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Slip Slidin' Away - Psalm 73
Singing the Songs of Zion
Slip Sliding Away
Psalm 73
In the mid-1970’s, a young man named Paul Simon wrote a song that was released as a single in 1977.  Backed up by The Oak Ridge Boys, "Slip Slidin' Away" went on to peak at #5 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.  The chorus is a rather eerie look at life and how many chose to live it. You’ll probably recognize the chorus:
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you're slip sliding away
The verses then go on to explore the various relationship of life as people search for meaning and fulfillment.
First, we meet a man who explains that his love for the woman in his life is so intense, he is in danger of losing his sense of self: "My love for you’s so overpowering/ I’m afraid that I will disappear." Imagine an ice cube in love with a lit candle-- the closer it gets, the smaller it becomes, until it is no longer ice at all, let alone a cube.
The second verse is about a woman who lives in regret. She has already lost herself. She's not a woman who "got married," she "became a wife." A good day, to her, is not even one that is "sunny," but simply one that "ain’t got no rain,” which is a pretty low standard for nice weather.
Meanwhile, when it does rain and she is stuck in the house, she simply wallows in regret: "I lie in bed/ And think of things that might have been.”
The third verse presents a father who intends to, but does not speak to his son.  "He came a long way/ Just to explain/ He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping/ Then he turned around and headed home again."
And although the dad reaches his “destination”, the child does not even know that his father was there and is left with all the questions he had before his father’s arrival. 
The last verse, which by the way, Simon did not want to include, but did at the insistence of the record company, is something of a conclusion to all these sad and difficult circumstances.
God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We work our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip sliding away
We spend our time planning when we have no control over God's plan for us. We have no control over natural disasters or elections or wars or Wall Street or diseases or accidents or most other things. We can be "gliding down the highway" in entirely the wrong direction, but it matters not, because we are simply “Slip Sliding Away”.
Have you ever felt like that, that no matter how you tried to make sense of life or justify your decisions or be happy, it seemed that things were slip sliding away?  We all live with that danger because sometimes life is hard and circumstances can become very tangled and if you live long enough, your faith is bound to be challenged many times.
Psalm 73 tells the story of a godly man who felt his faith was slip sliding away. And even though these words were written 3000 years ago, he very easily could have been a verse in Paul Simon’s song because they are as up-to-date as anything you will ever read. 
And it just may be possible that you find yourself today where the author of this psalm found himself when he penned this psalm.  If you have ever struggled with the perplexities of life, this is a psalm for you. If you ever felt your faith beginning to slip away, or feel today that you don’t know where to turn or what to do, I want you to tune in as we listening to one the Songs of Zion and learn about a godly man who faced what you are facing now.
At the top of the psalm, you’ll find a superscription that tells us this is a psalm by Asaph. We know from elsewhere in the Old Testament that he was a worship leader at the temple in Jerusalem during the days of King David. That is an important detail because the man who wrote this psalm is close to the worship of God. 
He was not a Sunday morning only Christian.  He knew what it was to be close to God, to enjoy that relationship and lead others to know and enjoy God as well.
 So what we have here is the view from the choir loft.  To those of us who are known as faithful committed Christians and leaders in the church, that should speak to us of the danger of slipping that comes with that position.  
This psalm has two parts: a question and an answer. In the first fourteen verses Asaph feels he is in danger of slipping as he wonders why the wicked seem to do so well in the world. Then in the last fourteen verses we see faith lead him back to a firm footing as he moves from despair and anger to peace and acceptance.
Let’s start with
1. The Doubt that Raises a Question
verses 1-14 (don’t read)
Asaph begins by confessing his near-fatal crisis of faith.
Verses 1-3
The key to the whole psalm comes in verse 3. “I envious of the boastful when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
I promise you, if you look hard enough, you can find someone, somewhere, who seems to be happier, more content, or better off, with a bigger salary, better health, fewer problems, a better life, a nicer home, a more successful career, with more friends, better connections, with more prestige, more money in the bank, and in general they just seem to be higher up the proverbial ladder than you are. 
