Seeking not religion but the living God
Psalms for seeking God, the LORD, who is the Father, the Son and the Holy
The human being can do nothing more noble and more useful than to seek to
know God, the living God, the Creator, Redeemer and Judge of the universe.
Yet this is so often the last rather than the first choice of many of us.
For Episcopalians and Anglicans, who follow the religious news, there is
much excitement at the present time, because of the varied events which
may eventually lead to the possible break-up of the Anglican Communion of
Churches and the formation of possible two Anglican Families, a
traditional one and a progressively liberal one. In fact, there is so much
going on in the USA and Canada, at Lambeth Pa lace and in meetings in
Africa and elsewhere, that keeping up with all the news is a full time
One possible sad, even tragic, consequence of all this is that some of us
– perhaps too many of us – are seeking after ecclesiastical news and
insights as a form of religious quest, and are thereby leaving very little
space and time in our lives for seeking after the Lord our God; who is the
Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy
One way that both the devil and our own fallen natures (‘the flesh”) lead
us astray is to tell us that we are serving God by being involved in
religious pursuits, even such as do not have the character of genuine good
works, inspired by faith working through love for people. So one real
temptation to which possibly too many of us have fallen is to think that
time spent on following religious controversy can count as the equivalent
of time spent seeking the presence of Father through the Lord Jesus Christ
in the Spirit.
If this temptation has come our way only once, it is worth facing it and
the possibility of more like it, by definite, spiritual discipline –
meditating and praying with the Psalmist as he sought to be in the
Presence of God in the Temple.
There are several Psalms which capture for us the profound desire of
members of God’s covenant people to be with him and to feel and know his
Presence. Of these we may mention Psalms 42. 43, 46, 48 and 84. As
Christians we may pray these in, with and through Jesus Christ, who
radiated in his manhood the Presence of God; and when we pray them, as
within the Body of Christ, we ask that to us the glory of the Father shall
be made known in the face of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Let us look at 42 with 43 and then 84.
Psalms 42 & 43
It is generally recognized that these two Psalms are in fact one lyric in
which are three stanzas and a refrain (42:5, 11 & 43:5). The writer, a
singer in the Temple, has been removed from Jerusalem and the Temple and
is being detained many miles away from that holy place. It is probable
that he is in the far north of the land near Mount Hermon, where the
sources of the river Jordan are found (42:6-7). The separation from God
and from the stirring liturgical ritual, which he intensely felt, is much
more than geographical. He also suspects that God has left him alone and
this feeling of isolation was aggravated by the taunts and jibes of some
people around him (42:3 & 10). He was gripped by an overwhelming desire to
return to the Temple where so often in the past he had known the Presence
of the God (Elohim) of Israel.
This deeply moving lament of a pious Israelite, expressed before Elohim,
becomes for the baptized Christian believer a means of profound prayerful
meditation and self examination, with urgent petition to the Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ – see below in “Application.”
Let us notice in particular in this lyric, the refrain (which is a
soliloquy), and then the profound longing for the courts of the Lord and
his Presence therein.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him
My help and my God.
Talking to oneself as a means of meditation and encouragement is found in
other Psalms as well (see 62:2; 103:1; 116:7; 142:4; 143:4). A dialogue
with one’s own soul has also been a method of godly meditation recommended
by the saints in Christian history. It is most valuable today when used
with care. There is the further point that this dialogue may have been in
the mind of the Lord Jesus as he agonized in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38;
but see also John 12:27f.).
In this case the poet has good reason to talk to himself for he is very
conscious of how he feels due to his separation from the Temple and the
divine Presence; and, at the same time, he is sufficiently knowledgeable
in the revelation from the God of Israel that he knows what he must do in
this period of personal desolation (cf., “the dark night of the soul” in
R.C. spirituality). As a man of deep convictions and also as a creature of
change, he must actively hope in God, for certainly, sooner or later, he
will join in the praise of Elohim of Israel, who is his Savior and his
God. And he has to repeat this message to himself no less than three times
(43:8, 11; 44:5). However, its third occurrence at the very end of the
whole lyric (44:5), following the positive expressions of 44:4 (“I will go
to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy”), suggests that it has
become now no longer merely a lament with hope, but rather a statement in
humility of confident patience that he will certainly enter the courts of
Now we turn to the poet’s deep desire to know and to be in the Presence of
Elohim in the Temple.
As a hart longs for flowing streams,
So longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
The picture is of a very thirsty deer (doe) in a period of drought
desperately searching for streams of water (now dried up). So this poet is
in heart and mind profoundly thirsty for God and longing to be in his
Presence and know him as the living God. So, he asks, “When shall I begin
to drink in deeply the Presence of God?” Later he exclaims unto heaven:
Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
Let them lead me,
Let them bring me to thy holy hill
And to thy dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God.
So as to be absolutely sure that he really gets to the Temple and, getting
there, enters its courts in the right frame of heart and mind, he prays
for two guides – God’s light (the Light of his Presence) and God’s truth
(as revealed in the Law [Torah]). He knows that by taking this holy route
to Jerusalem, he will be able in the right spirit to participate in the
services of the Temple, and, doing so, know exceeding joy in the divine
Presence, as he joins in the singing of the praise of God, accompanied by
the stringed instruments.
