When Frustration, Confusion, and Distress Are Good For You

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

How does God get us to understand that He is all we need for all of life? He places us in situations that frustrate and confuse us, that He might show us who He really is. 

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We learn best when we attentively observe what is happening around us, reflect on those experiences, and acknowledge God in all of it. This might be a good way to describe wisdom. It might also be the way to know God. 

A lesser-known but significant writer in the OT is Asaph. He was a staff liturgist and musician in the temple in Jerusalem. As one of the three Levites commissioned by David in charge of singing in the house of Yahweh, he played and sang praise and thanksgiving to the Lord (2 Chronicles 5.11-14).

We know his best work as a liturgist. He composed beautiful psalms out of his own experience of God appropriate for the temple choir and personal prayer. These thoughtful reflections are forever preserved for us in Psalms 50 and 73-83. 

As a member of the temple staff, he had a clear view of the conduct of temple officers, other officials and those who attended the services. He saw the good and not-so-good. In any organization – sacred or otherwise – there is generally a less-than pleasant underbelly that frequently displays itself. This is also true of today’s church. The conduct of “the saints” often isn’t so saintly. 

Perhaps it was out of these kinds of telling experiences that Asaph penned Psalm 73. “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me…” He’s saying, “I know this about God. But, I also know this about myself…I am envious and weary of those who prosper in spite of their pride, foolishness, wickedness, and malicious speech. I see it every day and it distresses me.” Can you relate? 

Have you ever thought: “God is good to those who deserve it (like me!), but bad people don’t deserve God’s goodness?” You struggle to know or even like that kind of God. 

To Asaph, this experience was frustrating and embittering. That is, until he went to God in a sacred place where his heart opened to reality. These prideful people face an appropriate end. He had focused on a portion of their journey ignoring God and His competence to deal with them in due time. Being with God changed his perspective and renewed his confidence in God. 

In this experience, Asaph learned these realities about God: 

  • Yahweh is caring and guides his own – “you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel…” 
  • Yahweh is accepting of his own – “afterward, you will receive me to glory.” 
  • Yahweh is strong – “God is the strength of my heart…” 
  • Yahweh is whole, complete, and full – “God is…my portion forever.” 
  • Yahweh is just and fair with all including “bad people” – “you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.” 

In this experience, Asaph learned these realities about himself: 

  • I can be brutish and ignorant, like a beast towards God.
  • Nevertheless, I am continually with God (these two realities together are simply amazing!).
  • I have God in heaven and on earth. 
  • There is nothing on earth I desire besides God (what about wealth, security, success, good reputation, progress?). 
  • My flesh and heart may fail. But all that God is, is mine.
  • It is good for me to be near God – can be translated: “my fullness is to cling to God.” 
  • I go to God and find what I need.
  • I speak to others out of my experience of God. 

Note how Asaph’s understanding of God and his situation shifted as he invested time with God. In experiencing God, he began to see God and himself more clearly. Knowledge of God is always related to knowledge of ourselves. To know God we must know ourselves. We only truly know ourselves as we truly know God. This dual knowledge develops as we learn to participate in God’s life.

As Asaph knows: “my fullness is to cling to God.” 

How are you seeing God more clearly so you can see yourself and others around you more clearly? 

Dr. K