Now understand, we live in a world that likes to keep score.  And we all have a place in the vast pecking order of society.  And what complicates things and keeps us up at night is that some of those people who seem to be “above” us aren’t very nice people. 
In fact, some of them are jerks, some are cheats, some are outright scoundrels and even scumbags, and yet they seem to be doing just fine. And I don’t know about you, but it’s galling enough to have to share space on the planet with people like that, much less know that they are better off and more successful and happier than I am. 
And sometimes we work with them, go to school with them, socialize with them, take orders from them, serve on committees with them, and sometimes we live next door to them or maybe in the same house with them. So all in all, it can be extremely frustrating to feel that in the great race of life, there are some sorry folk ahead of you. 
And that was Asaph’s problem. He looked around as we look around, and saw the inequity of life and how the wicked prosper and it just made his skin crawl.  After all, here he is serving God and leading the music and singing praises and it doesn’t seem to pay. 
But it gets even worse than that.  It’s not just the prosperity of the wicked, which is bad enough, but it’s the fact that while the wicked prosper, the righteous of God are suffering.  And to put that in purely theological terms, that stinks.
After all, if we really are God’s people who try however vainly and clumsily to do His will, if He really does love us like he says He does, then why in the world does he let the bad guys get away with murder and prosper while they’re doing it, while the good guys take it on the chin and struggle so much?
What possible good could be served by allowing justice to be turned upside down?  How can that possibly further the cause of God and enhance His reputation in the world? 
Lee Strobel, in his book, The Case for Faith, quotes Sheldon Vanauken who says:   
    “If only villains got broken backs or cancers, if only cheaters and crooks got Parkinson’s disease, we should see a sort of celestial justice in the universe. But as it is a sweet-tempered child lies dying of a brain tumor, a happy young wife sees her husband and child killed before her eyes by a drunken driver and we soundlessly scream at the stars. ’Why? Why?’”
*Why are evildoers raised to power while the righteous are imprisoned?
*Why did God let Chinese tyrants live to a ripe old age while godly pastors languished for years in slave labor camps?
*Why does a gifted missionary contract brain cancer in the midst of an effective ministry?
*Why do the tornadoes hit the elementary schools rather than the prisons? Why?
Notice how Asaph presents this picture of the prosperity of the wicked:
    1. Their health (v.4).  “Their bodies are healthy and strong.”
    2. Their “good” life (v. 5). “They are not plagued by human ills.”
    3. Their pride (v. 6). “Pride is their necklace.”
    4. Their prosperity (v. 7). “Their eyes bulge and have everything they could wish for”
    5. Their malicious words (v. 8). “They scoff, and speak with malice.”
    6. Their boastful words (v. 9). “Their mouths lay claim to heaven.”
    7. Their popularity (v. 10). “Their people turn to them.”
    8. Their blasphemy (v. 11). "They say, ‘How can God know?’”
    9. Their carefree life (v. 12a). “Always carefree.”
    10. Their wealth (v. 12a). “They increase in wealth.”
He’s exactly right!  Have you ever notice how the bad guys get all the good stuff?  That list is full of stunning details describing what life without God looks like.
And notice in particular verses 8-9 and 11.  They have no regard for God.  They scoff and make fun and ridicule the thought of a God to Whom they must answer.  What an indictment that is! They are the way they are, they like the way they are, and they seem to live without any guilt whatsoever.
And in fairness, that is not a description of every ungodly person, but it is a very precise portrait of a certain class of sinners and we’ve all known more than a few who fit that description.  And unfortunately, I’ve known more than a few who claimed to be Christians who fit that pattern also.
So what do we do about that?  It seems to me that Asaph, as good a man as he was, made three fundamental mistakes. And we very often make the same mistakes as well if we aren’t careful. 
First, he is.
  1. Judging only by what he sees. There is more to life than meets the eye. While it’s true that some of the wicked prosper some of the time, simple experience tells you that not all the wicked get away with it or else all the prisons would be empty. It is still true today that the way of transgressors is hard. 
