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.
There are two statements I find myself repeating over and over again. These are two things you need to remember about yourself and the people to whom you minister:
1. No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more.
2. Human beings don't live life based on the facts of their existence, but based on their interpretations of the facts.
Every human being is an interpreter. Everyone you pastor is as much a theologian as you are – most of them just don't know it. In some way every person is asking and answering deeply spiritual questions. Every human being is a philosopher. Everyone seeks to understand the meaning and purpose of life. Every human being is an analyst searching for understanding of the people, locations, and situations they encounter every day. Every human being is an archaeologist picking through the past, looking to understand where they've been, what they've experienced, and what they've done. No one actually lives thoughtlessly. They may be unaware of their thoughts. They may not be intellectual or academic, but everyone pushes life through the sieve of the personal worldview they've built for themselves. This worldview is authoritative and life shaping. It doesn't determine what we see so much as it determines how we see it. Your calling as a pastor is to interrupt peoples' private conversation with the clarity-providing, life-giving perspective of the gospel. This is hard to do if you aren't actively looking at life through the lens of the gospel in the private places where you live.
This interpretive function is called hermeneutics. You and everyone you pastor carry around a personal life hermeneutic – that is, a particular way of making sense out of life. Let me take this one step further. Our functional hermeneutic is what gives sense to our behavior. Everything we do and say has underlying meaning and purpose when understood from the vantage point of our worldview. For example, if I was raised believing that a certain race of people was dangerous, it would make sense for me to be afraid of them and to do everything I could do to avoid them. If I was convinced that coffee led to cancer, then it would make sense that I would restrict my intake of coffee. Our thoughts tend to precede and determine our behavior.
Asaph (the author of Psalm 73) had a bigger problem than jealousy and discouragement. His problem was rooted at a deeper level. Asaph's problem was a defective hermeneutic. His view of life lacked a crucial ingredient, so he couldn't make sense out of what was going on around him. Everywhere he looked it seemed that the bad guys were winning. The arrogant, proud, and lawless guys seemed to have all the wealth, health, pleasure, and ease. How could a just and holy God allow the bad guys to prosper and the good guys to suffer? Asaph began to wonder if it was worth it to obey God. There are times when we're tempted to do the same. He says in the psalm that he got so embittered that he was like a beast before God (Psalm 73:22). It's important for you to understand that many of the struggles you experience and see in others are also rooted in a defective hermeneutic.
Asaph was making a devastating interpretive error, and often we do too. His view of life was missing a piece that must be included in order to understand correctly what God is doing. Asaph's view of life had no destiny to it, no eternity it was marching toward. Without eternity, Asaph was right. If this present physical world is all we have, then all life is about what you can experience, acquire, and enjoy in the here and now. If this life is everything, then you'd expect a good God to bless those who follow him right here, right now, and curse those who mock him right here, right now. But this isn't all there is. From day one the world has always been marching toward a destination. Life was never meant to be understood and lived apart from this final destiny in view. You can only understand your life and help others understand theirs by acknowledging that this world isn't meant to be a destination. It's a place of preparation for a final destination.
You can't live with a destination mentality while expecting to experience all of God's good things right here, right now. You can't pastor others well if you've a destination mentality that forgets God will do whatever he needs to do in the here and now to assure that you'll be prepared for then. You can't live well or minister well with a destination mentality that tempts you to envy people who have what you don't, right here, right now, but who are marching towards an eternal disaster.
Pastor, you must live with a preparation mentality and teach those under your care to do the same. The trials, injustices, and hardships of today do two things for you and me. Every day they remind us that this isn't our final destination. When you look around at all the personal and societal brokenness, you must remember that the God who made this world and everything in it is the definition of everything that's good, wise, loving, and true. He couldn't be satisfied with the world as it is. The trials of today remind us that our God has promised to one day make all things new. But there's another thing the difficulties of today do for you and me. They drive us to the end of ourselves. They drive us and those we pastor beyond our autonomy and self-sufficiency. They drive us beyond our own righteousness, strength, and wisdom. And in so doing, they begin to mold us for what God intends us to be doing: preparing for our final home.
Today, you and the people under your care will look somewhere, and it will seem as though the bad guys are winning. When this happens, you need to put on your destiny glasses and look again. Grace has given you and those you serve something better than "winners" are now experiencing. Grace has given you eternity – a destination so glorious the most eloquent words couldn't do it justice.