A Holy House – Psalm 84:1-12

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Psalm 84:1-12

As we begin this morning, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and open with me to Psalm 84.  When all of this COVID-19 stuff started and looked like it would become a reality, I took us to the Psalms.  You might recall that the weeks, prior to Holy Week and Easter, we considered Psalm 46, Psalm 91, and Psalm 63, and today I want us to give our attention to Psalm 84.

Now, despite our inability to worship together these past four weeks, I’ve still been able to speak with several of you over the phone, or via e-mail, or interact with you using video-conferencing.  Some of you have even briefly stopped by the church to drop of your tithes/offerings, or to attend to some other quick business, and I’ve been able to see and speak with you there.  And one of the constants, one of the things that comes up again and again in our conversations is how we all long to be back in church together.

We miss being together in corporate worship.  We miss catching up.  We miss taking the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together.  We miss studying and discussing the Bible together.  We miss praying over one another and having others pray over us.  We miss hearing other people’s voices joined with ours in praise and worship.  (Or perhaps you just miss all those voices drowning out your spouse when he/she attempts to sing.)  Either way, we miss the atmosphere.  We miss the architecture.  We missing being in God’s house together.  Or at least I hope we do.

It’s a great inspiration to any pastor to hear the people of God say that they miss being together on the Lord’s Day.  And as I was thinking about our longing to be together, and reading all the articles and news stories pondering when things might open back up, God led me to this Psalm.

Now, I’m not going to ask you to awkwardly stand up at your kitchen table, or climb out of bed and stand, or get out of that recliner to hear the Bible being read, but I do want to earnestly ask you to give your attention (now) to the reading of God’s holy Word.

To the choirmaster: according to the Gittith.  A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

1 How lovely is Your dwelling place,

     O LORD of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faints

    for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

    to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,

    and the swallow a nest for herself,

    where she may lay her young,

at Your altars, O LORD of hosts,

    my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house,

    ever singing Your praise! Selah

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in You,

    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca

    they make it a place of springs;

    the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;

    each one appears before God in Zion.

8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God;

    look on the face of Your anointed!

10 For a day in Your 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.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

    the Lord bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does He withhold

    from those who walk uprightly.

12 O LORD of hosts,

    blessed is the one who trusts in You!

(The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.)

You can tell a lot about a person by where they spend their time.  For example, if some fellow claims to be a “family man” but then he spends every free weekend out with his buddies and away from his wife and children, well then, as my boys say, “Hold up…wait a minute…something ain’t right.”

Many of you have been asking how my family is holding up, and we’re doing like many of you – just taking it one day at a time.  But for those of you that have asked, I’ve told you that Parker is the one that seems to be the saddest.  While Melissa, Jordan and I are all working, Parker’s life prior to COVID-19 was basketball and school.  That’s where he lived.  If he wasn’t at school, then he was on the basketball court.  He lived in the gym and slept on the hardwood.  But ever since this virus he’s been stuck at home.

And when Jordan isn’t working, all I have to do is ride around and check the local lakes because that child loves to fish.  Listen, a few weeks ago, when Gov. McMaster closed all the public boat ramps in S.C. I thought we were going to have to call Byron Elmore for some counseling.  I got on the phone to some of you that have private lake access looking for a favor because it was going to get ugly at the pastor’s house.

Thankfully, John and Patty Walker and Wayne and Sue Elmore offered to let him fish their farm ponds.  And within about 48-hours I received a praise report: Gov. McMaster didn’t have authority to close any boat ramp controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.  “Thank you, Jesus.”

Now we laugh about that, but the truth of the matter is that all of us should have a passion for God’s house.

Passion for God’s House 

If you have your Bibles open, look at verses 1-4 again and especially verse 2.  “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Guys, when was the last time you said your soul longed for anything?  (I know, it’s been a while.  What’s even worse is that if we did long for something it was probably food, football, or both, right?)  This man’s soul yearned passionately to come into the temple.  Just the thought of entering the temple courts caused him to faint.  His entire body – his heart and his flesh – cried out for God.  This is more than merely desiring a building.  This man earnestly sought the holy presence of God.

