I stretched out on the black, shaggy rug spread across laminate flooring made to look like wood planks. For days I had been planning to have coffee with this dear sister, who was about to move from her apartment (which was about twenty-three steps from my driveway) all the way to Columbus (which isn’t terribly far, but it’s still not the edge of my driveway!). We hadn’t been friends for a very long time, but the depth was much deeper than the length was long.
I had laid in bed contemplating how I wanted to read a Psalm with her, before her parting. As we lounged in her living room, I posed the question of what Psalm she would enjoy reading. We tossed ideas, and finally landed on three different choices. Psalm 42. Psalm 63. And Psalm 84. We split each of these passage in half, then mused over them, swirling the glory of what we had just read around in our minds, like a drink to be casually stirred before it is fully enjoyed. Then we shared our observations.
When we finished reading these three Psalms, it occurred to me that there was a theme woven through each. A theme worthy of pondering until it transforms the soul. I spoke it out loud to Monica, re-reading portions of each of these Psalms, and sifting out the correlation, to place it on a platter before our eyes.
Psalm 42 says this, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.” It gives an imaginative description of a ravished deer, frantic for a gulp of life-sustaining water. There is no reason for us to assume this deer would not be satisfied. I am confident that only a severe drought would prevent any deer from searching until it’s needs are satiated.
Psalm 63 picks up with similar language. “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live.”
As I pondered the second passage, it occurred to me that in this Psalm, the physical needs go unmet. “In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Yet, the Psalmist (David), finds his satisfaction in God’s presence and His lovingkindness! He is satisfied, just not in the ways many will look for satisfaction.
The parallel of these two Psalms intrigues me. I ponder how many prayers have gone unmet, as far as the plea for physical healing, yet God meets the soul of the grieving one in ways that are higher than this world’s satisfactions. He meets them in suffering with His abundant joy. He meets them in anguish with His nearness, faithfulness, and tenderness. He uses the lack of physical relief to bring about a greater spiritual benefit.
But we have one Psalm yet to excavate. I often wonder if this may be my favorite Psalm of all. The Psalm begins with these words: “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You. Selah. How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, Every one of them appears before God in Zion.” It goes on, and you should read it, because, like I said, it may very well be my absolute favorite Psalm, which is no small honor. But I will stop there for now, to make my point.
We have moved from the picture of the panting, desperate deer, who is restless until it’s needs are met… to the one whose needs will not be met in this realm, yet finds the grace of satisfaction in the presence of God. But finally, in this Psalm, we see the one whose satisfaction is entirely laid up in heaven, in Zion! Later, it says “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” This person is fully satisfied. There is no longing, panting, grieving or groping here, other than a heart that flies away to heaven (My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord). Their only desire is to fully enjoy the Presence of God, yet find such rich satisfaction in the longing.
And what is the result of their life? As they pass through the valley of Baca (which means “weeping”), their presence brings and invites the substance of life… water. “They make it a spring; The early rain also covers it”. People whose hearts are full of joy in God bring life to the desert. To the valleys of weeping.
As I sat with the clarity of these overlapping passages, I saw how desperately the Church needs to live like the one in Psalm 84, the one whose strength is in God and in whose heart are the highways to Zion (to heaven)! In Psalm 28:7, it says “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. Nehemiah 8:10 says the same thing, which means that when we read Psalm 84, we could almost read it, “How blessed is the man who JOY is in You”… In the Presence of God, rather than in all the fortunes of this world.
We are in desperate times. Times of longing and adversity, where we don’t know which end is up, or how these trying times are going to pan out in the end. We may find the flowing creek of His favor, or He may nourish us with His comfort in our lack of physical relief. There is only one cure for our frantic yearning… a far greater joy in Him than in the things of this world. We can fight corrupt politics by voting. We can fight oppression by protest, prayer or wisdom. We can fight desperation and despair with hope and gratitude. But we are swinging at the wind. We have no idea whether God will look with mercy or judgment upon us. We deserve judgment, but oh, do we long for mercy. And we have no say as to which He chooses.
Yet there is no cure for our despondence like the full throttled enjoyment of knowing what is to come for the one who puts their hope in Christ and longs for His Kingdom! When I take my eyes from the sludge of this world’s issues and fix my gaze on the Celestial City, I feel weightless.
Recently, it occurred to me that when a child thinks of a treasure, they imagine a chest overflowing with gold and precious jewels. If you read the book of Revelation (and I think the book of Daniel, if I am remembering correctly), this is exactly how Heaven is described, like a treasure chest: with a wall of Jasper, a foundation laid with every kind of precious stone (jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth and amethyst), gates of pearls, and streets of such pure gold that it is like transparent glass. When my mind flees to heaven, I am no longer so concerned with whether or not my longings are fulfilled upon this earth.
An old hymn encourages us: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
A sweet old puritan named Samuel Rutherford once wrote, “This world deserveth nothing but the outer court of our soul.” Amen, dear brother! My heart is set towards Zion!