“But as for me, my feet almost slipped, I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3)
I was given my favorite cookbook decades ago, and its pages continue to give me inspiration in my cooking. It is published by the Mennonites and is called “More with Less Cooking.” As the craziness of the season swirls in all its fury around us, I thought this was a fitting approach for us to consider.
We all get discouraged in our faith. The path we walk is rarely how we imagined or hoped. We live in a fallen world, and that fallenness is embedded within us. We all struggle. We all question. We all raise our voices to the heavens and scream, “why?” We’re not denying God’s love for us, nor does it indicate a loss of faith. It is how our relationships go with the Lord. This is the reason the Psalms are important for us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the psalms the “prayerbook of the Bible.” Here we find how to articulate the deep prayers of our soul. The psalms cover the full range of human life, even the normalcy of our questions and discouragements; they teach us how to voice our complaints honestly and faithfully.
Psalm 73 is a wonderful example of this. The psalmist reflects on the apparent ease and prosperity of the wicked while he, although faithful to God, languishes. Have you ever felt that? Mass media bombards us with prideful arrogance, violence, or oppression. The rich and famous are seen as the elite to follow, and Hollywood boasts the good life. The world exalts these people as “carefree in the constant amassing of wealth” (Psalm 73:12). Is this fair? Hardly. Is this right? Absolutely not. Yet this causes us to dream that we could be like them. And underneath it all is the quiet lament that we feel so deeply, but never express: “Why them and not me?”
“Why, O Lord?” It’s a wonderful prayer to pray. It conveys the deepest feelings of heart and soul. The Lord is not offended by such questions. Our complaints do not discredit our faith nor do our struggles cast us from God’s good graces. Expressing our complaints to the Lord unites us to him in a deeper way. God is the one who journeys with us in the messiest of places. Even when our own hearts fail, God is the strength of our hearts (Psalm 73:26). God is faithful to us, even if we can’t see it.
Leaving our complaints unexplored does us no spiritual good. To do so is to avoid meeting God in life’s unpleasantness. Thus, instead of avoiding these feelings, complaints, and questions, we should engage them. As we come to him in faith, God welcomes us to share the rawness of our lives, daring to believe that we will be received in love and grace. After all, why mask how we truly feel when the Lord knows it all anyway?
We pray for our joys and our sorrows, our victories and our struggles. Through it all, we rest upon the divine promise that the Lord is our refuge. Psalm 73 ends with an important reminder. “It is good for me to be near God” (verse 28).
Our faith is not lived through gritting our teeth and pretending that we do not hurt. Instead, we pray, honestly. We join in the psalms. Despite the ups and downs of life, we dare to believe that it is good for us to voice our complaints before God. After all, our spiritual life is not a Disney movie where things get wrapped up neatly at the end. No, we live real lives, and because we live real lives, we may have real heartbreaks, laments, or complaints. But our God is the God of real life, who dwells with us in real struggles.
That is the message we proclaim, especially at this time of year. Immanuel, God with us, “come to earth to taste our sadness…” Won’t you lay aside the noise and craziness of the season and gaze in wonder at the one who came “to set his people free?” It is trite but true – Jesus is the reason for the season. And the reason for our entire existence. Look to him today.