Grace from Psalm 84

One of the requirements for a seminary class I took several years ago was memorizing Psalm 84. Since then, it’s a psalm I’ve returned to many times. The second verse reads strikingly: My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

I have to admit—and I’m betting I have a lot of company here—my experience doesn’t always match up with what the psalmist is expressing with these words. Often, my heart and flesh cry out for many things other than God. I’m sad to say that God doesn’t always seem that desirable to me. So what to do? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Like all biblical psalms, Psalm 84 isn’t written merely to give voice to what we happen to be feeling at the time. It’s meant to shape our perspective and affections. It’s part of the means of grace God employs to transform us more and more into the person he desires us to be. With that in mind, whenever I see my own life not matching the character or feeling expressed in a psalm, it’s an opportunity to pray simply, “Lord, change me. Make into the kind of person who longs for you.” (As an aside, this is a simple way to engage with and pray through any passage of Scripture, not just the psalms).

  1. If we’re tempted to think such prayers are an exercise in futility, consider v.11. In both the NIV and ESV, it reads: “the Lord bestows favor and honor.” Older versions translated the words as “grace and glory.” In any case, Charles Spurgeon wrote about this text:

He will give grace to all who seek it with earnest hearts through the Savior. At the mercy seat, whether you are a saint or a sinner, if you draw near to God in sincere prayer, He has given you some grace already, and He will give you more (Grace Abounding in a Believer’s Life, 68).

  1. As is often the case, much of the rest of the psalm provides plenty of encouragement for us to begin to feel what the psalmist did when he wrote it. In fact, the truths in the surrounding verses are one way God uses to answer the kind of prayer just mentioned. In this case, we’re told that the Lord’s dwelling place is lovely (v. 1), that those who dwell with him and who find their strength in him are blessed (vv. 4-5). The psalmist later adds these vivid words: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (v.10).

  1. Reflecting on these truths helps us to understand something fundamentally important. Our lack of desire isn’t due to any fault of God’s or the blessing that flow from a relationship with him. The verses previously mentioned, along with countless other passages, make it clear that he is exactly the person that meets our deepest needs and desires. When we don’t long for God, it’s often because we’ve somehow bought into a picture of him or what it means to follow him that amounts to a distortion of reality. Our picture needs the corrective lens of Scripture, allowing us to see God for who he really is. In the light of truth, the psalmist’s declaration is no exaggeration: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (v. 10).

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