Emotions give the impression to just appear with a like-minded mood. Actions can be thought through. Moments contemplated. Alternatives evaluated. However, we cannot always control our thoughts; thoughts just happen. The objective of Scripture is to awaken within us new thoughts that shape the trajectory of our heart. In the pages of the Bible, a spectrum of frames of mind, and emotions are often honestly raw, and full of imagery perfectly phrased to expose the imagination. There is a narrative arch to the Scriptures that are meant to draw us in, words of life meant to jolt the conscious heart. The Scriptures do not just happen to be a coincidental continuum of precept upon precept. It is intimate with the realities of what it means to be human with a mind and heart.
For our Bible time this year, the kids and I have been sauntering through the book of Psalms. In lyrical language the pinnacle prose of the Psalms portray the experiences of life. This book of Songs is the byproduct of minds and hearts churning in the midst of all the “voices” of the world infiltrating into the scope of truth and how we should respond to them.
My thoughts can ground me like a boulder, or become like an iceberg cut off, and sent on a solitary drift to collide into a merchant of the times, or melt into the currents of the age. Exact thoughts I cannot control, they come and go. Good and evil. Restful and edgy. What can be done? The choice is how I handle them. I can fester or flush out a thought. I can renew my thoughts to what is higher than I or relegate to what is common.
At the beginning of Book III of the Psalms, Asaph captures the dilemma of a Christian’s turmoil, the rambling of thoughts, with powerful phrases worthy of our attention. Even my children picked up on the vivid descriptive depths of Asaph’s temptation with a distracted mind. Simple, serious truths. In 2 Chronicles 29:30 Asaph is referred to as a seer, a prophetic songwriter. Asaph wrote about that which he saw, and what remained unseen, faith.
Asaph is historically credited with Psalm 73. He starts the song out with a precept in contrast to his reality.
“God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.” (v. 1)
“I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (v. 3)
In other words, Asaph lays out the precept God is good. He resents that the big-headed, conceited, egotistical people are successful, magnificently enjoying luxuries of the day, and having good fortune. Yes, God is good, but where is He? “How long O Lord?” is the words of other prophets.
Catch hold of Asaph’s phraseology for these people (v. 4-9):
- an easy time
- bodies are corpulent
- suffering and toil don’t distract them
- Pride is their necklace (the visible show)
- Violence, and oppression are put on like fashionable clothes
- Eyes bulge out at the continual buffet of abundance
- Imaginations run wild in insatiable determination to get more
- Entitlement is their excuse to extort from others
- Words deride restraint
- Antagonistic to the highest of heavens
- Charming tongues that strut across the earth
Yes, my children were very engaged as we talked about what those images looked like. Asaph’s way with words wiggled lose their imaginations with the Pictionary like characteristics he chose to flush out his thoughts before God. But Asaph was not trying to strike a comedian run stage. He had thoughts festering: envy, bitterness, doubt, and frustration.
Asaph was drained out by the questions of the raging voices of his day,
- “How can God know?” (v. 11)
- “Does the Most High know everything?” (v. 11)
This is where Asaph doesn’t ignore his doubt or shake off the relevancy of these questions. He flushes them out through reflection.
“Do I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?” (v. 13).
Asaph was floundering and had to gain traction, being inundated with thoughts. What was his position? How was he benefited by his actions? Was it all for nothing?
Catch hold of Asaph’s phraseology for himself (v. 13-14):
- Live morally pure before men and God
- Hands free from guilt
- Having to argue his defense to maintain what is right
- Traumatized with unwanted circumstances & spiteful feelings
Verse 16 is a climatic transition. When Asaph tried to gain the knowledge of the good and evil he found himself miserable. Hopelessly miserable. Why should this sound familiar to us? In fact, Asaph helps us understand Eve better! He suffered the same temptation to see knowledge as the end. “If only I could know all things, then I would be a god.” We are dependent on God for more than knowledge. God is so much more than mere knowledge can satisfy.
But, Asaph had to position his body, mind, and soul into the sacred place. The Seer needed to renew his mind toward the holy, the unseen.
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (CSB)
“The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:5-9 (CSB)
2 Corinthians 4:15-18; Ephesians 4: 19-24; Colossians 3:2-17
An excellent mind is a renewed mind, a mind that after interruptions seeks to resume with a sense of being revived.
Asaph shifted his thoughts from the sense of reality to the scope of reality.
“Then I understood their end.” (v. 17) Asaph uses a prophetic phrase to take the singer to the final period of history that his perspective, as the songwriter, could reach. The concept of eternity. Asaph ends in worship of the aim of the Highest of Heaven, to dwell in “God’s presence is my good” (v. 28).
Asaph leaves us with the precepts of a renew mind, and the lesson to learn to guard our hearts in the moment, so that when temptations come we do not forget eternity.
The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers, provides us with a prayer that is most fitting after meditating on Asaph’s spiritual song of worship in Psalm 73.
A Disciple’s Renewal
O MY SAVIOR,
I am so slow to learn,
so prone to forget,
so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be
on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil hear of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace
so that there may be
more decision in my character,
more vigour in my purpose
more elevation in my life,
more fervor in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the Creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee
until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of kings
and Lord of lords,
that I may live victoriously,
and in victory attain my end.