He is also,
  1. Leaving God out of the equation. The Bible never denies that the wicked do on occasion prosper. Hebrews 11 speaks of the “pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25 KJV). People sin because they like it. But that is not the end of the story. The first bite of forbidden fruit may taste sweet, but the end is nothing but bitterness.  And remember, for the wicked this earth, it is the only heaven they will ever know.
Thirdly, Asaph is
  1. Forgetting about the life to come. In fact, as we will see, this is the insight that eventually brought Asaph back to his senses. God has ordained a day of judgment for the entire human race, and no one will escape. Even in this life the wicked often are punished, but those that aren’t go out into eternity to meet the God of justice who sees all things.
It is still “appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 KJV).
Asaph seems to hit bottom in
verses 13-14
Listen to those verses in the New Living Translation:   “Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?  Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain”
Have you ever felt like that?  “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, I might as well be your enemy. In fact, they seem to have it better than I do.”
He’s not being objective, but he is being totally honest with God.  We all want to look to heaven from time to time and yell, “So what’s going on up there?”
That’s when we need to remember that every time doubt raises a question, we need to let our
2. Faith Provides an Answer
verses 15-28 (don’t read)
Notice what Asaph says in
Verses 15-17
When he went into the sanctuary of God,
He realized that not everything needs to be shared with everyone. (verse 15)
Here what he’s saying?  It’s possible to talk too soon.  And what he’s saying is, “If I had just started shooting off my lip not knowing what was going on or understanding in a more spiritual way, I could have done damage to God’s people and cause. 
Sometimes we need to talk things out, but most of the time, w need to keep our thoughts to ourslef for a while and prayerfully think things through and let God and His Word, instead of our emotions guide what we say and when we say it. 
And for those of us who listen to people when they don’t wait to do that, we ought to be wise enough to not go around repeating what they’ve said. 
Listen:  you don’t have to post everything you’re thinking or hearing on Facebook.  Not everything needs a Twitter response.  I’m all for being honest with others, but there is a fine line between honesty and “loose talk.”
Not everybody needs to hear about how bad your day is and how unfair God is and how sorry the church is just because you’re having a bad day.  Whether you realize it or not, you’re not the only one having a bad day.  And it may be that you do harm to a fellow Christian who has enough troubles of their own just because you had the need to vent or your emotions were on a roller coaster or your hormones are in an uproar. 
Most of the time we won’t understand why things happen the way they do and we don’t know the full story. But there very well may be some things at play that you know nothing about. 
And most of the time we won’t get the answers we’re looking for.  Why does one man die while another man lives? Why does a reprobate get rich while some of the godly sink in abject poverty? Why did the tornado destroy this home and not the one next to it? How did that man never get caught cheating while another man plays by the rules and loses his job? These questions (and a million others like them) can never be fully answered this side of heaven.
Second, when he went to the sanctuary of God
He went to the right place to find an answer.
We see the great turning point in
verses 16-17
In God’s presence we see things differently. Did you ever think about how odd it must seem to the world outside for us to be here Sunday by Sunday worshipping God?  It’s not odd or radical at all for us because we’ve done it so long.  It’s what we do.  It’s expected and right that God’s people would gather to worship Him.  We know that here, in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, we find the answers that we need for the questions of life.    
But to the world outside, that must appear so odd.  Why in the world would we gather to worship and sing praises to a God?  Don’t we see what’s going on in the world around us?  If this God we say we believe in wanted His people to praise Him, then He really ought to do something about what’s happening outside the church walls!
I remember several years ago when we were in Duncan, our minister of music sang “His Eye is On the Sparrow”.  I had been trying to reach an old reprobate and she ahd been coming to church some and happened to be there that morning. 
On the way out, she said, “It looks to me like God ought to get his eyes off the damn sparrows and on the people who are hurting in this world.”
She spoke for multitudes who question the ways of God in the world. 
