(Reading List Theme 1.6)

At the time this psalm was written, the Temple was the place to be in God’s presence. Now, we can be in God’s presence at all times, because after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit. In reading this psalm, I like to picture the psalmist as a gatekeeper in the temple (v.10), gazing up and seeing the sparrow and swallow building nests on the high places (v.3), seeing the lines of worshippers come to present offerings, to pray, and sing, and be reminded of the scriptures – their own ancestral story of God’s faithfulness.

As Israel’s King David made preparations for the temple which his son Solomon built, 1 Chronicles describes how he assigned divisions of Levites – the priestly tribe of Israel – to different duties within the temple. Different ones took care of the holy things, the sacrifices, the offerings, the singing. There were also gatekeepers who were assigned to stand at the entrances to the temple. Not the most glamorous job perhaps. No great recognition probably came to a gatekeeper. Maybe that would be like a greeter at church today. Not the ones to preach the word, or lead worship, or serve communion or pray during the gathering, just someone to stand at the door. A very important job, I’m sure, as they ensured safety and orderliness, and welcomed the worshippers, but not a glamorous job. And yet this was a job the psalmist loved. He probably couldn’t wait for it to be his turn again, so he could gaze on the loveliness of the temple, the life therein, the reminder of God’s constant peace, protection, and joy that he offered his people. “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!” (84:10).

“Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (84:4). When I was in Bible college, I learned that blessed means “enabled to succeed.” If you bless someone, it is because you give them some help, that they may succeed. If God blesses you, it is because he gives you something you need in order to succeed. If we dwell with God, we will be enabled to succeed! Why is this? How is this?

Some people come to Christianity because they hope to get a better life. They think if they follow a set of instructions, they will receive a set of promises. Like God is somehow manipulatable, or a magic charm. The thing is, Jesus promises that life will be difficult. Over and over, the Bible tells us how to deal with trials. It does not say, “follow Jesus and you won’t have trials.” It seems like Israel was given a set of rules, and if they followed the rules, they’d get a set of promises. Those laws of God were to show us what a perfect world could be like, where everyone acted unselfishly and was fully devoted to God; this is something we can never do. We can never live perfectly, and the people around us will never live perfectly, so we can’t expect perfect results. Verse 11 says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” I do think this is true, but I know that our idea of “good” is not always God’s idea of “best for right now.”

When Jesus came, he spoke of his kingdom, and that the kingdom of God is not something focused on the material world, but something that is within us. Kingdom living is about our hearts and the condition of our spiritual lives. If we find the presence of God, we will find peace, joy, love, protection, provision, health… but some of that will only be ours in the life to come. Sometimes we will die, and suffer, at the hands of the ungodly, or because of circumstances of a world full of disease and unhealthy practices. What we are BLESSED WITH – that is, what ENABLES US TO SUCCEED in spite of this, is the daily presence of God within us. The Holy Spirit can provide joy in the midst of pain, hope in the midst of sorrow, love to confront hatred, compassion for broken souls who seek our harm, peace in the midst of storms.

This past week was the Boston marathon. It is supposed to be a moment of triumph, a pinnacle achievement for a runner to make a time worthy to enter the Boston marathon race. This year, instead of joy at the finish line, the nation found sorrow, as homemade, hidden bombs erupted near the finish line. I started writing this Thursday, but didn’t finish the post. As I opened a web browser to make try and post yesterday, I saw a link to an article about the capture of one of the suspects. Instead of triumph at his capture, or anger at what he’d done, I felt compassion for the soul that has been so twisted somehow, who has lived in such inner pain for so long, that he would desire to do something to cause so much pain to so many other people. We as a nation don’t yet know why this man and his brother, who was killed in the attempt to escape police, would choose this path of violence. But I know that no one chooses such horrendous actions if there is not a deep affliction of the soul, and a lack of the presence of God in their lives.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God that dwell in the tents of wickedness” says the psalmist. But it seems like the tents of wickedness are unavoidable. I see great value in the houses of prayer that have in recent years begun to spring up around this country, serving much the same purposes as monasteries and convents – a place devoted to worship and prayer – much the same as the temple. It is wonderful to have a place to retreat, and while some may be called to devote their lives to prayer, most of us live in a world where we constantly interact with wickedness, and have to fight it off from coming into our own dwellings and our own hearts. We all need a little more of the presence of the Lord, not as a place to retreat, but as something we can carry with us wherever we go.

So I ask myself, where do I most feel the presence of God? In the gathering of other believers, yes, but for me, I also feel his presence – I feel most alive – when I am in nature, when I exercise, when I am creative, when I speak with someone about God, and when I sing. I can’t daily go to the temple to join others in worship, but I can daily enter the presence of God, when I invite him into my daily life, and invite him anew to reign in my heart. I must make time to do the things that bring me life, and help me connect with God. I made my list… what is yours?

MY PSALM

As I have done in earlier posts, here is my psalm today, based on the form of Psalm 84: Tell God how much you want to know Him more (v. 1,2). Ask God to help you be stronger in him (v. 5-7). The Psalms often talk about God’s leaders as being a “shield” to the people, because if the leaders are right with God, they will help the rest of the people be right with God. Pray for your leaders by name (v. 9). Worship and Praise God for who He is! (v. 10-12).

——– My Psalm:

How gracious you are to let your dwelling be in us, O Lord of hosts! I desire to let you be manifest in me more and more. I invite your presence – help me make room for you in my life, O God. 

Blessed am I when I take my eyes off the wickedness surrounding me, and focus on the goodness you bring with you. In you there is peace and joy, even when I find none around me. In you there is always hope, even when I cannot see hope for my future. In you is strength for each day, and strength to face a world that is fallen and broken. In you there is strength to enter the brokenness without letting it break me. In you is healing.

You are our sun and shield, and you give us leaders to shield us through their prayers and teaching and leading. Lord, I thank you for the mentors and pastors you have given me over the years, to shine your light on me and protect me by their prayers. Shield them today, Lord. As it is early Sunday morning now, many are already leading people into your presence, or are preparing to welcome the worshippers to church today. Bring your peace, strength, calm and joy to our church leaders today. Help them to minister. Help them to find your blessing, and be able to pass it on to the congregation. Strengthen those who are weary, and shield them with your love.

I love you Lord! I praise you for your faithfulness! I would rather live in surrender to you than in any version of “freedom” I might imagine for myself. Surrender is not easy, but only in you is true freedom and life found. I choose you! O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

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