The Psalm 73 Cycle

I’ve heard it said that genius is being able to see patterns that exist and insanity is seeing patterns that don’t. So, this is your opportunity to give me a label.

I think there is a spiritual cycle in life that is evidenced in a repeatable pattern in the Psalms. The pattern is displayed differently, in whole or in part, in a wide variety of the 150 Psalms, but I see it most clearly in Psalm 73.

This was the text for one of the very first sermons I preached more than 2 decades ago and has been an echoing theme in my heart and life for as many years.

Here’s a snapshot of the pattern I think most of us experience regularly:

  1. God is good/Life is good
  2. Things change and life gets hard
  3. Faith weakens/we struggle
  4. God shows up (either to bless or discipline)
  5. God is good/Life is good

The key benefit to recognizing this pattern in our lives is two fold.

First, when we are in the middle of the struggle, it reminds us that God was good, is good and will always be good. Things will change.

Second, it reminds us that when things are good and we have no struggles… things will change. Get ready.

Let’s detail the process.

1. God is good/Life is good

 The starting point of the process is what we might refer to as normal. Things are good, we are at peace and we’d like things to stay right where they are.

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart. (Psalm 73)

It’s interesting to note that this first step in the process is only connected to one verse of Scripture. I think it’s true that “normal” whatever that is, is really not that normal… it doesn’t last that long.

2. Things change and life gets hard

This is actually the norm. Nothing stays the same and we are called to adjust. In relationships, at work, in our own homes and around the world, things are always transforming. Good change, bad change, neutral change… the descriptor does not matter. Change always alters us, our ways and our world. It’s never easy.

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.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (Psalm 73)

Change usually leads to a period of confusion, anxiety and frustration. We often respond with fear, anger, blaming or any variety of attempts to hide!

This is a part of the process.

3. Faith weakens/we struggle

We finally yield and understand that we can’t make decisions for other people, we can’t alter the laws of physics, we can’t do most things that we know would make the world a better place (or at least produce a world in our own image).

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.(Psalm 73)

It’s at this point we stop conflicting with the world around us and start conflicting internally; a faith/belief/motivation struggle.

This often feels like the end, but do NOT forget… it’s a part of the process.

4. God shows up (either to bless or to discipline)

The next step is “teacher time.” God shows up in your life and/or circumstances and He begins to move you down the path to resolution.

The only problem is that He will either do this through blessing or discipline. What determines which method He uses? You do.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.(Psalm 73)

If we have been faithfully pursuing God through the dark days of our life, then His appearing is a glorius blessing. If we haven’t, then His entrance upon our life is one of those moments you remember from grade school… when the teacher caught you red handed passing the note, looking off your neighbor’s paper, or pulling that girl’s hair.


5. God is good/Life is good

The end is just like the beginning. Whether God blesses you back into His presence, or you need a little trip to that heavenly Principal’s office, God invites you back into His presence for another brief bout of abnormal normalcy.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 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)

Ahhhhh… back to where life feels so good. But, have no fear… things will change.

That’s the normal process.

So, what’s the verdict? Genius or insanity?

The Psalm 73 pattern (I believe) is a reality. But, even if it does exist, what good does it do to see it?

Here’s the benefit… when life is hard, confusing, difficult and seemingly out of control, just remember it’s part of the process.

God is moving, shaping and working, both outside and within you. He’ll be inviting you back to His presence, whether through blessing or discipline… and the “not so normal” will return… for a while at least.

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