Psalm 86:11 Unite my heart to fear thy name.
The Psalmist’s prayer is that his heart be united in fear of God. Isn’t that what we want? A single focus which never deviates, around our creator who is worthy of our complete devotion. This brings up an obvious question, “what divides your heart?”. It’s an obvious question with an equally obvious answer, Life. Life divides my heart. Life clamors and disrupts. In your meditations, you learn of God’s will and his ways as much as you are able but as soon as you leave your room something is screaming for your attention and all of your being tells you that you would be an absolute fool if you did not devote all your attention right here right now.
The world has no place for God and his will and it will confront you with a choice every time. I once was talking with a soon-to-be single mother of two small children. She told me that Christianity sounded great “For you. But I’m living a real life here.” Of course, my life is as real as any other life on this planet, but her point was that she has enough on her plate and to her the Gospel was a luxury which had no bearing on what she was going through. Perhaps when life slowed down she could check it out. But life never slows down.
Psalm 73 is about uniting the divided heart. Psalm 73:1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. This Psalm starts with a statement which we would consider a truism. Everybody knows this and confesses this. Amen, brother, God is good. The phrase “pure in heart” is that same thought of a united heart. Pure means unadulterated, unmixed. As one writer says, “Purity of heart means to will one thing.” That one thing, with God as the hearts focus, is God’s will for the righteous life. For this we were created but fell from in our rebellion. The created purpose for our lives is still there and we are without excuse.
We have all heard of those people who are committed to one thing. They live, breath, eat whatever it is on which they have focused their lives (Such as the business owner who spends his every working hour at the business). Yet because they are not focused on God, they are not pure in heart. They have one will they are pursuing with all their lives and another they are desperately trying to ignore.
(2) But as for me, my feet were almost gone. My steps had nearly slipped. Having expressed the truism, the Psalmist admits that he had fallen from it. There was something which caused him to doubt God’s goodness and it divided his heart. Let’s look at his faltering steps.
(3) For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. The first step mentioned is envy. Other people are prosperous and the Psalmist thought that unfair. What follows is an distorted view of how the wicked were living.
(4) For there are no struggles in their death, but their strength is firm.
(5) They are free from burdens of men, neither are they plagued like other men. This is also what we witness every day. If we are honest we have to admit there are times we have looked at the wicked with equally rose-colored glasses. In this state, we never ask ourselves how true this view is. The wicked are not “free from the burdens of men”. They have had to live their lives with the same burdens as anybody. This tunnel vision is created by envy and envy divides the heart.
(6) Therefore pride is like a chain around their neck. Violence covers them like a garment.
(7) Their eyes bulge with fat. Their minds pass the limits of conceit.
(8) They scoff and speak with malice. In arrogance, they threaten oppression.
(9) They have set their mouth in the heavens. Their tongue walks through the earth.
(10) Therefore their people return to them, and they drink up waters of abundance.
(11) They say, “How does God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” The second thing I see here is righteous indignation. Out comes the “God talk”. He is piling on the evidence of how little the wicked deserves his prosperity. Not enough to be envious, the Psalmist needs to wrap himself in the cloak of righteousness to justify his envy. There may be a place for true righteous indignation but it’s not here. The Psalmists heart is divided. Whatever his relationship with God, Psalmist’s focus is his envy of the wicked. Though sounding pious, his piety goes through his divided heart and serves his envy.
(12) Behold, these are the wicked. Being always at ease, they increase in riches.
(13) Surely in vain I have cleansed my heart, and washed my hands in innocence,
(14) For all day long have I been plagued, and punished every morning. The third step found here is the Psalmist sinks into self-pity. “Surely in vain.” Why is it vain? Because somebody is prospering, you are tempted to say that it’s a waste of your life to serve God? This is self-pity, a view of the world where everything gets muddied by the central focus on yourself. Self-pity is an ugly thing and it shows a divided heart.
The Psalmist admits that he had lost sight of the truism found in verse one. The steps he outlines start with envy, goes into misplaced “righteous indignation” finally ending up in pathetic self-pity. How can one recover from that? The first step is surprising.
(15) If I had said, “I will speak thus;” behold, I would have betrayed the generation of your children. What first brings him up out of his funk over the prosperity of others is the fellowship of believers. He saw himself as a vital part of the congregation, one who has an effect on others within it. “If I were to give myself over to my divided heart, I would cause others to stumble.” In other words – and in answer to the question asked in Genesis 4 – we are our brother’s keepers. He looked at his fellow believers journey as tied up with his and he felt a sense of responsibility towards them. Truly, the way out of self focus is outward.
That, strikingly, is the first thing which brings him up short and causes him to rethink his thoughts. From there,
(16) When I tried to understand this, it was too painful for me;
(17) Until I entered God’s sanctuary, and considered their latter end.
(18) Surely you set them in slippery places. You throw them down to destruction.
(19) How they are suddenly destroyed! They are completely swept away with terrors.
(20) As a dream when one wakes up, so, Lord, when you awake, you will despise their fantasies. The Psalmist looks into God’s revelation and gets an eternal view of the wicked. The wicked may prosper and die an old age in their sleep with their loving families around them (the few of the wicked who get to do that) but that is not the end of the story. God has shown that he has a plan for those who despise him. It is the wicked who have acted in vain their whole lives. They are the ones who have lived a lie.
(21) For my soul was grieved. I was embittered in my heart.
(22) I was so senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you. In the sanctuary of God, the Psalmist also gets the eternal view on himself. His divided heart had taken his focus away from God. It was foolishness. But being God’s child there is another part of the eternal view.
(23) Nevertheless, I am continually with you. You have held my right hand.
(24) You will guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. The child of God is held by the hand of God. As stupid, as self centered, as I am, God brings me along to the end. And he will receive his child into glory. How can the child of God respond? By worship with the result of a heart reunited.
(25) Who do I have in heaven? There is no one on earth who I desire besides you.
(26) My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(27) For, behold, those who are far from you shall perish. You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to you. No longer is there the self-pity of thinking it is a waste to follow God. There is nothing on earth I desire besides God. However I stumble, He is my strength. However those wicked act, God will deal with them.
In close, there is another truism, and the renewed commitment of a united heart,
(28) But it is good for me to come close to God. I have made the Lord Yahweh my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.