Sustaining a Faithful Life
Sooner or later disciples have to come to terms with the fact being faithful doesn’t necessarily guarantee a carefree life. We hope that being kind, preparing a meal for the homeless, tutoring children, and advocating for social justice will insure that we are blessed for our efforts. However, we soon find out that life doesn’t work that way. Living a faithful life doesn’t mean that we don’t lose our health, our jobs and our friends. Accepting that is tough enough, but what really galls us is this: While we often suffer misfortune in spite of our faithfulness, we are aware that many people prosper who are selfish and narcissistic. Haven’t you ever been in a gathering where some self-absorbed fool is carrying on about his vacation homes, cars, and next exotic trips? Every fiber of your being shouts, “This isn’t fair! Here I am busting my butt to follow the way of Jesus, and this guy doesn’t care a bit about any of that, but he is the one living the high life, and he gets all the attention.”
What sustains us in a world like this? The experience of the person praying Psalm 73 can help us. This prayer begins with a fundamental statement of faith, “Truly God is good to Israel/to those who are pure in heart.” This statement affirms that God will bless those who are faithful. But very quickly the psalmist acknowledges one of the challenges of maintaining a faithful life: he sees the prosperity and misfortune-free existence of the wicked, who are haughty, malicious, and even oppressors. Not only that, they are even admired by others (v.4-10). In contrast to them, the faithful psalmist “has been afflicted all day long/and punished every morning” (v.14).
All of this is too much for the faithful person to bare. She realizes that if she keeps on lamenting the injustice of her situation, she is going to give up living the way of God. She also realizes that there is no way to make sense of this injustice: “When I tried to understand these things/it was too hard for me” (v.16). So what does the psalmist do now?
She goes to the “sanctuary of God” (v.17) and her act of worship helps her see her situation more clearly. In her worship she sees that the lives of the “wicked” have no enduring quality and will be long forgotten. In contrast, she rediscovers that the faithful person has what they really need—God: “Whom have I in heaven but you?/and having you I desire nothing upon earth” (v.25). The prosperity of the wicked will end up on the ash heap of history; the psalmist’s faithful life is caught up in a reality that never ends.
This Psalm describes the pattern of my life and many others. We try to live faithfully throughout the course of a week, and often wonder whether it was worth it. In spite of our faithfulness, we often have many struggles while the self-absorbed are doing quite well. Maybe we should just join them and leave the faithful path behind. Then we come to church—the sanctuary of God—on Sunday, and we see it all differently. We realize that despite all our frustrations we have the one thing we most desperately need—God. We realize that living faithfully is its own reward regardless of the consequences. And we realize that the attraction of the self-indulgent is fleeting at best. We discover anew what the psalmist knows: “It is good for me to be near God/I have made the Lord my refuge” (v.28).