ, from cornea and lens, to the macula and the 120 million rods and 6 million cones which inhabit your retina. Then there are the pathways to the brain which enable us to “see” and interpret the image which has been projected. The eye is so finely tuned that it can distinguish between hundreds of colors; it is so well designed that it can recognize facial distinctions of thousands of people. Add to that the fact that God has given us a written Word for us to read and through which we find salvation, and we cannot thank God enough for the gift of vision.

But vision can also have its downsides. There is a man in the Old Testament who experienced just such a low tide in his spirit due to what he saw. “I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:3). Asaph was just about to throw in the towel, hang up his Bible bag, send in his letter of resignation to the local assembly, and practice the ultimate in social distancing for the remainder of his days. His steps were “well-nigh” to slipping. What he saw threw him into a tailspin of grief and despondency. The injustice, the prosperity of those who were profiting from others, the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and the silence of heaven all coalesced to deluge his soul with a sense of hopelessness.

As we look at the injustice around us, the double standard for the elite and the average citizen, the lack of logic in so much of what we are told to do and not to do, it is understandable that we are confused, despondent, and even angry at times. 

But being upset over conditions does not have to lead to pessimism and despondency. G.K. Chesterton highlighted this when he said, “There is a world of difference between sorrow and pessimism. Sorrow is founded on the value of something, and pessimism upon the value of nothing. In terms of hope for the future, this makes all the difference.”

Asaph experienced the triad of sorrow, perplexity, and despondency. He did, however, turn the corner and rise above the mood that had overwhelmed him like an enshrouding prison. It was the sanctuary experience that made all the difference. When he got alone with God, when his “vision” rose above the visible to the unseen, when his values took their standard from the sanctuary, suddenly all changed. Earthly prosperity and fame faded into insignificance. The temporal and eternal resumed the proper balance in his thinking. Once again, God ascended the throne of his heart and proud, orgulous humanity receded.

So marked was the reversal in Asaph’s thinking, that he burst forth with one of the most exalted paeans of praise found in the psalter. Its truth has been a bedrock for believers down through the ages. “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” (vv 25, 26).

You do not have to look far to see the injustice, the double standards, the meaningless, and often illogical demands being made upon everyone. Day by day, goals change; weekly, extensions are made to “temporary” guidelines. What we see can cause that dark cloud to descend upon us with amazing rapidity. We do not live in a world that is fair; just trace the life of Paul the Apostle, the martyrs, or chiefest of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

But we have an invitation which is staggering in its implications. Millennia back, God warned Aaron that he could not come at will into the Holiest “that he die not” (Lev 16:2). But you and I are told that we have an entrance into the holiest and can come with confidence at any time (Heb 10:19-22). It is only in the sanctuary that balance can be attained, and vision can be adjusted. For hearts that are “failing” amidst the current circumstances, try a dose of Asaph’s medicine: “God is the strength of my heart.”

Enlarged Steps

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David could write and extol how God protected and cared for him. In one of best-known verses from the Psalms, he speaks of “As for God His way is perfect … and maketh my way perfect” (Ps 18:30, 32). He relates the ways of God with him. He attributes all the blessings he had to God’s gentleness. He spoke of God being his rock, shield, and buckler. He could face everything that life and his foes threw at him with God as his companion.

As he thought of his pathway, he spoke of how God “enlarged my steps under me” (v 36). The imagery may sound a bit foreign to us, but it would not have been to an Israelite back in David’s day. The idea is that God gave David a sure footing when the way was dangerous. It may have been meant literally as David had to negotiate the hills and cliffs of the wilderness. Some of the mountain pathways were likely narrow and treacherous. But it was definitely meant that God assured him safety in his pathway.

We have never had to tread the path we are currently on. Who would have thought that a time would come when, without the help of dementia, you could not remember what day of the week it was? Without the normal routine of certain things on certain days of the week, it seems as though every day is the same. New words have entered our vocabulary such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.”

We are all wired to have goals and a sense of accomplishment and yet we sit in our homes waiting for when things will change and we can return to “normal” life, whatever that will be after COVID-19.

But we can be assured of “enlarged steps” both now and then. God is dealing with us in His “gentleness” and goodness. His way is still perfect for each one of us; and if we are given grace to bow to His way, then He will make your way and mine perfect. It does not mean He will make it pleasant, just perfect, something which accomplishes His will in your life and mine.

So, your shoe size is not going to grow. You will not have an excuse for going out and buying an entire new array of shoes (plus you better not leave your house!). But you do have His promise that He will make sure your feet are secure in the pathway He has mapped out for you. Even though it is a road we have never walked before and for which there are no available maps, as we are finding out, He will make your steps enlarged under you.

So even though you have to check the calendar to see what day it is, carry a tape measure with you when you go food shopping so as to keep six feet away from everyone (just try it in the aisles of your supermarket), and try and breathe through your face mask, at least your feet will be secure on the pathway.

Getting Enlarged

No, this is not a reference to overeating while we are on lockdown, although that is a real concern.

David said, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps 4:1). Literally, he was saying, “I grew under pressure.” We think in the natural sphere that pressure makes something smaller; but in the spiritual realm, pressure leads to growth.

The background of Psalms 3 and 4 is when David had to flee for his life from Absalom. His life was in danger. As well, he had no idea when the danger would end. He did not know whom to trust. His best advisor and friend had turned against him. He didn’t know where he was safe.

Sound familiar? The flood of news feeds keeps telling us of the danger. Then, as though to further beat us down, they assure us that really no one, even the experts, have any idea when all this will be over. We are reminded that no one is really safe – keep six feet away. And don’t leave your house but somehow be sure to exercise, and above all, don’t get discouraged!

And yet, though we may think this is all a deterrent to spiritual progress, all this “pressure” can actually “enlarge” us spiritually. It is a tremendous comfort to always keep in mind that God will never allow a circumstance in your life or mine that does not have the potential for spiritual growth. Even the present pandemic with the limitations it has imposed on us to meet together as believers cannot hinder our growth. But growth will not occur automatically. Growth will require effort on our part. With added time, can I use it for studying the Word of God, listening to ministry, or for prayer? Can I turn the long hours of the day to profit by reaching out to other Christians, those who are alone, to encourage them?

Spiritual growth is not a matter of doing but of being. It is not what I accomplish for God (as valuable as that is), but what I know of God and how much of Christ I can reflect in my life.

David Livingston the famous missionary to Africa of the 1800’s was once hindered from going down river. Sadly, the obstruction was the corpses of dead slaves who had been thrown into the river. When his assistants came to him telling him that they could not navigate the river, and asked where he wanted to go, he gave his famous answer: “Anywhere as long as it is forward.”

We can go forward despite the barricades on our parks and walking paths, the curfew which says we must be in at 8 pm, and the myriad of other restrictions which tell us to stay put! We can move forward and enlarge ourselves even amidst the present circumstances. Allow the pressure to make you a bigger Christian!