In the Roman Empire the early Christians were sometimes accused of atheism because they worshiped a God they could not see. They had no idols, they offered no sacrifices. When they met together, they sang and prayed, listened to the Word being read, and shared the Lord’s Supper. It was so utterly unlike what others did that it seemed heretical, dangerous, and atheistic. Rumors spread about these “Christ-followers” who worshiped a man who had been crucified and then had risen from the dead.
How preposterous!  It is absurd!  Who could believe such a thing?  But Asaph says, “I couldn’t make sense of what was happening around me until I went to church! Then, and only then did it all make sense! 
So what is it about worship that has the power to change our perception of life?
An Archbishop from years gone by named William Temple, in trying to define worship, wrote:
    To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,
    To feed the mind with the truth of God,
    To purge the imagination by the beauty of God,
    To open the heart to the love of God,
    To devote the will to the purpose of God.
That is so countercultural. You don’t get that by watching Fox News or ESPN or by following American Idol. Come to think of it, you won’t get that in the great universities of the world. Cambridge and Harvard can teach you how to think at a high level, but if you want to worship, you’ll need to go into the presence of God.
It is there where you will be equipped to go into the world and make a difference for the Kingdom of God.. By our prayers and by our music and by the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, by baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through fellowship and affirmation, by the singing of the choir, by the prayers of the saints, regardless of the setting and irrespective of style, every worship service ought to be a great object lesson to teach our people, “We are not like the world. This is who we are. This is why we exist. This is what we believe. This is how we live.”
And because the pressure of the world is so constantly with us, we must use every opportunity we have to fend off the wrong thinking of the world and appropriate to ourselves what worship did for Asaph.  It brought him back to his senses and helped him see what he had missed.
Third, when he went to the sanctuary of God,
He saw the end of the wicked and it was not a pretty sight
verses 18-20
They are on slippery ground.
They will be cast down and suddenly destroyed.
They will be swept away by terror.
They will vanish from the earth.
God’s message is, “Why would you envy the wicked? They’re going down!”  They don’t know it.  They don’t see it.  They don’t believe it.  But God has spoken and his Word cannot be broken.
The wicked will come to a bad end. They won’t be laughing and cheering and mocking and enjoying their cocktails and the high life, and they won’t be getting rich off their fraud in that terrible day. For the moment, they seem to have it good. But soon enough judgment day will come and when it comes, it will be sudden and unexpected.  Their destruction is complete and irreversible.  And God’s wrath is personal and inescapable.
Would you like to trade places with them? In 1719 Isaac Watts published a metrical version of Psalm 73. When he came to this part of the psalm, he wrote these lyrics:
     There, as in some prophetic glass,
         I saw the sinner’s feet
      High mounted on a slipp’ry place,
         Beside a fiery pit.
      I heard the wretch profanely boast,
         Till at thy frown he fell;
      His honors in a dream were lost,
         And he awakes in hell.
What a striking image that paints of the ultimate end of the wicked.  God is personally involved in their judgment.  Did you see that in verse 20?
It is God who despises their image.  He personally rejects the wicked. Because they had no time for him, he sends them to hell forever. Even now they stand on slippery ground and soon enough the trapdoor will open under them and down they go into everlasting punishment and separation from God.
In fact, if I were singing a song to illustrate this particular point, I’d choose one recorded by Johnny Cash called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.  It’s not as famous as some of his others but has a powerful message:
You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler,
The gambler,
The back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head's been wet with the midnight dew
I've been down on bended knee
talkin' to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel's feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, "John go do My will!"
Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin' in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What's down in the dark will be brought to the light
You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
See, the great thinker’s of every age, whether it is Asaph in the Psalms or Isaac Watts in the 1700’s or the late, great Johnny Cash, they’re all telling us the same thing.  Nobody’s getting by with anything. 
Of the religious hypocrites, Jesus said He would one day say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me”.
Fourth, when Asaph went into the sanctuary of God,
He saw how foolish he had been.
Verses 21-22
That’s what repentance looks like this. It recognizes the sin, calls it by name, goes to the root of the matter, and admits the truth. There is none of this talking in generalities of the forgiveness of God. 
