This is a guest post by D. G. Hargrove. He is a husband, father, and pastor. He has been the senior pastor of North Cities UPC in the North Dallas community for over two decades.
We Have to See the Big Picture
A story is told of six blind men who wanted to visit the zoo. They decided to hire a guide to tell them about all the exotic animals they themselves could not see. When they came to the elephants the zookeeper wanted them to have more than just a verbal description, so he allowed each one to touch the elephant. Since the elephant was so large and the zookeeper had little time, he let each man touch a different part of the giant mammal.
The first blind man reached out and grabbed the elephant’s tail. “Ah ha!” he exclaimed, “The elephant is like a rope.” The next man felt the leg of the great animal saying, “No rope is that big, the elephant must be like a tree for sure.” The third blind man walked up and ran right into the elephant’s side where he proclaimed, “The elephant is really like a big wall.” The next took hold of the elephant’s ear and in doing so caused the elephant to move his ears. He exclaimed, “Oh, I see! The elephant is like a big fan!” The fifth man decided that the first four were all wrong because they couldn’t describe the same creature, so he carefully walked up and put his hand on the elephant’s trunk and said, “My friends, it’s obvious that that the elephant is like a big snake.” The final man was confused, and hoping to discover the truth he encountered the tusks. He paused, then brightened and said, “I understand the true nature of the elephant–he’s a sword.” The zookeeper and the guide both looked at each other and grinned, knowing that none of the men had taken in the true picture of the elephant.
So it is with us–in life and with God. Oftentimes we see small pictures or small glimpses of life, and we think that’s what life is. Then we see small pictures and glimpses of God, and think that’s what God is. Now I’m aware that we can never understand God in His entirety, but I can assure you, the closer you get to Him the greater He is. The more you understand about Him, the mightier His power and the greater the demonstration of His glory appears to us. Some are looking at God from a distance and cannot perceive Him the way He really is; but we must learn to see God as He really is in the big picture.
The church is filled with people who want to see the big picture and some have even experienced it. In my own observation I have noticed that in western civilization many Christians tend to think there are not going to be any tough moments in living for God, and that there is no value in suffering; but that’s not true. We have been conditioned by our culture to have a collective attitude that views comfort and personal happiness as the end all, and this has blurred our perspective. There simply is no place for pain in American Christianity. Because of this distorted perception, we rarely stop to search for the hand of God in the midst of trouble. Seeking to understand God’s purpose in our pain is foreign. As a result, embracing pain’s role in our sanctification is usually the farthest thing from our minds. As one so aptly put it, “Most people count it all joy when they escape trials, but James said to count it all joy when you go through a trial…” We need to come to grips with a significant truth; God will not bring us happiness, but He will show us His glory.
Happiness and showing God’s glory may or may not be directly connected, but I want to share with you today that God does have a plan and a purpose for everything that we go through. If we can just get a big picture, we can pass through times when there is pain, hurt, misconception, and when life doesn’t seem fair. We can hold to the unchanging hand of God and know that he is faithful.
Asaph Writes a Psalm
In Psalm 73:1-28 we find a psalm written by a man named Asaph. Asaph was a Levite and a musician in the Tabernacle. In the beginning of this Psalm he gives us an affirmation: 73:1, “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” Asaph starts his psalm by recognizing the goodness of God. Recognizing God’s goodness is truly the beginning of a happy life. If you miss this and do not recognize His goodness, you will never have a true sense of happiness. No matter how much trouble you go through or what misfortunes you may have in life, God is still a good God. I realize this sometimes takes faith to say and believe when you are passing through circumstances in which you cannot see the end. Perhaps you are dealing with such a circumstance your life right now. I want you to know if you will put your trust and faith in God, He will bring you through any situation because He is a good God.
Asaph Takes a Turn
Despite attesting that God is faithful and good in verse one, Asaph turns his sights away from God onto his environment in verse two: “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.” Those who measure their relationship with God by their environment will oftentimes find their lives to be inconsistent. You cannot measure God by your environment; He can only be measured by a relationship. So many today look at God like a Genie in a lamp that will give us words and grant our requests. But God knows what I need and what I can handle, and I’m going to believe that He knows what’s best for me–even if it’s not what I can see or understand at the moment.
They’ve Got it Made
The Psalmist goes on in verses 3-14 to tell us the problem as he sees it. The truth is, he makes a lot of assumptions by looking at the prosperity of others and what he thinks God is not doing. It’s almost like Asaph is looking out at all these people and seeing what appears to be a great and prosperous life for them. Everything seems to be going their way and he then turns and looks at himself in a negative light. He sees all the trouble he is going through and the prosperity of those that are not following God, and he wonders what the true purpose of separation is. It’s interesting because this issue of separation has been with man since the beginning. God’s people have always been separated and as long as they remain God’s people, they will remain separated. But when God’s people quit being separated, it’s because they have fallen into the lie that Asaph is struggling with in this text – that worldly living is truly the best life and living for God is nothing but suffering and heartache. In verses 4-12 he lists the things that the godless have that make them so attractive:
- They have plenty to eat and dring so they are fat (V.4)
- When they die they do not have a lot of pain like others (V.4)
- They do not have trouble like most of us (v.5)
- They have more possessions (V.6)
- They are important (proud) (V.7
- They say everything belongs to them (V.9)
- All of this makes people want to turn to them (V.10)
- They have no trouble and plenty of money (v.12)
Friends, one of the reasons most people leave the church is because of this lie. Don’t fall into the trap that acquisition is the key to happiness–it’s not. You can have everything the world has to offer and still not be complete. What makes a man complete is his relationship with God. Without a true relationship with God you can buy the greatest food in the world–but you can’t digest it. You can buy any bed you want to sleep in–but you can’t get a good night’s rest. You can buy the biggest house you want to live in–but you won’t find peace there and it won’t be a home. You can buy the nicest car and be a nervous wreck driving down the highway, so you have to get a chauffeur to drive you. It’s not about having all the possessions; that doesn’t bring you peace. The only thing that will bring you peace is the One who gives it from above when you are born of the water and of the Spirit.
The True Turning Point
Asaph had a true turning point in verses 15-17, and it all happened when he went into the Lord’s presence. You can look around at the world and take a snapshot of something to shoot for and think it is the key to excellence, and find that in the end it’s not really what brings happiness. When you and I get into the Lord’s presence and are able to see clearly what life is really all about, we see that most everything we have and posses is moving into a place of decomposition. We can also see that the power and the presence of God will never move and will forever be at work in our lives. It’s constant even when we are not.
The Complete Picture
In verses 21-28, Asaph realizes that God was really in control the entire time and it was his own perspective that was off. Let’s take a look at the account:
“Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. 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 for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.”
Asaph didn’t know the truth the entire time, and just like the Lord did for Israel in the wilderness, God will take care of us no matter what happens. Asaph realizes several things after being in the presence of God:
- He realizes he doesn’t know the truth (v.21-22)
- God has been with him all this time (V.23-26)
- God will hold his hand and be his guide (V.23-24)
- God will take him to glory (V.24)
- God will give him everything on earth he needs (v.25-26)
- God will make him strong (V.26)
God will do the same for you and I in our time of need; we just have to keep our eyes on the big picture.
By Pastor D. G. Hargrove
Senior Pastor, North Cities UPC
Here is an excerpt from Seeing the Big Picture