Dwelling in Defeat
“Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles[c] from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place.”
Luke 24:13-14 (CSB)
“. . . 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.”
Philippians 4:8 (CSB)
It’s amazing how quickly things change.
It was only a week ago that everything seemed to be heading in the right direction. A Kingdom seemingly being established. The long-awaited promise fulfilled. But, then it happened. A bitter betrayal. An abusive trial. A cross. And then, He was dead. Jesus. The one in whom they’d placed their trust, their hopes, their dreams. The cross had punctured the promise they had believed. All of creation had been living under the shadow of the cross. Angels wept. Demons danced as the tomb was sealed. The Romans stood guard. And, the disciples scattered. So, we meet two . . .
Dwelling in defeat.
Feet that once followed in the footsteps of their teacher were now dragging down a path of their own. Once, it was a road that led to an exciting new world, a bright future. It was the right road. But, today it seems mundane, maybe even meaningless—because they were headed in the wrong direction. All hope appeared to be gone. So, they were attempting to go back to how life used to be. Back to where it all began. They were headed away from the promise.
The feeling of lost hope is a common one. Discouragement visits all mankind. It’s known by the mother who is left to raise her children on her own in a seemingly man’s world. It visits the college student whose funds have ran out and the pursuit of a degree comes to a sudden end. It’s understood by the professional who is passed by for a promotion that he was counting on. Lost hope and discouragement is a reality that is familiar to all people. Always has been. Always will be.
Have you ever wanted to quit?
I confess: I have. In fact, not too long ago, I was there. It was mid-August in a summer that was filled with camp meetings. These camps can be exhilarating. Think about it, what could be more exciting than days of focused attention on Jesus? You could say it is a time of spiritual recharging! And yet, at the same time, exhausting: Both physically and emotionally draining.
That was me. It was the middle of a 10-day camp, in an outdoor tabernacle, with 2-3 services a day. The temperatures were near 100, so I was preaching to people who were in a heat coma . . . Their response, in my own mind, was not what it should’ve been. I was drained and it was very discouraging!
One night during this camp I was lying in bed, in my primitive surroundings, and thinking about what else I was qualified to do. I was ready to quit. I’ve been a fulltime itinerant speaker for nearly 20 years. My degree is in religion, which isn’t much use outside the church. But, I was tired. And, when I’m tired, I’m moody and I lose sight of the big picture. I was in the right place—where I needed to be—just focusing on all the wrong things. You could say I was headed in the wrong direction.
That’s when God reminded me of Psalm 73. It was what I needed. He knew that. And, I’m thankful that He did exactly when I needed!
By the way, I didn’t quit. I don’t intend to.
Psalm 73 is perhaps one of the most authentic passages we find in the Old Testament. Authentic in the sense that it drips with raw emotion, honesty. We meet a man, we enter his struggle, and we realize the solution.
His name is Asaph. And, Asaph is not just any ordinary man. He had a special call upon his life. Being a Levite he was from that tribe of Israel that served a special role. The work of ministering in the sanctuary had been assigned to this tribe. Asaph, was appointed by King David, as one of the men in charge of the music in the temple after the Ark of the Covenant came to rest there. They would worship in song in front of the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, until Solomon built the Temple (1 Chronicles 6:31-39). He was a musician. He was a worshipper. He was called to usher in the Presence of God with his worship, with his song. But, sometimes the music doesn’t come and worshippers lose their song. This was Asaph.
You could say that his worshipful melody had been replaced by a discouraged melancholy. And, this has almost become his downfall. As a worshipper, his attention had been and should have been captured by God. After all, this is the true object of genuine praise. However, his attention had been captured by something else. He began to focus on other things and found himself in deep despair.
What was his struggle? People. Well, wicked people. He began to look at the world around him and noticed that these wicked people were prospering. In fact, listening to the first half of his psalm would lead us to believe that everything was going their way. You hear his bewilderment as he states that “. . . they’re not troubled as other men . . . their bodies are well fed . . . they’re not afflicted like most people . . .” Get the point? You really see how low he has gone when you read in verse 4 as he states, “They have an easy time until they die!”
It’s so important to avoid the trap into which Asaph has fallen. When you’re in that pit it can be very hard to climb out.
What is that trap? Simply put, comparing ourselves or our situations to others. When we begin to focus on those around us it’s a losing battle. There is simply no way to win the comparison game. There is only one of two outcomes. We either become prideful, thankful that we’re not like the ‘other’ guy (remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:11). Or, we’ll start to feel sorry for ourselves, as if we’re not good enough. Honestly, it’s the same problem either way: Pride.
Asaph’s pride was hurt and it brought him to the lowest point in a worshipper’s life. Hear his heart in verse 13: “Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?”.
Pause here for a moment. That’s a heartbreaking phrase. Is it worth it? Is it all for nothing? Is it all in vain. Can you see where Asaph is living?
Dwelling in defeat.
He’s right there. But, he refuses to stay. As you read the second half of the same you see that he finds resolution. He decides not to dwell in his misery that he created by focusing on all the wrong things. He takes responsibility for what has happened in verse 22 when he exclaims, “I was stupid!” and gets back to what he was called to be, who he was: A worshipper. Everything changed when he decided to “. . . enter God’s sanctuary” (v17). That’s the decision that changed it all. Proper perspective. Renewed Focus.
There is something about worship, true worship, that draws our attention from ourselves, the world around us to One much great. Perspective comes when we lift our gaze from the temporal to the Eternal. Focus clears when we look past the finite to the infinite.
Let’s get personal for a minute: Where’s your focus? Have you ever wondered what you created for? What purpose you serve? Where do you allow your heart and mind to dwell? Here’s a reminder: You were made in God’s image, to be filled with His spirit, for a loving relationship with Him. In other words, you were made for worship. Fill your mind with this. Because, whatever we choose to dwell in our minds is where we will eventually live. Choose to worship, focus on Him. We need that reminder. When we fail to fulfill our purpose, we feel purposeless. And, when we fall into that trap, we begin to wonder if it’s even worth it.
Like these disciples.
They had left everything to follow him. They had built expectations that now seem unfulfilled. And, now it seemed to be over. They are on the right road. But, they’re headed in the wrong direction.
On a day when they should have been living in the light and life of a risen Savior, they were dwelling in the darkness of defeat. When their gaze should have been focused on the Promise of the Kingdom they were trapped by the distractions of the world. This brought them to their lowest point.
Dwelling in defeat.
They’re going back to where it all began—back to life as it once was, before Him. But, how can things ever be the same when you’ve looked in His face? How could they be satisfied with how it used to be? They’ve resigned themselves to this new reality. But, things are about to change. On this journey, there is going to be an unexpected encounter.
Let’s join them.