Somehow, I’m afraid that we’ve become convinced that when we mess up all we’ve got to do is acknowledge that God is a forgiving God and we go on down the road as if nothing has happened. 

That is not a Biblical picture of forgiveness.  Forgiveness always acknowledges the sin before God and pleads for mercy, admitting we don’t deserve it, and begs God for forgiveness.
Asaph says, “I was so foolish and ignorant before you.”  One version says, “I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence.” That’s telling it like it is.
How quickly envy and bitterness corrupt the heart! They render us senseless and ignorant, no better than brute beasts.
Fifth, when he went to the sanctuary of God,
He gained a new view of God.
In one of the high moments of the Old Testament, Asaph looks forward to a day when he will be with the Lord forever:
Verses 23-26
Is that not a beautiful promise of God’s continuing protection in our life? 
There came a time when God took me by the hand, and with my hand in His, He continually guides Me through every experience of life until one day, He will take me home to be with Him forever!  I am never out of His care!  I am continually with Him! 
So what do the wicked have that can possibly match this? What can equal the personal presence of God Himself?  How can their counsel and wisdom ever take the place of the indwelling, constant, guidance and counsel of the Wisdom of the Ages?  How much is it worth to know that someday you will be with the Lord in glory?  And why would you want anything the world has to offer more than what He’s already given you? 
Listen:  What the world has means nothing!  All of their accumulated wealth means nothing.  I don’t care how fancy their cars or how big their homes or how immaculate their possessions!  The wealth of the wicked means nothing. Without God, without forgiveness, without heaven, they have nothing.
With God we have everything and always will have everything, no matter the outward circumstances of our lives.
It’s an amazing thing to be a Christian and it becomes even more astounding when you die because if you know Jesus, the best is yet to come.
Do you envy the wicked? How foolish, how shortsighted that is. They are like trash blown by the wind. Let them have their trinkets and toys.  Let them have their short moment in the sun.
For the wicked this earth is the only heaven they will ever know. For the righteous this earth is the only hell we will ever endure.
In the end we will discover that nothing on earth or in heaven is more desirable than God. We may die but even death itself cannot sever our relationship with God because it is as secure as God himself. As long as God is in his heaven, we will be with him in glory. And nobody can take that from us.
When we put our coming glory on the scales of eternity, the passing prosperity of the wicked amounts to nothing at all. To borrow a phrase from Jonathan Edwards, “The godly have a better portion even though all they have is God.” 
And Asaph didn’t figure all of that out until he went to church one day and saw God!  And that wasn’t all he saw.
Sixth, when he went to the sanctuary of God,
He saw the difference between the righteous and the wicked
Verses 27-28
We are going in different directions. The wicked will one day perish in hell, but the righteous know God now and will be with him forever.  There are only two roads in life.  One leads to God and Heaven, the other results in separation from God in a Devil’s Hell.  And you’re on one of those two roads.
You are either far from God and moving closer to hell every day, or you are on the road to glory which leads you ever nearer to God. 
This Psalm is a reminder that, in fact, there are many who are “Slip Sliding Away”, but it is not the child of God.  It is those who have no time nor regard for God who are in slippery places. 
The child of God couldn’t be more secure.  Even though we may feel like we are slipping away, we are held by the hand of God and eventually received up into glory. 
So every time you are tempted to look up into heaven and ask, “What’s going on up there?”, remind yourself of Asaph’s opening comment: 
 “Surely God is good to Israel” (v. 1).  He’s not nly good to Israel, He’s good to you also.
They say over on the west coast of England there is the grave of a man who was much loved by all who knew him. When he died, these words were inscribed on his headstone: “Here lies a man who was satisfied with Jesus.” Could that be said of you? Could it be said of me?
Faith chooses to believe that Jesus is Lord over every part of life, even the parts that make no sense at the moment. Make him your rock, your firm foundation, and you will never be “Slip Sliding Away.”
Let’s pray.
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