Let me ask you; during this pandemic, at some point or another, haven’t wondered, if not openly asked someone, what they thought God might be trying to say?  Have you thought about that?  “God, I’m not real sure what’s going on with this whole COVID-19 thing, but what do you want me to be learning?  Is there are lesson buried beneath all this self-distancing and quarantining?”

Now, there’s certainly no shortage of opinions floating around out there.  And I’m not suggesting that I have the answer, but I know for me one of the lessons I’ve learned is that we really take for granted the things we have in life until we don’t have them anymore.  Right?

How many of us, if we were completely honest with ourselves and God (He’s gonna know), would say that on Sunday morning we’re as ecstatic as a 3-year old on Christmas at the thought of going to Church?  Show of hands…  (I know that some of you put your hands up just because you knew I couldn’t see you.)  No, the truth is, many of us had lost our passion for God’s house and it’s taken this abrupt interruption from our Sunday routine to remind us that we ought to be overjoyed at the thought of going to the house of the Lord.

In verse 3 the psalmist pointed to the birds that flew into the temple, building their nests there, and who were able to live in the courts of God.  “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at Your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.”  He envied these birds.

And notice where he says they nest . . . near the altar.  The altar is one of those places where spiritual business is conducted.  Depending on your particular church background, you might have an image of a high altar where the liturgy of the mass is carried out, or it might simply be the steps or raised platform leading to the pulpit.  Either way, when people come to the altar they’re signifying to themselves and others that they’re trying to get as close to God as possible.

These birds enjoyed a close proximity to where the psalmist’s own heart was.  This guy envied the privilege the birds had of being close to the LORD Almighty, his King and God.  If the birds who live in God’s house are to be admired, how much more, then, are we who dwell there.

And if a renewed passion for God’s house wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for you, listen to this.  All who travel to the temple are blessed even as they anticipate worshipping God there.  Verses 5-7, describe for us what it looked like and felt like to make the journey to God’s house.

Pilgrimage to God’s House 

The psalmist begins by declaring a blessing on all who travel to Jerusalem to be in God’s house.  “Blessed are those whose strength is in You.”  Those who find their strength, those who find their power, those who find their might in God are truly blessed.  It’s their faith in God that actually transforms their human weakness into a God-given strength.

Verse 6 says that on their way to the temple, they pass through the Valley of Baca.  This is the only place in the Bible that you’ll encounter that name, and the fact of the matter is this: we’re not exactly sure where it is, or if it’s even a real place.  It’s possible – since many of the psalms were written using poetic language – that this is simply figurative or metaphorical speech.  What we do know is that the word Baca literally means “the place of weeping.”

Some of you wives and mothers out there are thinking, “who knew that Psalm 84 so accurately described our Sunday morning commute.”  Listen, ladies, if your husband is crying on your way to church in the morning, then you need to send him to my office as soon as you get here.  On the other hand, if the kids are crying, well, that’s just life.  The idea that the psalmist is trying to convey here is that prior to setting off on the journey the pilgrim was in a sorrowful spiritual state.  But it’s in the process of actually making the trip that their broken, barren souls are transformed into blessed hearts.

Not only does worshipping God in Zion (another name for Jerusalem) strengthen hearts, but so does the anticipation of doing so.  Would it be true that we could say the same for our faith community, our family of believers when we gather?

And when they arrived at the temple, prayer was offered.

Prayer in God’s House 

As a child, I remember taking summer vacations with my entire family down to the S.C. coast.  We had a family beach house in a community just south of Pawley’s Island and just north of Georgetown.  It was usually my grandparents on my mother’s side, my family, my uncle James and aunt Melissa and their two children, and my uncle Harold and aunt Susan and their two children.  If you’re keeping count that’s 14 people, not counting a friend or two that were smuggled into our luggage before leaving town.

