Do you have someplace you consider to be your “special place”? Perhaps it is a spot of great beauty or a place where something significant happened in your life. Maybe it is a spot where you can relax (and perhaps take a nap) like your favorite chair. Sometimes the home where we grew up is a special place because of warm memories.
For a Jew in the time of David that special place was the temple. It was at the temple where the Jew felt most able to connect with God. This morning we are going to look at one person’s desire to be in that special place. It is my hope that Psalm 84 will challenge us to cherish and to long more completely for the Lord.
There is some question as to the circumstance for the writing of this Psalm. Some believe it was written by a Pilgrim who was traveling to Jerusalem. Others believe it was written by a person who was for some reason kept from being able to get to the Temple and longed for what used to be.
The Psalm is titled, “A Psalm of (or for) the descendants of Korah”. James Montgomery Boice says the Sons of Korah were the designated Gatekeepers of the Temple. There job was similar to being the janitors of the temple. The Psalmist here tells us that he loved his job . . . not because of the work but because it gave him the opportunity to be near the Lord and serve Him.
The Psalm falls naturally into three parts,
- A Description of the Believer (1-4)
- The Impact of the Believer (5-8)
- The Heart of the Believer (9-12)
A Description of the Believer (1-4)
The first part of the Psalm describes the privilege of being regularly in God’s presence.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.
The author is saying he loved to be in the temple every day. He considered it an honor to serve the Lord of Heaven and of earth. He feels there is no better place on earth than to be near the Lord.
He loves being in the Lord’s presence so much that he envies the sparrows and swallows who get to live in the temple confines all the time. He wishes he could sing praises to God continually. He didn’t see his time at the temple as a duty but a delight.
It’s a wonderful sentiment and beautifully poetic. However, since the Temple no longer stands (it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and has never been rebuilt), what is this to us? What does this Psalm have to say to us?
Christians believe the reason the Temple has not been rebuilt is not because the Muslim Dome of the Rock Mosque stands on that site; it is because one greater than the Temple (Jesus) has come. Christians realize the physical Temple is no longer necessary. In fact, we now yearn for a different kind of dwelling with God.
We draw close to God through the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that WE are now the temple of God! Think about how the sons of Korah would have rejoiced to be us. Their wish would have been true. God is WITH us. We don’t have to make a pilgrimage to go see Him. He resides in every believer who has put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness and new life. We don’t have to get in the car to travel to some location to meet with God. We can meet with Him at any time and in any place because He inhabits the life of the believer as He used to inhabit the temple.
We “meet with Him” every time we gather with the church. Notice, I said gather “with” the church, rather than “at” the church. Jesus said whenever two or three gather in His name we can know that the Lord is in our midst. When we gather for worship God is with us in a special way. When God’s people get together God’s presence and power manifest themselves in a powerful way. There is a connection between believers that exists because of the presence of God’s Spirit. People who had been strangers find a strong bond in our common relationship in Christ.
I hope you have experienced this. Perhaps you have gone to a meeting, a concert, or even on a trip with people who were genuine followers of Christ. You may not have known those people before this event but as you talk with them you experience an intimacy and sense of connectedness that does not happen apart from Christ making us one.
We yearn for the day when we will dwell with God on the New Heaven and the New Earth. In Revelation 21 and 22 we are told that the new city on the new earth will not need a temple (or the sun, moon or stars). It will be a place where our light and life will come from the Lord in our midst.
You and I may get excited because we are going to see a musical artist perform. We invest our money for tickets, we are willing to travel, we arrive early, we look forward to the event and we are fully involved during the concert. If we get the chance to meet an artist, an athlete, or a prominent leader in our field we can sometimes get so excited that we become almost incoherent in our speech. The question we should ask is: Why are we not at least EQUALLY excited about being in the presence of the Lord? Where is our wonder? Where is our delight? Where is our sense of privilege? I can only conclude that the problem is that we do not appreciate the true greatness of God.
We have been granted a privilege that we do not appreciate.
The Impact of the Believer (5-8)
The Psalmist imagines the joy of those who are making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple. Muslims may make a trip to Mecca to stand in their holy place. Many Mormons make the trip to Nauvoo to be near one of the starting points of their faith. For the Jews, they made a journey to Jerusalem to be in the presence of the Lord at His temple. Listen to his words.
5 What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
6 When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
7 They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
8 O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, hear my prayer.
Listen, O God of Jacob.
The Psalmist says that the testimony, enthusiasm, and the faith of these people making heir pilgrimage to Jerusalem is infectious to every area through which they pass; even in the Valley of Weeping. The enthusiasm and love these people have for the Lord impacts the world around them.
Can the same be said of us? Does our relationship with God not only change us but also those around us? Is our enthusiasm joyfully infectious or is it toxic? Are people drawn to Christ because of us or are they repelled? Do they see our love for God as genuine or pretend? Do they see His strength and joy in us even in the hard times?
It is often in the “Valley of Weeping” that we reveal the strength and love of God most clearly as it is contrasted with the fear and panic of the world,
- In a Hospital Emergency room
- On the battlefield
- During a time of conflict
- In the rubble from a disaster or tragic circumstance
Please understand, I am not talking about people who mouth trite platitudes or Scripture passages (which just annoys people). I am talking about those who radiate genuine faith in and love for God. There is a sense of peace and strength you feel as soon as such people enter a room.
Even our journey to worship on a Sunday morning is a testimony to others. When people know that we give priority to God on a Sunday morning, when they hear us talk joyfully about worship, when we share with them what we learned in our time together, we too bring refreshment and blessing to those in the Valley of Weeping. Not everyone understands our focus and our commitment but they do notice.