However, having come to this position of faith and hope, he is able, as he
waits to get to Jerusalem, to know aspects of the Presence and blessings
of God where he is before actually being in Jerusalem.
If a person living under the old covenant desired so deeply to be in the
Presence of the God of Israel and to be engaged in spiritual worship of
him, then, surely, a person living in the new covenant, with God as his
Father and Christ as his Savior and Lord, ought to have at least the same
intensity of desire to live continually in the Presence of God. and to
engage in worship that is “in spirit and in truth” and which magnifies and
praises the Holy Trinity.
If our desire does not match his, then let us enter into what he wrote
initially for himself but also (in divine providence) for us; and let us
ask the Lord our God in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make it the
means of the sure increasing of our desiring and longing to be in the
Presence of God and to glorify him continually.
If our desire does not exceed his, then let us with him engage in
self-examination, soliloquy and meditation before the Lord, so that our
souls, becoming the more thirsty for God, will desire knowledge of and
communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the more.
Once again we have a poem from a singer in the Temple as he expresses
longing for the Temple and even more for the Presence of God. The
home-sick man deeply desires to return to his beloved work as a singer of
the praises of God in the liturgy of the house of the LORD of hosts in
Jerusalem. (The expression “LORD of hosts” is used about 300 times in the
RSV of the O.T. and points to God, the Creator, as Head and Lord over the
angels and archangels, and thus as God Almighty.)
How lovely is thy dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and flesh sing for joy
To the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young,
At thy altars, O LORD of hosts,
My king and my God.
The Temple was a magnificent complex with many parts. For the Psalmist it
is lovely – full of divine love – because it is the place where the LORD
dwells and where his Presence may be felt and known. He can hardly contain
himself for his joy overflows and his soul and body join in the praise of
his God. And if there is room for the sparrow and the swallow to dwell in
the house of the LORD in safety, then how much more is there space for the
Blessed are those who dwell in thy house,
ever singing thy praise!
Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
Both God and wise human beings reckon to be highly privileged those whose
vocation it is to be the Temple singers, who praise the LORD in song by
day and night. Also, and importantly, God and wise human beings reckon to
be highly privileged those exiles from “home,” who trust in the Lord and
who know where to go for they have imprinted in their hearts the route to
the Temple and to God’s Presence there. Verses 6 -7 portray pilgrims
making their way to Jerusalem gaining confidence as they get nearer to
their goal, going, as it were, from strength to strength as they journey.
In verse 8 the Psalmist returns to speak in the first person singular as
he addresses the LORD God of hosts who is the God of Jacob (Israel), his
people. And, as was probably the custom of all pilgrims, he first
specifically prays for the Davidic king, who is the people’s protection
(cf. Psalm 72) and the adopted son of God (cf. Psalm 2:7), as well as
being the effective head of the Temple. This duty accomplished, he returns
again to the theme of joy in God.
For a day in thy courts is better
Than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield,
He bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the LORD withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
Blessed is the man who trusts in thee!
One day in the Lord’s Temple, where his Presence is, cannot be compared
with a thousands days anywhere else in the world for that one day is much
superior to the many days! In fact, to be a menial servant in the House of
the LORD is superior to dwelling as a rich man in the houses of the
For the trusting, faithful believer the LORD God is both sun (for light
and warmth, energy and joy) and shield (for protection from danger and
fear). Further, this God gives grace and glory to obedient covenant
people, his adopted children. In fact, this God of grace and glory
withholds nothing at all, that is for the true good of his people, from
them when they walk in his ways.
The Psalm ends with a third Beatitude, following those in verses 4-5. It
is presented as part of his prayer as the Psalmist offers to the LORD what
he has learned from his revelation to Israel – that in the sight of God
and of the wise on earth the person who trusts in God as his covenant Lord
is truly blessed, reckoned as genuinely happy.
In the New Testament, the new covenant people of God are individually
and corporately “the temple of God” ( 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).
Therefore, the faithful Christian finds joy on earth in the fellowship and
corporate worship of the Body of Christ. Though he may be attached to a
building as a holy place, the Temple is for him the people of God, the
members of the new covenant, whose true home and center is in heaven,
where they shall behold the glory of the Father in the face of Jesus
Christ. This is captured in the hymn of H.F. Lyte, based on this Psalm,
which begins, “Pleasant are thy courts above in the land of light and
love;” and contains the words, “O, my spirit longs and faints, for the
converse of thy Saints.”
The Psalm surely calls believers to take more seriously Christian
fellowship and Christian corporate worship so that they are spheres where
the Presence of God is sought and known, longed for and experienced.
Worship is not to be dumbing-down to make it easy and acceptable to man,
but a lifting up with the Holy Spirit in the Name of Christ into the
Presence of the Father. And at the same time, those who walk with Christ
individually and together and trust in the Father (John 20:29), will know
grace and glory (Romans 8:32; Philippians 4: 6-19) in their pilgrimage as
aliens and strangers on earth, as they journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.