What is the Good Life?
All of us have a vision of the good life - this picture of what we think it means to have arrived, to flourish, to succeed. What we find is that this vision of the good life propels and guides every decision we make throughout the day.
What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? What motivates you? What keeps you
going when you feel tired or gives you hope when things look bleak?
Oftentimes the vision of the good life that is truly driving us isn’t even a conscious thing.
That is why sometimes it helps to consider some questions to help us see what it is that is
ultimately driving us.
How do you define the good life? How do you define success? At the end of a day how do you decide if it was a good day or a bad day? What determines if a year was a successful year or a lost year? What are you looking forward too? What do you find yourself daydreaming about? What are your “If only’s?” If only I had a better job I would be happy, if only my kids would love Jesus and listen better, if only I could afford a nicer house, if only I was married or if only my marriage was a happy marriage. What are your if only’s?” What is there in your life that if you lost it you couldn’t imagine going forward? If I lost one of my children, if I lost my spouse, if I lost my job, if I lost my reputation, if I lost my freedom, what is there in your life that you couldn’t imagine having to live without.
These sorts of questions help us clarify how it is that we are understanding the good life.
Please make no mistake, it is your vision of the good life that is driving every decision that you make. And because of that its really important that we have a right vision of what the good life is.
We are going to look at Psalm 73 and listen as the Psalmist comes to
teach us what the good life looks like. You see Psalm 73 is what’s called a wisdom Psalm and
one of the purposes of the wisdom Psalms is to help us answer the question “What is the good life?”
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” - Psalm 73
The Psalmist begins Psalm 73 in vs 1 by saying something that has been ingrained in his
head since he was young. He says, “Surely God is good to Israel.” At the very core of what the Psalmist has been taught is that God is good to his people.
But that is as far as he gets before he finds himself running into a problem. You see what
the Psalmist can’t seem to understand is “If God is good to his people, then why isn’t he living the good life?”
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever wondered, “If God is really good to his
people than why is my life so hard?” If God is good than why did he let my parents get a
divorce? If God is really good than why is letting my children rebel? If God is really good to his people than why can’t I afford to pay the bills? If God is really good then why did my spouse leave me or why are my parents sick or why can’t I am I so lonely or depressed or anxious? Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions? If God is truly good to his people than why is life so hard, that is what the Psalmist can’t seem to understand.
But that isn’t all that he is struggling with. As he looks around another thing that the
Psalmist observes is that other people’s lives seem so easy. In verse 2-4 he writes, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked? For they have no pangs until death, their bodies are fat and sleek.” The Psalmist continues to complain about the prosperity of the wicked until he concludes in verse 12 by saying, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
Do you want to know how you are defining the good life? All you have to do is look at what you are envying.
We can tell that the Psalmist is defining the good life as a life of comfort and wealth and ease because these are the things that he is envying. And what the Psalmist can’t seem to get his mind around is why the wicked seem to have all these things and he doesn’t. Now its really important to understand that for the Psalmist this isn’t just about comfort or pleasure or wealth, for the Psalmist this situation is ultimately about the goodness of God. You see the Psalmist desperately wants to believe that God is good to his people, but he can’t seem to do it. He can’t believe that God is good to his people because he doesn’t believe
that he is living the good life.
Look at how this plays out in the life of the Psalmist. He says in verse 13 “All in vain I
have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been
stricken and rebuked every morning.” Do you see his logic? God is good to the pure in heart, so, I will keep my heart pure and then God will be good to me. And if God is good to me then he will give me the good life. And remember that for the Psalmist the good life was a life of comfort and ease and wealth.
But when the Psalmist looked around what he found is that it was the wicked who were
living the good life and not him. And when he realized that he found himself forced to conclude that he was wrong about God. God isn’t good to the pure in heart and all of his efforts have been in vain.
I think its important to take a moment and consider the flaw in the Psalmist logic that has
lead him to believe that God is not good to his people.
The flaw in his logic was his faulty definition of the good life. His misunderstanding of
the good life has lead him to envy the wicked and to doubt the very goodness of God.
It is impossible to believe that God is good if we don’t truly believe that we are living the good life.
Think about it, how could you truly believe that God was good if inside you felt like he was keeping you from the good life. We know God is in control of everything so if we aren’t living the good life it is ultimately because God is keeping us from it and you and I will never be able to truly trust in God as long as we think that he is holding out on us.
That was the lie that broke this world in the first place wasn’t it. The lie that Satan planted in Eve’s head that God was holding out on her. So the Psalmist has misdefined the good life and now he finds himself envying the wicked and doubting the very goodness of God. Inside he feels like all the effort he has put into following God has been in vain.