And every time we started the trip down or the trip back we would always gather after all the bags were put in the cars, and we’d say a prayer.  And then when we arrived home safely there would always be a quick prayer of thanksgiving.  When you got to the temple, the journey to Zion was complete and deserved a prayer of thanksgiving, but also a prayer for Israel’s king – God’s anointed one who was supposed to rule and reign with godly wisdom, power and courage.

Of course, it was rare for Israel’s kings to govern correctly, and thankfully heaven’s true King – Jesus Christ – came to redeem us and provide the basis for true worship.  A true house of worship is a place where God is exalted, magnified, and adored.  It’s a place where people worship God in spirit and in truth.  It’s a place where a high view of God is championed and a sense of His presence is conveyed.

That brings us to the ultimate reality, the ultimate hope, to prize God’s house above any and all alternatives.

Prizing of God’s House 

Look at verse 10.  Some of you recognize the words of this verse, not because they’re found here in Psalm 84, but because you’ve heard a song by Christian singer-songwriter, Matt Redman, called Better Is One Day, which is taken directly from this Psalm.  “For a day in Your 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.”

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?  That’s a common question we’ve all likely asked or been asked ourselves.   Again, truth be told, how many of us said God’s house?  (Stop raising your hands.  I know you.  You’re just like me.  You’ve never said that.)

Listen, I know that beach lovers pick the white sands of the Bahamas or Bora Bora.  European history buffs choose England or France.  Those who are really adventurous might opt for the Himalayas, the Alps, or the Rockies, but I’ve never heard anybody answer that question by saying Church.  And yet that’s exactly how the psalmist answers.  There’s no place he’d rather be than with the Lord – in the place where God’s people can enjoy His presence.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, he goes on to say that he’d rather be a doorkeeper in the LORD’s house than dwell in the tents of wickedness.  Now for my dad and Buzz Cleveland, both of whom are Citadel grads, and really anybody else that has any knowledge of my college alma mater, you might know that freshman of that esteemed institution of higher education are referred to as “knobs.”  The nickname originating from our shaved heads, which we were required to keep for 9 months until we became upperclassmen.  And one of the jobs that was often assigned to “knobs” during their freshman year was to attend doors of buildings (opening/closing).  And sense we were known as “knobs,” in those cases where we were holding doors we were called “doorknobs.”

The author of Psalm 84 says given the choice between lounging on a yacht in the Mediterranean and being served or being a “doorknob” and holding the doors to the temple open for all eternity, he’d rather be the doorkeeper.  He’d rather be God’s bellhop than this world’s greatest billionaire.

There was a fellow in the mid-late 1600’s named Nicholas Herman.  He’s actually best known for a book that was published after he died called, The Practice of the Presence of God.  You might know him by his religious name, Brother Lawrence.  This is what he had to say regarding being near God and in His holy house.

“Touched with deep regret, I declare to Him all my evil deeds, ask His forgiveness for them, and abandon myself into His hands to do with me according to His will.  This good and merciful King, very far from chastising me, embraces me lovingly, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys to His treasures, and treats me in everything as His favorite.  He converses and takes endless pleasure in my company in countless ways…  The more I see my weakness and wretchedness, the more I am caressed by God.  This is how I consider myself from time to time to be in His holy presence.  My most normal habit is to simply keep my attention on God, and to be generally and lovingly aware of Him.  I often feel myself attached to God with sweetness and satisfaction greater than that experienced by a nursing child.”

On this Sunday and during this time of temporary separation, would we re-evaluate our appreciation and appropriation of God’s holy house in our lives?  Would we pray that God re-kindle in us a fire, a passion, a desire for worship in His sanctuary with His people.  Would we find that our anger and bitterness, our anxiety and weariness, be transformed into blessings on the way to worship.  Would we pray that the churches of America return to simple expressions of true and genuine worship – proclaiming God’s Word, magnifying God’s name, and pursuing God’s will.  And might we remember that the greatness of a church isn’t measured by how many visitors come to admire the building, but how many worshippers come to a full knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.