The Heart of the Believer (9-12)
9 O God, look with favor upon the king, our shield!
Show favor to the one you have anointed.
10 A single day in your courts
is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.
He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
from those who do what is right
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
what joy for those who trust in you.
Though the Psalm is primarily about the author’s hunger to be near God he stops in verse 9 to pray for the King. Perhaps he understood that the key to continued freedom in worship depended on God continuing to show favor to the King. It is like us praying, “O Lord, please continue to bless and guide our leaders so that our freedom to worship you might continue without interruption.”
In verse 10 we reach what I believe is the high point of the Psalm. The author shares his passion for life. He says he would rather be a janitor serving in the presence of the Lord than living in a penthouse apart from God. He would rather live from paycheck to paycheck doing what God has called him to do than be rich and live apart from God. He says the most humble position (doorman) in the service of the Lord is better off than a celebrity, a high-paid executive with a great pension, or a person who is independently wealthy and can do whatever they desire.
This Son of Korah is not just saying that he loves his job. He loves the One whom He serves. We should all say this. In verse 11 the Psalmist is not describing a building or a place; he is describing the One who inhabits that place. I want you to love the Union Church not because of the building or the Pastor. I pray that you would come to love this place because you meet God here! This should be our passion. This should be the fuel and energizes our lives!
I can only speak from my own perspective. I don’t feel I have this kind of passion for the things of God. I recognize that my life is often characterized by discontent and that I am preoccupied with things that are temporary and really don’t matter at all. I see this in me but this isn’t the way I want to live! I want to grow in passion for the Savior who loves me. What can we learn to that end from this Psalm?
First, we should reflect more deeply on the greatness of God. Let’s go back to the one going to a concert, or the person heading to a sporting event of their favorite team, or even someone who is eager to attend a seminar of someone they greatly admire . . . think how we look forward to these things. We plan for these things. We budget for these things. We might even take time off of work for these things.
So, why do we often drag our feet when it comes to the things of the Lord? It would seem that we see the Lord as less significant as these other things. He has less impact on our lives. We do not have an appetite for God.
We must cultivate an appetite for God. I do not get excited about going to a concert if I don’t know the music of the person who is performing at the concert. However, when I know and like the artist I am much more eager to see and hear them in person. Is it possible that we do not get excited about our time with the Lord because we don’t really know Him?
Is it possible that your faith is superficial? You “do the church thing” but don’t really have any kind of relationship with God. If that is the case, I encourage you to give up “playing church” and begin to walk with Jesus. We do that by recognizing that we need help. We need someone to rescue us and that someone is Jesus. He is the perfect one who came to give His life as a payment for our sin. The Bible tells us that “anyone who receives Him will be given the right to become a child of God”. We become part of God’s family not by auditioning for the part, but by surrendering to Him. We become part of His family not by working harder but by acknowledging that our only hope is for Christ to work in and through us.
Have you done this? I hope you will stop right now and in the quiet of this place simply say, “Lord Jesus, I come to you and ask you to live in me, cleanse me, and make me new.”
Take some time today and appreciate the richness of your blessing in Christ. Stop and list what it means to be forgiven and made new in Christ. Stop and really think about what God has given us through Christ. Remind yourself of what drew you to Him to begin with and stir up the flame of passion and enthusiasm that has grown cold from inattention.
Second, serve God joyfully where you are. We spend a great deal of time wishing we: had more customers, had a bigger congregation, could build better facilities, had more money, owned more land, lived in a bigger home, were in better shape, had more education . . . the Psalmist didn’t have that attitude. Instead, he determined that he would serve the Lord in whatever capacity possible. He was content to be a doorkeeper if that is the work that God had for him to do.
Think about if you had the opportunity to work in some small role in the White House, or the Supreme Court, or even in the halls of Congress. Suppose you had the chance to take an entry level position with your favorite sports team or be a minor part of the crew of your favorite musical artist, or serve on the team of your favorite NASCAR driver. Would you take that job? You probably would do so because you would consider it an honor to be a part of these things in any way.
This is the attitude we should have in serving the Lord. Rather than wishing we could serve in some “significant way” we should be willing to serve in ANY way we can. We should be thrilled to be part of God’s team in any capacity. Practically, this would mean,
- That we represent the Lord well to the people God has placed in our lives: family members, co-workers, and community members rather than waiting for that opportunity to serve the Lord greatly!
- It means as a church that we continue to look for ways that we can share the message of Christ as our small town church rather than dreaming of becoming a megachurch so we can make a bigger “difference”.
- It means we will honor the Lord with the funds we have (remember the widows two coins?) rather than conclude that we can’t give enough to make a difference.
- It means we will view interruptions to our day by other people as divine appointments and opportunities from God, rather than as annoyances that keep us from doing what is important.
- It means we will stop seeing a division between doing what is best for our family and what is best for the Lord. We will understand that our primary responsibility is to lead our families in the way of the Lord! If we do this as the FIRST thing we will also be doing the BEST thing for our children and family.
- It means we will serve wholeheartedly wherever we are: in singing a hymn, playing music, teaching Sunday School, making repairs, showing acts of kindness, making meals, writing notes, greeting people, offering encouragement, making a visit, saying a prayer, sharing a smile, or whatever else we can do.
- It means we will stop being discouraged that we don’t “know more” and instead seek to learn more about the Lord and His Word every day. It means instead of bemoaning our lack of a powerful prayer life we will keep working at prayer. We will stop comparing ourselves to others and work on developing our own relationship with God.
The great blessing of life is not in what we do, it is found in who we serve. God invites us to be part of the building of His Kingdom. There is no greater opportunity and joy in the world. If we understand that fact we will be honored and happy to serve joyfully in any capacity possible.