I wonder how many of you have ever felt this way? How many of you have ever wondered if following God was really worth it? You pour yourself out but never seem to get back as much as you put in. Of course these aren’t the kinds of feelings that we would ever share with another person. I mean Christians aren’t supposed to feel this way so we sort of push these
feelings down when they come up. That’s what the Psalmist tried to do. He tried to push them all down and figure them out on his own but he couldn’t. In verse 16 he says, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task…”
At this point the Psalmist found himself in grave danger of slipping. But then in verse 17
there was a turning point. However, the interesting thing is that the Psalmist circumstances don’t change at all. The wicked are still rich and he is still suffering. So what changed if it wasn’t his circumstances? Ultimately what changed was the Psalmist definition of the good life.
Verse 17 says, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” Standing there in the temple all of the sudden the Psalmist realized that he had misunderstood the good life. In that moment he realized that the wicked didn’t have it, even though they were rich, even though life was easy for them, even though they seemed so comfortable the Psalmist realized that they were on a slippery slope and that in a moment everything they lived for was going to come crashing down.
In vs 18-19 the Psalmist writes, “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them
fall into ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors.” In that moment the Psalmist realized that he had been envying people who were on their way to hell. Imagine his shock. Stunned he realizes what a fool he had been. In verse 21-22 he writes, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast towards you.” The Psalmist realized that his envy had been born out of ignorance and that it had turned him into a brute beast.
Unfortunately I have seen this same thing take place in my own life. A number of years
ago a woman from Arizona was passing through town and she visited our Friday night Bible
study at my house. As we talked I found out that she was actually a part of a new church plant
and immediately my face lit up. I love talking about church planting and inside I was genuinely excited for her. I asked her how long the church had been going and she said about 1 year. I wanted a picture of what their church was like so I said, “How many people are in the church.” She responded “About 200.” Now I definitely wasn’t expecting her to say such a big number so when I heard it I responded, “Wow, did you take a pretty big chore group from the mother church?” She said, “No, not really, we have just been growing like crazy ever since we started.”
Now the truth was that this was great news. God was growing this little church plant in
Arizona really fast and new people were coming from the community, this was amazing. But the truth is that something in my heart dropped when she told me about how big her church plant was. Something inside of me actually felt sad and all of my excitement about the conversation seemed to get sucked out of me. If I was being honest I would have to say that I would have felt happier if her church was smaller and looked more like ours. All I have to do is say this out loud to realize how brutish and ignorant I was that night. You see I was associating the good life with a fast growing church and I was struggling because as hard as we were working that isn’t what was happening.
It was envy that stole my joy that night and the envy had sprung up because I had misunderstood the good life.
That is what happened to the Psalmist, his misunderstanding of the good life led him to
act in a way that was brutish and ignorant towards God. And as the Psalmist began to come to grips with what he had done he realized that he wasn’t any better than the wicked. Looking down the Psalmist saw that he was standing on the very same slippery slope that
they were and like them he deserved to swept away utterly by terrors.
But somehow that isn’t what happened to him. Instead he said in vs. 23 “Nevertheless, I
am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and
afterward you will receive me to glory.” So what happened? How had the Psalmist survived when his feet began to slip? How had he escaped being destroyed in a moment for his ignorant envy and his brutish distrust? The Psalmist looked up and realized that God was by his side and that through it all he had been holding him up by the hand. All of the sudden he realized that the glory he craved wasn’t his own glory but God’s and that after guiding him through this life his God was going to welcome him into that glory forever.
At this point the Psalmist finds himself so overwhelmed that all he can do is worship. He
cries out in vs. 25-26
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And then in verse 28 he brings everything together in his conclusion by saying, “But for me it is good to be near God.” In the NASB it says, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” Do you see what has happened? The Psalmist whole perspective has changed and now he finally understands what the good life is. At the beginning of the Psalm there were lots of things on earth that the he desired besides God right? At the beginning of the Psalm he was very concerned about his flesh and the suffering he was going through. At the beginning of this Psalm he thought that the wicked were the ones who were enjoying the good life. But all that has changed now.
Now he knows the truth. He saw the wicked sliding down towards an eternity of suffering
and he knows that the only thing that kept him safe was that God was right their beside him
holding his hand. Finally he gets it. Finally he understands what the good life really looks like. That is why he says, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good.” Basically he is saying,
“As for me, the nearness of God is the good life.”
But how? I mean how could a holy God give a brute beast like him the good life? Isn’t
that one of the questions this Psalm leaves us asking? I mean it makes sense that God would be good to the pure in heart but how on earth could God be good to a man whose heart was embittered and who acted like a beast towards God. Haven’t you ever asked yourself that question? Haven’t you ever done something so brutish and ignorant that you wonder how God could possibly still love you? Haven’t you ever done something you never imagined possible and found yourself thinking, “How could God still be with me after this? How could he still hold my hand after all I have said and done against him? How is it possible for a holy God to offer sinners like you and me the good life? That is the question that this Psalm leaves us asking.
And for centuries God’s people waited to see exactly how God would answer this question. How would he relieve this massive tension? They waited until one day the sanctuary of
God left heaven and came to dwell among men. And unlike any other human being who ever lived Jesus was truly pure in heart. That means if anyone deserved the good life it was Jesus. And the Bible is clear that Jesus actually had been enjoying the good life for all eternity. John 1:18 tells us that Jesus had always dwelt at his Father’s side. Truly he knew better than anyone else what the nearness of God was like.
But Jesus left his Father’s side and he came to earth and he lived among the wicked. And
he watched them seemingly get away with everything. And like the Psalmist Jesus found himself stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But unlike the Psalmist he never complained and he refused to envy the wicked or distrust the goodness of his Father.
Still, he found himself standing in a slippery place. Within 5 days Jesus went from being
hailed as the Messiah in the temple to being crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem. And there on the cross Jesus found himself slipping; further and further he slipped down toward the dreadful wrath of God. And in the hour of his greatest trial, God the Father, who had always been by his side let go of his hand and Jesus found himself falling headlong into judgement. On the cross Jesus was swept away utterly by terrors. In that moment Jesus stopped living the good life as the nearness of God forsook him and he found himself suffering the judgement of the wicked all by himself. It was from that place that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Finally the tension of Psalm 73 is relieved.
The innocent Son of God gave up the good life so that he could offer it to brute beasts like us.
There at the cross the Father let go of Jesus' hand and allowed his only Son to slip into our judgement so that when our feet began to slip he could be there to hold us up. God turned his back on his only Son so that he might be continually with sinners like us. Jesus left the Father’s side so that he could bring us to it.
So, church know this for certain, truly God is good to his people. He is good to us. He gave his only Son so that you and I might not perish with the wicked but could instead experience eternal life. God is good to his people. He is good to us when we deserve it and when we don’t, he is good to us when we succeed and when we fail, he is good to us when people
love us and when they leave us, he is good to us when things go well and when they fall apart, he is there with us after our best day and on our worst.
You see the God who did not spare his own Son but freely offered him up for us all, that
God is good to his people. And if you really want to know what the good life is, the good life is to be near this God. The good life is to know that he is continually with you, that no matter what trials you may face he is there holding your hand and that he will never let you slip away from him. To know that as confusing as life might be your God is there to guide you and after all is said and done he will welcome you into his glory.
The first time I ever preached this Psalm was about 8 years ago. I remember the season as
if it were yesterday. My wife and I have never been able to have children on our own and one
Friday night about 8 years ago a homeless woman in our church asked us to adopt her little baby. She told us that she had been raped by her x-boyfriend and that she was six months pregnant. We said yes and began to take her to all her doctor appointments and look at ultrasounds and prepare ourselves for something we didn’t know if we would ever have, a little baby. We had a baby shower and began to prepare a place for the baby to stay. A few months later a little girl was born and we went to the hospital to pick her up. Her name was Cynthia. The first few weeks were really hard, she had to detox from some drugs that were in her system and she struggled to sleep at night. I remember holding her for hours each night trying to comfort her and get her to eat. By the time three weeks had gone by both my wife and I were pretty attached.
And then one night we got a phone call. It turns out that Cynthia’s birth mom wasn’t
raped and her dad had just got a new girlfriend and they wanted to raise the baby. So the social worker gave me his address and asked Abbey and I to take Cynthia and drop her and all of her stuff off at her dad’s house the next day at 10 am. I will never forget that last night holding Cynthia, soaking up each moment. And then in the morning we packed up everything we had bought for her and all the gifts she had been given in the van. And then we took some pictures and we put Cynthia in the van and drove her to her dad's.
When we got there I held her while her dad emptied the van and took everything inside.
And then I handed baby Cynthia to her father and my wife and I walked back to our van empty handed. I remember just sitting their in the van unable to move, surrounded by this heavy silence we cried together for a while. Yet even as we cried I couldn’t get this Psalm out of my head. I remember holding Abbey’s hand and looking into her eyes and saying, “Beautiful, the nearness of God is the good life. Do you hear me? You and me, you and me we already have the good life.”
God taught me that day that the good life isn’t having a baby, the good life isn’t having a
great family or a growing church, that day, alone in the car with red eyes and a broken heart I
knew that the good life was being near God. The good life is knowing that the best thing in heaven is Jesus and there is nothing on this earth we need beside him. Its remembering that our hearts and our flesh will fail but that our God is continually with us, holding us by the hand, guiding us with his counsel and getting ready to welcome us into glory.
So before we get any further along in our lives lets take some time this morning and
make sure that we rightly understand what the good life is. You see the Son of God didn’t shed his blood on the cross so that I could have a baby or so that you could have a bigger house or a better job or more obedient kids or a happier marriage. Jesus didn’t give up the good life so that we could enjoy a life of comfort and ease. Jesus gave up the good life so that he could take sinners like you and me and bring us back to God. That is the good life. It’s the kind of good life that can truly satisfy and that no circumstance can ever take from you.
Lets declare with the Psalmist, “But for me it is good to be near God.”
- Pastor Tim Cain, Kaleo Church